This week, officials of the Uttar Pradesh and Haryana’s Revenue Departments, under the watchful eyes of the Survey of India, began to unravel a process that was thought well settled over five decades ago.
In 1966, after the Punjab Reorganisation Act carved out Hindu-majority Haryana from Punjab, the new state’s borders with UP that falls in the riverine Yamuna Khadar area close to the Panipat and Sonepat districts, was demarcated by 236 pillars. These pillars have disappeared over time, not the least because Yamuna changes course almost every year. The result has been clashes between farmers in the two neighbouring states over the ownership of land and cultivation of crops.
The clashes have prompted the two state governments to delegate officials to arrive at a consensus after an on-the-spot assessment. On the first day of the survey, the teams have managed to locate four pillars, which is but a small step forward in a larger inter-state border dispute drama.
This drama is bound to escalate with the proposed delimitation exercise after the Parliament in August approved the bill to split Jammu and Kashmir in two Union Territories. The BJP has announced its next move of redrawing the region's electoral constituencies.
BJP general secretary Ram Madhav suggested that the `overdue’ delimitation exercise in Jammu and Kashmir be carried out in the `right earnest’. "We definitely want the delimitation exercise to be concluded. It’s part of the bill (passed by Parliament)," he told reporters.
At present, Jammu and Kashmir has 87 assembly and six Lok Sabha constituencies. Of them the Kashmir valley has 46 assembly and three parliamentary boroughs. Ladakh, home to one Lok Sabha and four assembly constituencies, will have no legislature as a Union Territory. So any delimitation exercise is expected to focus largely on the new UT of Jammu and Kashmir. To be sure, it is going to involve a redrawing of boundaries that is unlikely to go uncontested.
But these two cases are not the only ones that dominate the country’s political landscape. There are at least half-a-dozen prominent inter-state disputes more than six decades after the States Reorganisation Committee put in its all-binding proposals. These include Assam-Nagaland, Maharashtra-Karnataka, Gujarat-Rajasthan, Karnataka-Kerala, Odisha-West Bengal, Assam-Meghalaya and Assam-Arunachal Pradesh.
Drawing boundaries in North East India has always been a vexatious issue, with multiple ethnic identities and mass migration over the decades. Assam and Nagaland share a 434-km boundary, but Nagaland since its inception in 1963 has reportedly encroached on vast tracts of land in upper-Assam districts of Sivasagar, Jorhat and Golaghat. No surprise that such encroachment has led to clashes, the first of which was recorded at Assam's Kakodonga Reserve Forest in 1965. Naga militants, allegedly with the support of Nagaland police, killed more than 100 people in Golaghat district (including Assam Police personnel) and more clashes have followed since then.
The Centre had tried to resolve the turmoil by forming the Sundaram Commission in 1971 and Shastri Commission in 1985, and though both commissions ruled in favour of Assam, no solution was implemented, as Nagaland refused to accept the verdict. Assam currently has a pending lawsuit in the Supreme Court and the outcome is still awaited.
Assam and Meghalaya are two states embroiled in a border dispute for decades now. It first started when Meghalaya challenged the Assam Reorganisation Act of 1971, which gave part of the Mikir Hills to Assam, which according to Meghalaya, are part of United Khasi and Jaintia Hills.
In 2008, tension erupted between the two states when the Assam government attempted to build a primary health sub-centre at Langpih. Meghalaya objected to these developments and invited Assam’s Chief Minister to resolve the issue, which was not-too-politely declined.
In the ensuing stalemate, Meghalaya threatened to either ask the Centre to intervene or go to the Supreme Court. Assam demurred and both states decided to set up a high level co-ordination committee. However, in the absence of any definite decision, clashes have continued at many points between both the two states, sometimes involving the two state’s armed police forces, leading to about 10 deaths.
Assam, being the largest state in the North East, invariably has problems with neighbouring provinces, including Arunachal Pradesh, which was formed on January 20, 1972, as a Union territory. Later when Arunachal was carved out of Assam and made a state in 1987 under the North East Reorganization Act, 1971, the notified borders were largely accepted on both sides. Of late, however, Arunachal has leveled charges of Assamese encroachment.
Violence was first reported in 1992 when Arunachal alleged that the Assamese were building houses, markets and even police stations in their territory. Since then, clashes have taken place, resulting in casualties. In 2005, for example, during an eviction drive, Assam forest officials and police allegedly set ablaze more than 100 houses in East Kameng district of Arunachal Pradesh. Again in 2007, villagers fired at each other during a peace meeting in Assam, injuring eight people.
The Assam government moved the Suprme Court, which in September 2006, appointed a local commission to identify the boundaries between Nagaland, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. The matter is currently sub-judice, with the Supreme Court awaiting the commission’s recommendations.
With eight states in the region armed with North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) governments, its convener and BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma believes the time has now come for the forum to focus on solving inter-state border disputes.
More than six decades ago, under the States Reorganisation Act, 1956, some parts of Bombay, Hyderabad, Madras and Coorg were joined with the erstwhile state of Mysore to form Karnataka. In the process, 865 Marathi-speaking villages in Belgaum, Karwar, Gulbarga and Bidar were merged with the new state, which has since then led to disputes between Maharashtra and Karnataka.
In October 1966, Mehr Chand Mahajan, the third Chief Justice of India was appointed to suggest measures to solve the dispute. The Mahajan commission submitted its report in August 1967 and recommended the transfer of 264 villages out of the 865 claimed by Maharashtra (which did not include Belgaum). The commission also recommended the transfer of 247 villages from Maharashtra out of the 516 claimed by Karnataka.
In March 2004, the then Congress and NCP-led coalition government of Maharashtra filed a suit in the Supreme Court where the matter currently resides. The Shiv Sena has now demanded PM Narendra Modi’s intervention in the matter, though given the BJP’s current relationship with Shiv Sena, no movement on it can realistically be expected.
The dispute between Gujarat and Rajasthan relates to Mangadh Hill, located on the border of the two states. Gujarat claims half of the hill, while Rajasthan claims the entire hill. The dispute is 40-year-old, though the Rajasthan Government presently has control over it. The Panchmahal district administration of Gujarat recently started constructing a road to reach the hill, along with forest huts and hand pumps for the pilgrims. The Rajasthan government has raised strong objections to this.
In 1956, the State Reorganisation Committee decreed that the district of Kasargod, comprising mainly of Kannada- speaking people, be made part of Kerala. Since then, people in the district have complained of `step-motherly’ treatment from the Kerala Government. In 1967, the Mahajan Committee recommended that Kasargod Taluk, north of Chandragiri and Payaswini rivers, should be given to erstwhile Mysore - which later became Karnataka.
A fierce territorial dispute between West Bengal and Odisha is 30-years-old. The bone of contention are farmers contesting land at the border, land grabbing by both states to build government institutions and people living in the area holding dual voter ID cards.
The two governments also lay claims on the Kanika Sands in the Bay of Bengal. In 2010, the Kolkata Port Trust (KoPT) published a tender notice in several newspapers, saying they had extended the port limits to include Kanika Sands. The Odisha government opposed the notification saying that the island was located off their coast. The Shipping Ministry eventually intervened in 2013, ruling in favour of Odisha.
“In a country as vast as India, such disputes acquire a local flavour or maybe, it does not get the play it deserves,” says Sanjay Kumar, Professor and Director at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.
Ranjit Bhushan is an independent journalist and former Nehru Fellow at Jamia Millia University. In a career spanning more than three decades, he has worked with Outlook, The Times of India, The Indian Express, the Press Trust of India, Associated Press, Financial Chronicle and DNA.