Jyoti Lal Chowdhury
Assam is not at ease with its border with Mizoram as well. Often the bordering areas of Dholai in Cachar district are gripped in acrimonious situation because of the unresolved boundary row. Various NGOs and other organisations like All Barak Youth and Students’ Association (ABYSA) and Youth Against Social Evils (YASE), have been up in arms against encroachment of Assam land by Mizoram. Certain unilateral actions by Mizoram government like building road, demolition of boundary pillars, restricting entry of workers from the plains of Cachar to the Vairengte area, withdrawal of ‘work permits’ and enforcement of Inner Line Permit (ILP) have further complicated the problem.
A recent attempt by Assam’s border areas development minister Siddeque Ahmed and MLA Girindra Mullick to make an on the spot survey to assess the gravity of the boundary tangle ran into the stonewall of Mizoram authorities and two prominent NGOs from the hill state. On receiving complaints from the public of greater Dholai areas, Siddeque Ahmed and Girindra Mullick went to visit the inter-state boundary area of Cachar with Mizoram. But the minister, the MLA and their convoy comprising about a hundred-strong motor-cycle riders could not make their access to the hill state due to resistance put up by a handful of Mizoram Police and volunteers of Mizo Zirlawi Pawl (MZP) and Young Mizo Association (YMA). They were detained at the check-gate of Vairengte, the entry point to Mizoram. A helpless minister and the MLA had to come back though they did not miss the opportunity to see the areas under encroachment and the construction of a road by Mizoram government deep inside ‘Assam territory’.
Of late, the areas of Dholai, Bhaga and Lyllapur have remained tense. Massive protest demonstrations, public rallies and meetings, intermittent blockades of NH 54 linking Silchar with Aizawl against the encroachment and restriction on the movement of workers to Mizoram forced administrative intervention to maintain the flow of traffic movement, both ways, in order to maintain the supply line to the hilly state. The NH 54 passing through Cachar and NH 154 through Hailakandi are vital for keeping the flow of the all sorts of commodities from the mainland to the mountainous state intact. The blockade, if enforced indefinitely, would cripple not only normal life but also paralyse the economy of the hill state.
So, what are the issues at stake? Though there is the ILP to regulate the entry of non Mizos to Mizoram, people, mostly belonging to religious and linguistic minority communities of Cachar district in Assam , are given work permits to enter the state for being engaged in manual works and even on agricultural field, besides carrying on with their own petty business. As the number of such workers has been increasing, the work permits have been withdrawn. When a demarcated border pillar was demolished, there was no protest from the forest department of Cachar district. Mizoram officials and police, alleged local residents, adopted aggressive posture when protests are made. It has also been alleged that non Mizos living and doing business for years together in Mizoram have been subjected to mental and physical harassment and in most cases their trade licenses are not renewed.
On the advice of the border area minister, Siddeque Ahmed, a district-level meeting between the deputy commissioners of Cachar and Kolashib, Harendra Kumar Dev Mahanta, and Niharika Rai, was held in the circuit house at Silchar. The meeting took important decisions to resolve the problems. It was agreed upon that the additional deputy commissioners (revenue) of the two districts would make joint visit to the areas under dispute and to ensure that the boundary pillars were left undisturbed.
Their reports would form the basis for finding a solution. It was decided that since ILP was regulated by definite rules and regulations of the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation Act to safeguard the culture and identity of the Mizos, temporary work permits for 10 to 15 days could be issued to not more than 300 workers from Cachar. The police stations of the bordering areas of both the districts would maintain register to record the names and addresses of the workers granted ILP and it would be further checked and cross examined by the magistrate. In the event of any developmental work being initiated or taken up in the bordering areas, the district administration of Cachar and Kolashib would be kept posted about it. It would again be a joint survey and study.
Quite interestingly, after all the fanfare centering round the district level meeting between the officials of Cachar and Kolashib led by the respective deputy commissioners, the chief minister of Mizoram,
He, however, favoured making Bhagabazar areas in Cachar and its adjoining Vairengte block area in Mizoram a free zone to facilitate inter-state movement of traders on the basis of ‘work permits’.
The chief minister alleged before the delegation that these Bangladeshis taking advantage of ‘work permits’ were also involved in various crimes in the state and made good their escape when hunted down by the police. He warned of toughest action against these criminals. According to him, even on simple pretext, tension was created along the border and certain elements took law in their own hands. His message was not to fall in the trap of such anti-social elements that with dubious design helped the Bangladeshis to infiltrate in Mizoram. The Mizo people viewed such design seriously because it was aimed at distorting the demographic structure of the state which would never be tolerated. He was for amicable settlement of all border disputes between the two states.
In fact, the boundary dispute between the two states is not a new development. Its genesis could be traced back to the British era.
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