The Centre’s decision to use satellite imagery to demarcate the inter-State borders in the volatile north-eastern region is a welcome development, given the simmering tensions. The recent border clash between the police personnel of Assam and Mizoram had resulted in blockade and political confrontation between the two States. It highlighted the urgent need to resolve the border dispute, a hangover of contested history, through negotiations and out-of-the-box ideas. If technology can come in handy to solve an age-old problem, then it must be embraced unreservedly. The North Eastern Space Application Centre (NESAC), a joint venture of the Department of Space and the North Eastern Council (NEC), can be mandated to provide accurate satellite imagery of the entire region. The satellite images will produce detailed maps, complete with all geographical and physical features. Based on these maps, the inter-State boundaries can be demarcated on the ground, and this will hopefully bring an end to all territorial disputes. Mizoram claims ownership of a reserve forest that lies within Assam and along the Assam-Mizoram border. Mizoram’s contention is that the forest was declared a ‘restricted area’ for non-tribals through a notification issued by the British in 1875. But Assam prefers to go by a map prepared by the Survey of India in 1933 which shows the forest as within Assam. Similar is the case with many stretches along Assam’s borders with Nagaland and Meghalaya. Apart from using satellite imaging technologies, the bilateral and multilateral talks between the States at the political, administrative as well as community levels are needed to resolve such disputes.
The tricky aspect of the disputes in the region is that the land in the tribal areas does not belong to the government or the individual, but to the community. Ownership of community land cannot be transferred even to the government without the consent of the community. And inter-State borders drawn by government entities make no sense to the tribals and hold no sanctity for them. This calls for deft and sensitive handling by all the stakeholders. The negotiations need to be conducted with an open mind and in a spirit of give and take. The Centre should facilitate such a dialogue process, without dictating terms to any side. It can also consider offering attractive financial packages and incentives for the States which show flexibility and large-heartedness in resolving the long-pending disputes. This is the best way to encourage the States in the sensitive border region to work towards an amicable solution to the long-festering territorial disputes. More importantly, the local communities must be involved in the negotiation process. Once they arrive at a basic agreement, the same can be taken forward and firmed up by the political and administrative authorities.
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