Border Fencing: an issue of silence?

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By R.K. Shivachandra

By all accounts Mr. Suresh Babu, Principal Secretary (Home) is neither a politician nor an emissary who should speak on the India Myanmar border imbroglio. He should have carefully assessed the prevailing situation and conveyed it to the Home Minister where he can assert his wisdom. The oversimplified and misleading statement of Suresh Babu, Principal Secretary, Home that the said erected fence is a “security fence” and not a border fence could spark off a devastating inferno. If the fence was a security one then what about the 14 tribal villages that have been pushed off to Myanmar territory after the erection of the fence? The emotions of the disgruntled people of Manipur should not be taken in a light vein. The border fencing issue is a serious issue for the people of Manipur and should not be entrusted to someone who knows nothing of the feature.

As per international convention, border fencing can be erected 150 yards inside one`s territory from the zero point which means a border pillar or middle of river. This is a norm of a buffer zone between border and fencing, and not a law. But the two countries can also bilaterally decide on a mutually agreed distance. For example: 150 yards is maintained along the Indo-Bangla and Indo-Pak border. 150 yards is about 137 meters. Thus, India can still do fencing without informing Myanmar, but it has to be at least 150 yards from the border pillar. It can be 500 yards or 1 km, but minimum 150 yards, otherwise Myanmar can oppose the move. Along the LOC in Kashmir, India took up fencing, but after going 150 yards inside India’s territory. In hilly terrain, at some places the fence is 1 Kms away from border. Pakistan had opposed the fencing, but international community supported India since it followed the 150 yards fencing convention. The recent ambush of Indian soldiers by terrorists in Kashmir was between the exact border line and the fence.  Coming back to the fencing issue, if the Myanmar government does not agree to reduce the distance, the Indian government has to do fencing 150 yards inside our territory from the border pillar. But this depends on the bilateral relationship of the two neighbouring countries.

The border fence at the gate no 2 (Namfalong) and Moreh  is erected at zero point and this is mutually agreed too but the bigger question here is when a fence at Namfalong can be negotiated at zero point  why cannot this same wisdom be appleid in certain villages of Manipur that were segregated to the Myanmar side in the wake of the fencing. Mr. Suresh Babu should first confirm and disclose to the public what distance was followed in the Moreh sector. Border fence should not be confused with border pillar, which is the exact border. In case of Assam’s Karimganj town, both India and Bangladesh agreed to take up fencing at 25 yards from zero point as half of the town would be outside the fencing if the 150 yards norm is followed. So, 25 yards fencing was agreed for 3.5 km length in Karimganj. Assam government took up the matter with MHA and the centre convinced Bangladesh.  In case of Indo-Bangladesh fencing in Tripura, there is even fencing at zero line in some areas like Mohanpur and Kailashar etc. This came after the CPM govt took up the issue with Centre and the Centre spoke to Bangladesh and convinced them on zero line fencing in some areas of Tripura. Questions that can be asked now are: Was Manipur government consulted when the fencing decision was taken by the Centre? If so, till what level is the state is aware about the fencing? What is the agreed distance for fencing? 150 yards or less? . If many villages are to fall outside the fence, has Manipur government taken up the matter with the MHA like Assam and Tripura government did? If Tripura government can convince for zero line fencing in many areas along the Indo-Bangladesh border and Assam govt can convince the Centre for 25 yards fence in Karimganj town, why can’t the Manipur government do it? Or has Manipur government remained a silent spectator?. In case of Moreh town, the border fencing is almost at zero line. Why can’t this be followed in other areas? Has Manipur government ever raised this issue with the Centre? Has the Centre ever raised this issue with Myanmar or has India taken up the fencing without discussing it with Myanmar? . In LOC in Kashmir, Indian army patrolls the areas between the zero line and fence and similarly, BSF does the same along Indo-Bangla border. Will Assam Rifles do it on Indo-Myanmar border?  When border fencing issue was kept so open both in Assam and Tripura governments allowing people to debate on it, why has the Manipur government been so secretive? A dull and lethargic government can render many homeless especially in border areas and I pray this should not occur to our people.

At this point of time, creating confusion with Myanmar is not a good sign.  The Centre should not say that the fencing is being disturbed by the people of Manipur. The ball cannot be thrown to the people of the state. Manipur is as precious as Kashmir, Mumbai and Delhi for this is also India.  So Delhi should speak to their Myanmar counterparts and settle the matter amicably as they did in Bangladesh and Pakistan.   The Manipur Government on its part should not be like an ostrich hiding its head in sand. Instead, it is time to shake off the sand and see the reality: that the clouds of trouble are looming heavy in the sky and the weather forecast could be dangerous to the Government as well as for the people.

(R.K. Shivachandra is associated with the Indo Myanmar Fraternal Alliance. The opinions expressed are the author`s personal opinion)

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