Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on Tuesday announced that his government will approach the Supreme Court for protection of Inner-line Reserve Forest from destruction and encroachment, PTI reported.

His comments came a day after five Assam police officers were killed and 60 were injured as clashes erupted along the state’s border with Mizoram. The police forces of both the states fired at each other. Residents of Lailapur village in Assam’s Cachar district also clashed with those near Vairengte in Mizoram’s Kolasib district.

In 1972, Mizoram was carved out of Assam and made into a separate Union Territory. In 1987, it became a full-fledged state. The three South Assam districts of Cachar, Hailakandi and Karimganj share a 164.6-km-long border with Mizoram’s Kolasib, Mamit and Aizawl districts.

The dispute between both the states stems from differing views on which border demarcation to follow.

Mizoram’s perception of the border is based on an 1875 notification that flows from the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation Act of 1873. The Act demarcated the hills from the plains and valleys in the North East, restricting free travel between the two zones. The hills were deemed to be “excluded areas”. Assam, for its part, goes by a 1933 notification by the state government that demarcated the Lushai Hills, as Mizoram was then known, from the province of Manipur.

Several rounds of dialogue at various levels since 1994 have failed to resolve the border disagreement, leading to the occasional violence.

After the latest violence, the Assam Police alleged that the Mizoram government was trying to build a temporary road from another point in Vairengte up to the area in Lailapur, which falls under the Inner-line Reserve Forest, according to The Indian Express. Mizoram, however, said the violence started after the Assam Police crossed the border and “over-ran” a police post in Vairengte town of Kolasib district.

At a press conference in Silchar on Tuesday, Sarma said his government’s dispute with Mizoram was due to encroachment of reserved forests. Citing satellite images, he said that roads were being constructed and forests were being cleared for cultivation, which can not be allowed.

“We have no settlements in the forest areas and, if Mizoram can give evidence, we will immediately carry out eviction,” he said. “Not an inch of Assam’s land could be encroached by Mizoram. People have sacrificed their lives but boundary has been protected which we will continue to do at any cost.”

The Assam chief minister also asked how reserved forest area can be used for settlement, ANI reported. “We will move the Supreme Court to ensure that the forests are protected,” Sarma added.

He also declared that Assam will deploy three commando battalions in Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi districts, bordering Mizoram.

Meanwhile, locals in Assam’s Kabuganj and Dholai area have started an indefinite blockade of roads leading to Mizoram from 9 am on Tuesday to prevent any vehicle from moving to the neighbouring state amid the border row.

The Union home ministry has informed Parliament that it was closely monitoring the situation along the Assam-Mizoram border. It added that the Centre “just acts as a facilitator in such disputes”.

Last week, Home Minister Amit Shah had held a meeting in Shillong to try to resolve the row.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said that Shah had failed the country again by “sowing hatred and distrust into the lives of people”. Former Union Minister and Congress leader Jitendra Singh Alwar said that a seven-member committee will be formed to assess the “dispute on the ground and the ensuing violence that has cost the lives of police personnel among others”.

Past flare-ups

In October 2020, tensions between Assam and Mizoram escalated to an unprecedented level after both the sides accused each other of encroaching on their land. Residents of both states clashed twice in a week, leading to eight people being injured.

Residents blocked key highways and the matter was only solved after the intervention by the Centre.

The row started after Assam officials reportedly burnt down a farm house and crops along a contested part of the Karimganj-Mamit boundary. The Assam Police claimed it was an eviction drive. In response, the Mizoram government deployed troops and set up camps in areas which Assam claims is part of its territory.

The dispute also assumed an ethnic tinge as Mizo civil society groups claimed that those behind the violence from Assam were “illegal migrants” from Bangladesh trying to take over Mizo land.

Tensions stirred again on November 3, after a 45-year-old man from Assam’s Cachar district died in the custody of the Mizoram Police. Two days later, the Centre deployed additional forces for Assam to maintain peace along the state’s borders with Mizoram.

More recently, on July 10, several crops and betel nut trees owned by a Mizoram farmer were allegedly damaged during an “eviction drive” by the Assam police near Phainuam village.

On the same day, unidentified persons had allegedly lobbed a grenade at an Assam government team visiting the border areas.

However, the Mizoram government claimed an earth mover’s tyre had burst. The Mizoram government had responded by deploying forces in what Assam claims is its territory. The Mizos, for their part, insisted that they were only “defending their land”.

On June 30, Mizoram had accused Assam of encroaching upon its land in the Kolasib district.