The Union home ministry has recommended immediate suspension of India’s free movement regime with Myanmar, Union Home Minister Amit Shah said on Thursday.

The announcement came days after Shah said that India will fence its border with Myanmar and end the free movement regime with the country.

The free movement regime, which has been in place since the 1970s, allows visa-free movement for people living within 16 kms on either side of India and Myanmar’s shared, largely unfenced, 1,643-km-long border along Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh.

They can spend a day across the border without any document, and stay up to 72 hours “with effective and valid permits issued by the designated authorities on either side”.

“The [home ministry] has decided that the Free Movement scrapped to ensure the internal security of the country and to maintain the demographic structure of India’s North Eastern States bordering Myanmar,” Shah said in a social media post.

Since the External Affairs Ministry is in the process of scrapping the free movement regime, the home ministry has recommended its immediate suspension, Shah said.

The regime was devised keeping in mind the traditional social relations among those living along the border and to facilitate cross-border trade between the kindred tribes on both sides.

The Union government’s decision to revoke it comes against the backdrop of the ethnic conflict in Manipur. The state has been gripped by ethnic clashes between the Meitei and Kuki communities since early May. Over 200 people have been killed since the conflict broke out and nearly 67,000 persons have been forced to flee their homes.

In September, Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh had attributed the ethnic conflict to the free movement of people from across the Myanmar border. He had also urged the Union home ministry to “permanently” terminate the free movement regime and complete its fencing to check “influx”.

On Thursday, Singh reiterated that the decision to scrap the regime “is crucial for our internal security and the demographic integrity of our North Eastern States”. “This is yet another historic decision in curbing illegal immigration and strengthening our internal security after the recent announcement to fence the 1,643-km Indo-Myanmar border by Government of India,” Singh added in a social media post.

The Manipur government had already suspended the free movement regime in 2020, after the Covid-19 pandemic broke out.

Also read: Why India wants to do away with the free movement regime along the Myanmar border