Once again, the boundary dispute along Manipur-Myanmar sector of Indo-Myanmar Boundary has reappeared in media and public domain. Despite many protests by the civil society organisations (CSOs) and political parties in Manipur against the frequent border incursions by Myanmar along the Manipur sector of the international boundary and cases of missing boundary pillars or shifting of the pillars, the controversy over subsidiary boundary pillars, the border fencing is found to be constructed one kilometre within Indian Territory.
International border security fencing near boundary pillar number 81, which was protested and abandoned by the United Committee Manipur (UCM) in August 2021 demanding to stop the construction until the dispute is resolved, has been found to be constructed one kilometre within the Indian Territory by a team of UCM. The UCM along with media personnel visited the boundary pillar number 81 near Kwatha Khunou on May 31. During the visit the abandoned international security border fencing was found to have been resumed by the Border Road Task Force (BRTF) under the supervision of the Government of Inida’s Union Home Department.
However, it was not unexpected because a high level meeting held on January 22, 2021 with Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren in the chair discussed the resumption of fencing at Moreh along the India-Myanmar border. The meeting which was also attended by Ministry of Home Affairs Joint Secretary (North East in-charge), Piyush Goyal, studied resumption of the 10 Kms border fencing work at Moreh which was abandoned midway a couple of years back. The border fencing work was abandoned following several complaints of loss of Manipur’s territory as a result of constructing the fence.
Earlier during his first term Manipur Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren said that his government has formed a high-power committee to investigate the incursions; it will seek a fresh survey if any discrepancy is found.
Since then no decision was taken yet by the authorities concerned to stop the construction of border fencing along the Manipur-Myanmar sector of Indo-Myanmar boundary.
Reacting to the border fencing, UCM President Joychandra Konthoujam said the people of Manipur will never compromise on the territorial boundary of Manipur while the Government of India tries to bring friendship with Myanmar and to fulfil Act East Policy. People of the state also wanted to bring friendship with Myanmar however, the construction work should resume after the border dispute is solved. Construction work of security fencing must be stopped and the Government of India (GOI) must give priority on solving the border dispute immediately, he added.
Meanwhile, Manipur Pradesh Congress Committee (MPCC) president Keisham Meghachandra on June 1 has reaffirmed that the party’s fight for Indo-Myanmar border pillar will continue until the state government takes up necessary steps to settle the long pending dispute.
Meghachandra said that it is unfortunate to learn about the continuous construction of border fencing along Indo-Myanmar region despite various civil voluntary organisations demanding to halt it until dispute is settled. MPCC has also been urging the authorities concerned for finalisation of the long pending Indo-Myanmar border pillar issue, the party president said.
However, the Government of India always maintains that there is no border dispute along the Manipur-Myanmar sector of international boundary. The GOI on August 1, 2018 had said there was no border dispute between India and Myanmar and the demarcation at nine pillars was being worked out in complete understanding with the neighbouring country.
Reports quoting the Minister of State for Home, Kiren Rijiju said a high-level Central team has already visited the spot and reported that there is no dispute on the issue.
On August 1, 2018 replying to supplementary questions during Question Hour in the Rajya Sabha, Kiren Rijiju said the Indo-Myanmar boundary was 1,472 km long, out of which 171 km is to be demarcated through a boundary mechanism which both the countries have established. There were some nine border pillars which are to be identified and erected.
In a written reply to the Rajya Sabha, the Minister of State for Home said the Indo-Myanmar boundary has been settled as per the provisions of the India-Burma Boundary Agreement, 1967, but the groundwork for demarcation, including that of nine unsettled boundary pillars along the border in the Manipur sector, remains to be completed.
While many civil society organisations in Manipur including UCM and border villagers have always cried foul over the border dispute between Manipur and Myanmar alleging in media that the controversial pillar No. 81 was set up inside Manipur because New Delhi “gave up” its land during the border survey conducted in early 2018, the Union Ministry of External Affairs issued a statement on July 8, 2018 denying it. The statement said, “We have come across media reports stating that certain boundary pillars in the Manipur sector of the India-Myanmar international boundary have been allegedly shifted. These reports are completely baseless and unsubstantiated. This sector of the international boundary is settled and there is no confusion as to its alignment.”
The statement also reportedly said that the border survey was conducted “keeping with the Indo-Burma Boundary Agreement of 1967”. It added, “Recently, routine survey work has been carried out jointly by the Indian and Myanmar survey departments during which work on construction of subsidiary pillars in between already settled main boundary pillars 81 and 82 along zero line, that is, agreed and settled international boundary, has also been undertaken. This has been done with the objective of apprising the local residents on both sides of the border of the exact alignment of the international boundary.”
When Dr. RK Ranjan, Union Minister of State for External Affairs reportedly assured a delegation of UCM that a Central team would visit Manipur in October to verify the location of disputed boundary pillars on along Manipur-Myanmar sector of the Indo-Myanmar boundary. RK Ranjan as a BJP MP from Manipur before becoming Union Minister even moved in the parliament to give the compensation for Manipur’s loss of 22,210 square kilometres Kabaw Valley to Myanmar during Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Many Manipuris including CSO leaders have high hopes that being a Union Minister of State for External Affairs RK Ranjan will do something to resolve the boundary dispute.
Though the BJP had earlier blamed Manipur’s boundary problem with Myanmar on Jawaharlal Nehru for not claiming the Kabaw Valley during demarcation in 1947 and its complete loss to Myanmar in 1953, the Government of India’s stand that the Indo-Myanmar boundary is settled and there is no confusion over its alignment remains the same.
In the present context where the Government of India’s stand remains unchanged and Manipur Government’s agreement with the ongoing border fencing, just visiting disputed areas of Indo-Myanmar Border and issuing press statements and briefing media by civil society organisations and political parties in Manipur appear not to be enough force to move the Government to protect Manipur’s losing territory.
Present style of responses of civil society organisations and political parties in Manipur to Manipur-Myanmar boundary dispute might not be able to change Government’s stand to resolve the dispute first before the ongoing construction of boundary fencing.
(This article was first published in Imphal Review ofArts and Politics)