Will the Notification of 1925 (British India)Boundary line between Assam-Nagaland be acceptable?

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    The recent statement of Chief Minister of Nagaland T.R. Zeliang in the meeting of NPF party Central Executive Committee meeting on 9.10.14 stating that ‘Nagas has weak documentary evidences in support of the territorial claims’ has once again provoked strong reactions on the Assam-Nagaland Border dispute which is a very emotive issue of all the Nagas.

    The statement of chief minister, I understood, was by way of quoting the accusation of Assam on the Naga claims; not of what the Nagas stand are on our claims. The contention of Assam, all along has been that Nagaland has no locus standii to sustain its claim. For, the 1925 Boundary line was accepted and notified as the Constitutional boundary in 13th constitutional Amendment of 1962 which created the State of Nagaland. Thus the territories beyond that line fall outside the border line of Naga Hills district then. In the year 1988 Assam, had filed a suit in Supreme Court (No. 2, 1988) against the Government of India, Election Commission and State of Nagaland (as respondents) pleading the Court’s intervention to declare the notification of 1925 (No.3912 R Dtd 25.11.1925) issued by the British India be confirmed as the final constitutional boundary between Assam-Nagaland state. For the last 26 years this case is pending in the SC and has been the center-stage of all happening on the boundary issue. Even the constitution of the Local Commission in 2006 and appointment of mediators in 2010 to try an amicable settlement have all been originated out of this case. Therefore, the recent Interim order of the Supreme Court pronounced on 24.9.14 is a welcome development. It is a speaking order giving directive to the MHA to take full responsibility for early settlement of the long pending Border dispute. The Court further sought a report from the MHA on whether the maps of the Survey General of India can be authentically relied upon in determining the exact boundary line between the disputing states. Thirdly, to allow another chance to try amicable settlement between the parties to the dispute.

    At this stage, the question of whether there are sufficient evidences to justify the claims of the Nagas is not very relevant. Whether or not to accept this notification as the final instrument to determine the final demarcation of the border line between the two states is the moot question now for which every concern citizen must be aware of.

    The significance of this notification in the context of the border issue are; – (a) the 1925 British India notification represent the ultimate consolidation of all the arbitrary, illegal and forced delineation of the Naga traditional territories over many years by the British administration.(b) this was adopted as the constitutional boundary in the 13th amendment of the constitution in 1962 enabling the creation of the state of Nagaland which under normal circumstances be consider as final boundary. (c) But in this case, if it is accepted or imposed as the final boundary line between Assam-Nagaland states, Nagas will feel betrayed once again and will have disastrous consequences instead of solving the long pending border issue. Moreover Nagaland is born out of political agreement which require political approach for solution not strictly legal. Nagas will never accept this line as the final boundary line for the reasons that-

    1) it represent the sum total of historical wrongs meted out to the Nagas by the alien rulers. Right from the beginning Nagas were aware of this arbitrary alienation of the Naga territories starting from 1852 till early 1920’s by the British India (Assam). For the first time, this discriminatory issue was presented before the Simon Commission at Kohima on 10.01.1929. The memo submitted had emphasized on the protection and preservation of the Naga territories and customary law. Thereafter in 1947, the Nagas had the next opportunity to specifically articulate, amongst other, the issue of arbitrary alienation of Naga territories by way of transferring and subsequently declaring as Reserved Forests( R/Fs) or used for accommodating the expansion of Tea Industry by transferring to the adjacent Districts (Sibsagar, Nowgaon, Cachar) of Assam over the years. They demanded that all those transferred land be restored back to the Nagas original owners. The Governor of Assam Hydari Ali had in June 1947 agreed to the 9 points demands of the Nagas and assured on behalf of the Government of India that all those alienated land are restored back to the Naga people. It is regrettable to note that the assurance could not be translated into reality.

    Again, at the time of negotiating the Statehood, the Naga Public Convention (NPC) representatives had reiterated this issue in the 16 point memorandum which was late converted into 16 point Agreement after the detail discussion on each demand with the officials and central political leaders led by no other than the great Pandit Nehru the then PM of India. The Nagas were assured of final Inter-State Boundary adjustment later under the provision of Articles 3&4 of the Constitution after creation of Nagaland State. From the above narrations, it’s clear that the Nagas are united on this common issue and have been continuously agitating since 1929 till today for return of those delineated territories during the British Rule of the Nagas without their knowledge. This legitimate demand is non-negotiable.

