Monday, December 4, 2023

Interstate border disputes

By Dr. Duggaraju Srinivasa Rao

Every country, for the sake of convenience, divides its geographical area into some administrative units named as states or provinces, but nowhere those administrative units are known to fight among themselves on the border issues except in India. The Indian states are at war on water and land resources and unfortunately those wars are unending with each state stretching their claims. While the interstate water disputes are well publicized and are understandable because the water is a resource which is needed for everyone and which is gradually turning out to be a scares resource. Fight for a precious resource is somewhat excusable but current fighting between the states for the geographic boundaries baffles us.  The land is something which is not consumable and can’t be expanded and can’t be diverted. However, the Indian states are fighting both physically and legally for their rights on the border villages.  There are over twelve states which are now bitterly fighting for their rights and surprisingly such fights are going on since independence and remained unresolved as there are lot of political and emotional issues are built over a period of time and absence of give and take policy among the states complicated the issue.  The central government which is vested with power to redraw the borders of the states, as mandated by Article 3 of the Indian constitution, is not exhibiting its authority unless such a step is politically advantageous to the ruling party, irrespective of the political party which is heading the union government. The judiciary which is arbitrator for such disputes is not giving its firm and definite verdict. So the issues are getting more and more complicated. The rise in the regional parties in the states and many states now headed by the regional parties the border issues are going to be more complicated and tensions between the people of the border villages are bound to go up.

In the election bound Assam the Congress is raking up the issue of the land encroachment by Mizoram. The Congress MLAs accused the ruling BJP of not protecting the promised ‘mati’ (land) and ‘bheti’(foundation). Congress is raking up the issue of border dispute by saying that Mizoram is raiding the border villages of Assam villages in Barak valley and do some constructions and hoisting student organization flags. As the election campaign peaks up the issue of state border issue will be brought into center by Congress putting BJP in defense.

 The government of Odisha approached the Supreme Court complaining of ‘invasion of its own territory by Andhra Pradesh. The issue pertains to 21 villages, popularly called Kotia group of villages, which are claimed by both Odisha and Andhra Pradesh. The recent notification of local body elections in those villages by A.P State Election Commission (SEC) is being objected by Naveen Patnaik government of Odisha. The Odisha quotes notifications of 1920, 1923 and 1927 suggesting that it is a long pendency of the issue. From 1968 to 2006 the arguments in the Supreme Court went in the case till a status quo was agreed by both the states under apex court supervision.

The first and last reorganization of the states in the independent India was done in 1956 and language was taken as the basis for administrative unit and each major language was given a state. Though there was no subsequent national level reorganization of states several other states like Gujarat, Haryana and few in the north east and Telangana in the south. But still the border issues between states were not got solved but they are further intensified with the domination of regional parties playing a key role.

The major contentious issue the Belgaum area between Maharashtra and Karnataka which is pending for over six decades. This area is said to be dominated by Marathi speaking people but awarded to Karnataka in 1956. Since then, there was a political outfit called Maharashtra Ekikarana Samithi (MES) agitating for merger of those areas with Maharashtra. The Mahajan committee which was appointed by the Centre couldn’t settle the issue to the satisfaction of the Maharashtra. The issue which remained dormant all these years is now raked up with intensity by the Shiv Sena now leading the Maharashtra government. The CM Uddhav Thackeray’s provocative statement on the floor of the house that “Prime Minister Narendra Modi understands PoK issue, but not Maharashtra’s border issue” which got an equal retort from Karnataka CM B.S. Yediyurappa as he said that “the Mahajan report is final and there is no question of transferring even an inch of land does not arise” . As all the earlier efforts of the Centre to the settle the issue amicably  failed and Siva Sena in strong anti-BJP mood Thackeray’s language is going to be belligerent not only in coming months but even may take it to the 2024 election. To make the border issue more complicate, the Karnataka may start arguing for transfer of Kasargod district from Kerala, as recommended by the Mahajan committee.

The government in 2007 conceded about a dozen border disputes between states in a reply to a question under RTI. In that reply the home ministry said that boundary between Bihar and Uttar Pradesh continued to fluctuate because of the frequent change in the course of rivers giving rise to problems in the field of revenue administration and law and order. This issue is under control unlike other state border issues. The other border issues as stated by government of India include the Orissa had with Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Haryana problems with Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, the border problem of Himachal Pradesh where it is contesting certain areas of Uttarakhand.  Assam had issues with Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland. Tamil Nadu and Kerala also had few issues on the border. 

In the coming years, as the things are moving, the interstate border issues may take precedence in the agenda of regional parties to the detrimental of the national identity.

(Author is retired professor and occasional contributor for dailies and magazines on politics and environmental issues. The views expressed are personal opinion of the author. He can be reached at [email protected])

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