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Insights into Editorial: Towards a resolution of the Arunachal-Assam border dispute




Less than a month after the Union government gave the seal of approval to an agreement to partially resolve the disputed sectors on the Assam-Meghalaya border.

Assam and Arunachal Pradesh governments agreed to set up district level committees headed by cabinet ministers to end the decades old border dispute between them in a time-bound manner

This has set the ball rolling for the two States to address the issue on the basis of the “fifty-fifty” or “give-and-take” model Assam and Meghalaya followed for closure of the disputes in six of its 12 troublesome sectors.


Why does Arunachal Pradesh have a boundary dispute with Assam?

  1. Assam has had boundary disputes with all the north-eastern States that were carved out of it.
  2. While Nagaland became a State in 1963, Meghalaya first became an Autonomous State in 1970 and a full-fledged State in 1972.
  3. Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram were separated from Assam as Union Territories in 1972 and as States in 1987.
  4. None of the new States accepted the “constitutional boundary” that they said was dictated by the partisan administration of undivided Assam without consulting the tribal stakeholders.
  5. They also claimed that the disputed areas were traditionally under the control of tribal chieftains before Assam, post-India’s independence, inherited the “imaginary boundaries” drawn during British rule.
  6. The issue with Arunachal Pradesh has more to do with a 1951 report prepared by a sub-committee headed by Assam’s first Chief Minister.


What is the genesis of the dispute?

  1. Arunachal Pradesh and Assam have disputes at about 1,200 points along their 804 km boundary.
  2. The disputes cropped up in the 1970s and intensified in the 1990s with frequent flare-ups along the border.
  3. However, the issue dates back to 1873 when the British government introduced the inner-line regulation vaguely separating the plains from the frontier hills that were later designated as the North-East Frontier Tracts in 1915.
  4. This area became the North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA) in 1954, three years after a notification based on the 1951 report saw 3,648 sq. km of the “plain” area of Balipara and Sadiya foothills being transferred to the Darrang and Lakhimpur districts of Assam.
  5. Arunachal Pradesh has been celebrating its statehood on a grand scale with an eye on China since 1987, but what has been causing resentment is the inability of the people living in the transferred patches to join in the celebration.
  6. Leaders in Arunachal Pradesh claim the transfer was done arbitrarily without consulting its tribes who had customary rights over these lands.

Their counterparts in Assam say the 1951 demarcation is constitutional and legal.


Did the two States try settling the boundary dispute earlier?

  1. There were several efforts to demarcate the boundary between Assam and NEFA/Arunachal Pradesh between 1971 and 1974.
  2. To end the stalemate, a high-powered tripartite committee involving the Centre and the two States was formed in April 1979 to delineate the boundary based on Survey of India maps.
  3. About 489 km of the inter-state boundary north of the Brahmaputra River was demarcated by 1984, but Arunachal Pradesh did not accept the recommendations and staked claim to much of the areas transferred in 1951.
  4. Assam objected and approached the Supreme Court in 1989, accusing Arunachal Pradesh of “encroachment”.
  5. The SC appointed a local boundary commission in 2006 headed by one of its retired judges.
  6. In its September 2014 report, this commission recommended that Arunachal Pradesh should get back some of the areas transferred in 1951 besides advising both the States to find a middle path through discussions. This didn’t work.


Need for the Interstate Boundary Commission:

  1. Considering the contesting claims of both the parties and the complexity of the issue, the foremost priority in working out a solution should be the institution of an Independent Interstate boundary commission.
  2. After a careful consultative study, the commission should ideally formulate a solution that is considerate of all the stakeholders’ concerns.
  3. One option could be the utilization of the disputed lands by the central government after compensating both the states.
  4. Alternatively, an option of compensating one state and awarding land to the other or awarding the disputed land to both the states concerned equally could be considered as per stakeholders’ acknowledgement.
  5. Whatever be the solution once worked out and accepted by the states, the Court could play a role of a guardian and take serious note of its arbitrary acts.


What are the chances of a solution emerging this time?

  1. The Assam-Meghalaya boundary agreement has raised hopes of the Assam-Arunachal boundary dispute being resolved, especially with the Centre egging the north-eastern States to end their territorial issues once and for all by August 15, 2022, when the country celebrates 75 years of independence.
  2. Moreover, there is a general belief that the region’s sister-States are in a better position to fast-track the resolution .
  3. Following the model adopted in the exercise to resolve the dispute with Meghalaya, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh have agreed to form district-level committees that will be tasked with undertaking joint surveys in the disputed sectors to find tangible solutions to the long-pending issue based on historical perspective, ethnicity, contiguity, people’s will and administrative convenience of both the States.
  4. The two States have decided to form 12 such committees involving the districts sharing the boundary.
  5. Assam has eight districts touching the boundary with Arunachal Pradesh, which has 12 such districts.


Way Ahead steps:

Boundary disputes between the states can be settled by using satellite mapping of the actual border locations.

Reviving the Inter-state council can be an option for resolution of an Inter-state dispute.

Under Article 263 of the Constitution, the Inter-state council is expected to inquire and advise on disputes, discuss subjects common to all states and make recommendations for better policy coordination.



Zonal councils need to be revived to discuss the matters of common concern to states in each zone—matters relating to social and economic planning, border disputes, inter-state transport, etc.

India is the epitome of unity in diversity. However, to strengthen this unity furthermore, both the Centre and state governments need to imbibe the ethos of cooperative federalism.