    2) In reality, this notification was issued for a limited purpose of administrative conveniences by consolidating numerous localized boundary demarcation notifications that were issued overlapping the lines in some cases, creating confusion as well as creating complication in discharging both revenue and other administrative responsibility. Between the years 1867-1923, there were 15 boundary notifications and 6 Inner line notifications on Sibsagar District alone abutting the Naga Hills territories. This notification was an administrative necessity but not to be considered as real boundary line of the Naga Hills with the other adjacent districts of Assam as it suffers from many factual infirmities some of which are mentioned in subsequent paragraphs under.

    3) This boundary line was never been identified and verified on the ground at the time of issuing nor later at any point of time. It was clearly stated on number of occasions by the officials of the Survey General of India. it is evidenced from such instant example quoted herewith, “the boundary between Assam-Nagaland shown in the toposheet is interpreted from Assam govt notification no 3102R dated 25.11.1925 but it is yet to be verified on the ground “In fact, in the toposheet referred, factual infirmities were observed in showing some Naga villages on the wrong side of the line.

    4) Since the state of Nagaland was created out of a political Agreement, the demand for redrawing of boundary line between the two states is also a political right as per proviso of the Art. 131 of the constitution (under which Assam has filed the Suit), not limiting only to the legal interpretation by the court as to whether 1925 boundary Line should be declared as final Constitutional boundary in terms of 13th Amendment of the Constitution. The proviso provides the original jurisdiction to lay with Parliament to decide boundary matter in cases born out of such Political Agreement.

    Hence, a Boundary Commission with the initiative of G.O.I is the right approach for which Nagas have been consistently demanding right after the formation of the State in 1963.

    5) It is also important to note that in most of the R/Fs declared out of Naga traditional land, some inherent rights of the native people were recognized and enjoyed uninterrupted in the Forest land even after declaring as Reserved Forest areas e.g. right of way, collection of minor forest product, like thatch, bamboos and cultivation and collection of beetle leaves. This further corroborates the original ownership of those territories till the British Ruler had arbitrarily deprived them of rights ownership but still have the right to reclaim the ownership on the land. These are the reasons and clear evidences which justify Naga demand for restoration to the original owners. For all those reasons and others, this 1925 notified line cannot be accepted as the final boundary line.

    6) It is an undisputed fact that the original owners of those alienated territories were the Nagas which were transferred in the past without their knowledge. It is but natural that in such cases of wrong done, it must be restored back to the original owners.

    The demands of the Nagas is further justified in term of unique Constitutional Protective Provision provided to the Nagas under Art 371 A Clause IV (at the time of creation of State) which say that “no Act of Parliament in respect of (IV) ownership of and transfer of land and its resources shall apply to the State of Nagaland unless the Legislative Assembly of Nagaland by a resolution so decides”. This is a Constitutional guarantee available only to the Nagas which will strengthen the claims of the Nagas.

    7) Further in terms of the Government of India Act of 2006,( the scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006 aims to recognize and restore forest rights on ancestral lands and their habitats correcting the historical wrong done to this weaker section of the society in the past. Such supporting Acts and documents strengthen further the legitimacy of the claims of the Nagas to the ancestral land which were alienated.

    However, Assam has taken full advantage of provisionally declaring 1925 notified line as the constitutional boundary between the two states at the time of creation of Nagaland state by filing the Suit in the SC seeking the Court to uphold the notified Line as the permanent boundary between the two states in conformity with the declaration of 13th amendment of the constitution. If this contention of Assam is accepted, all the arbitrary transferred Naga ancestral territories that are under demand for return will be defeated in one stroke and will become part of Assam permanently. That is what Assam is after to perpetually rob the Naga territories that were illegally taken away during the British Rule instead of agreeing to return to the original rightful owners as a good neighborly big brother. It is a clever maneuver to abort any attempt of bringing about a fair settlement of border dispute between the two states either through a Boundary Commission under the aegis of the Ministry of Home Affairs or an amicable settlement between the parties by taking into account the ground reality, historical and traditional facts, legal and constitutional consideration, and other circumstantial evidences relevant to the issue.

