TODAY -

The Boundary Problem - A high agenda for the North-East

Moirangcha Roshan *



Seven sisters' geographical region is unique as it is surrounded by different countries in almost all sides. When we have a look to a world Political map the region looks like a separate country between India and Myanmar- and indeed the region is just like a frontier zone which India occupies large area of the territory.

Most of the seven sisters' international boundaries are not yet demarcated because for India there seem to be no good reason for this costly extraordinarily difficult task. But now as the rights and obligations of government increased and due to rapidly expanding pressure of population on land, it became necessary to draw boundaries with ever greater precision.

As a result of negligence from the past in the border management, now India has to face lots of border-related problems - social, economic and political and the countries on the other side are Bangladesh, Myanmar and China. For India, it is important to solve all these problems before inviting more issues born out of look east policy.

So, India started giving efforts to resolve the boundary issue on every sides - but if fail, can be a great advantage for neighbouring countries in the war of Geopolitics of North-Eastern. It is true that so many confusing and unclear things come up when we have a serious look to the so called international boundary in the region. Let me pick up the short Meghalaya section of the Indo-Bangladesh boundary as a case study to highlight some of the problems and prospects.

We know that success of a boundary issue may be judged with the level of dispute and friction between the two sides. And the most visited state in our side, Meghalaya (abode of clouds) and Bangladesh share 443 km long border stretch in which more than half of the total border area is under dispute especially in the Khasi and Jaintia Hills involving an estimated three hundred villages.

Although, the sudden rise of structural platforms of the Meghalaya plateau from the Sylhet plain make some natural demarcation, problems still exist in many areas of this Ri war region (the southern part of Meghalaya). Sometimes, boundary pillar stand in the middle of many Khasi villages and there are many unidentified crossing points where there are no officials to check illegal infiltration. Security persons, of course are present in plenty along the border roads and town, but not in the interiors.

And moreover, in many areas of this 443 km long border, there are many 'Rio Grande' which flow down from the Central upland zone of Meghalaya plateau. These rivers mark the boundary line at many sites on their way to Meghna and problem arises in the identification of mid point due to frequent change in the position of banks on either sides.

Again the mid point (equal distance from both banks of the river) often coincides with the Navigable channels. Moreover, the southern part of Meghalaya is very high rainfall zone of the world and so can have a sudden change in the speed and volume of water for many streams.

In the Umngot river near Dawki (border town in Jaintia hills) many Bangladeshi just dip near the demarcating middle line and take out big stones wildly and extensively which we don't see to which side they move and act. It seems, they don't have any respect to this demarcating river.

Ultimately the under water current has been accelerated due to sudden fall of Thalweg (river bed). This can be an artificial factor for decreasing the volume of river water on the Indian side. Can they do such things in front of our BSF, or can they act like this to a place too close to the mid point.

The Khasis concept of the river is of sustainable and are not aggressive like those of Bangladeshi. Umngot river is not flowing in a single broad stream near Dawki but in a series of interlinking channel among which it is difficult to define the principal channel.

The problem of identification of exact position of the river bank on the Bangladesh side, and the presence of Khasi villages in the form of riverine islands make it difficult to establish a median line. For such a 'braided river' I think we need large stretch of water for 'no-man's land' and we should also keep in our mind that the international boundary line means not only the line on the surface but also under water, under ground and above the surface.

The strong christian religion position in all the villages of this southern region of Meghalaya does not permit anyone from Bangladesh or elsewhere to settle easily. But like boundaries of Indo-Myanmar side, the paucity of troops and the porous nature of the border is making the task of checking illegal infiltration difficult.

On the land surface, there are sites which people on both sides don't settle or use so boundary become a zone instead of a line. I think Sir Radcliffe used little time (three months period) in drawing the two famous blue lines to the west and the east. And the boundary lines said to have drawn during colonial times are not precise and have not been everywhere accepted by post-colonial states.

Boundary demarcations and its subsequent guarding, of course, is not an easy task especially in this part of the world and require a long period. One will encounter with many difficulties such as insects, mosquitos, snake besides heavy rainfall, hilly terrain, thick jungle (tropical mixed vegetation) cyclonic storm etc, etc.

But Meghalaya is relatively peaceful state in the N-E region and don't have serious internal problem that needs priority, so the priority should be the border management which require not only heavy military deployment but also to find out the ways for bringing a better relationship in the borderland's life on both sides.

Stephen Jones (Washington D.C.) mentioned that "the major source of serious boundary friction lie in the general situation rather than in the line itself. Hence, it is too much to expect that any shift in boundary sites can guarantee peace".

Indeed, problems are very less on the line of 49th parallel mostly because of friendly relationships between the US and Canada. We already have military advantage of nesting on higher reaches and this natural division is not good enough for an acceptable blue line. We need a modern, new and final demarcation.




* Moirangcha Roshan wrote this article for The Sangai Express. This article was webcasted on June 27, 2010.

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