    That being so, the traditional Naga alienated territories had become the scene of frequent border clashes between the two States which were term as the Disputed Area Belt (DAB) covering as many as 10 R/F areas within which 4 (four) Interim Agreements were made in 1972 to maintain peace and status quo till a final settlement. But it is regrettable to note that Assam side is not serious to abide by that terms of agreements from the day one of the agreements thereby constant tensions still prevail along the border.

    The alternative approach of settlement amicably between the parties was mooted and agreed to by Naga leaders’ way back on 16.4.93. since then, willingness on the part of Nagas still stand till today as the latest offer made by the present Chief Minister T.R.Zeliang in the context of the latest S.C. Interim Order. But it has to be mutual to succeed. Under any circumstances, acceptance of this notified Line as the final Boundary demarcation will negate and defeat the whole effort of correcting the glaring historical wrongs meted out to the Nagas depriving the traditional territories without their knowledge not to speak of their consent since the arrival of the British into the Naga territories in the middle of 19th century, 1932 to be precise.

    The population is increasing but availability of land is shrinking through continuous encroachments from all sides. It is time, instead of passing on the bugs on others, all Nagas should stand united to fight for the legitimate rights over the deprived traditional Naga territories which are now in the possession of Assam as the custodian of the DAB areas and are being misused in many way. Knowing the historical facts, Assam Government is trying to perpetuate that illegal possession by maneuvering the judicial intervention and resorting to other delay tactics. It is disappointing to note that Govt. of India oscillate and indecisive for a firm action on the basis of fair play and the assurances given by the great National leader Pandit Nehru and others at the time of creation of Nagaland Statehood in 1963 at the peak of turmoil in the State which had costed the life of a tall selfless Naga leader Dr. Imkongliba, the president of the Naga People Convention and many others as a result of the move for the Nagaland state creation against the wishes of the extremists section of the Nagas. The creation was purely out of a political agreement between the Naga leaders and the Central Government. Therefore, for any change in the boundary line due to increase or decrease as the case may be, only Parliament has the power to formalize it through an Act.

    On the basis of the brief narration given above, the Naga stand is clearly based on solid evidences to justify our demand for immediate redrawing of boundary line between Assam-Nagaland taking into account the historical facts, traditional and ancestral ownership rights, Constitutional rights guaranteed under special provisions and other general rights, ground realities legality of the demand and last but not the least the political rights and concession as are assured earlier.

    Today for the Nagas, this is the most important common concern to which all stake holders must rally round on this issue of restoration of the alienated territories and protection of the right and to demarcate the Border line up to that extent of traditionally owned territories.

    Any authority engaged in the negotiation on Border issue in any fora either in the court, in any commissions or through amicable settlement, one must not forget to emphasis on those basic criteria to protect the rights and principles of the Nagas, lest the posterity would blame as betrayal selling the interest of the Nagas.

    The 1929 Notification of the British era in Assam, which was the consolidated ultimate instrument of exploitation of the helpless Nagas in depriving their traditional rights of ownership could not have been designed to adopt as the permanent constitutional Boundary between Assam-Nagaland which would perpetuate that historical injustice of the past British era which the Nagas have been continuously and consistently agitating to right the historical wrongs. Though Assam state is desperately maneuvering to get judicial verdict in favor of declaring the line as the final boundary between the two states, the factual realities are clearly against such acceptance. The Supreme Court which is the apex institution as the custodian and repository of all justices, where wrongs are equitable redressed is expected to be fair in dispensing justice on the issue sooner or later. The SC had earlier even suggested moving for setting up of a Boundary Commission to decide the matter once and for all.

    If 1929 Boundary line is upheld or imposed as the final boundary line, it will be the height of the denial of justice to the Nagas and the ultimate betrayal of the assurances of the government of India in 1947 by the then governor of Assam and in 1962 at the time of statehood creation, all of which are yet to honor in reality. All the true Nagas are hopefully waiting the fulfillment of those assurances. Nagas must wake up to the reality on the most crucial issue at hand today and unitedly take it as a common challenge condescending beyond party politics, social and tribal differences.

    Source: The Morung Express