Boundary violence | Assam opts for CBI probe into clash with Meghalaya villagers

An Assam government vehicle was torched in Mukroh and a car with an Assam number plate was burnt in Shillong

November 23, 2022 06:36 pm | Updated November 24, 2022 01:01 am IST - Mukroh/Guwahati

Meghalaya CM Conrad Sangma on November 23, 2022 visits family members of victims killed in the Mukroh firing incident along the Assam-Meghalaya boundary the previous day.

Meghalaya CM Conrad Sangma on November 23, 2022 visits family members of victims killed in the Mukroh firing incident along the Assam-Meghalaya boundary the previous day. | Photo Credit: PTI

In the backdrop of violent clashes with villagers from Meghalaya, the Assam Cabinet on Wednesday decided to hand over the investigation to the Central Bureau of Investigation, Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said.

The Cabinet also asked the State police to use restraint while dealing with issues or disturbances involving civilians.

During a special Cabinet meeting held in New Delhi, the Council of Ministers decided to bring out Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for the police and forest personnel to deal with situations arising out of altercations with civilians. The Ministers expressed concern and condolences at the death of six persons in an “unfortunate police-civilian conflict situation” in West Karbi Anglong district, Mr. Sarma added.

The State government also decided to request Justice Rumi Phukan, a retired judge of the Gauhati High Court, to conduct a judicial probe into the circumstances that led to the incident, he added.

Earlier, Mr. Sarma said the Assam police and forest personnel could have fired fewer shots during the confrontation with villagers from Meghalaya on Tuesday.

Five villagers and a forest guard from Assam were killed in the firing that Mr. Sarma and his Meghalaya counterpart Conrad K. Sangma termed unprovoked. The incident took place in a disputed sector that Assam calls Mukhrow in West Karbi Anglong district while Meghalaya refers to as Mukroh in West Jaiñtia Hills district. “I believe the Assam police did not have to fire that many shots. I felt it was a little unprovoked,” Mr. Sarma told journalists in Delhi.

He said he had been speaking with Mr. Sangma three to four times since Tuesday and insisted neither State was viewing the incident as a battle of prestige. It was not a border dispute but the outcome of a clash between the Meghalaya locals and the forest guards of Assam, Mr. Sarma added.

“The villagers [from Meghalaya] were angry when our forest guards intercepted a timber-laden vehicle and took three persons into custody. When the Assam police went to bring the vehicle, the villagers confronted the personnel,” Mr. Sarma said.

On Wednesday, Mr. Sangma and some of his Cabinet colleagues visited the houses of the five deceased villagers and offered ex gratia of ₹5 lakh to each family.

“The Assam government has agreed to cooperate in the investigation, we want a Central agency to undertake,” he said, attributing “all problems on the boundary” to the 50-year-old border dispute between the two States.

“We are all angry after what happened yesterday [November 22] but violence cannot be the solution. We will ensure that the border issue, which is the crux of all tensions building up, is resolved at the earliest. We will take all steps to ensure that such an incident does not recur,” he said.

Mr. Sangma also said a high-level team would leave for New Delhi on Thursday to apprise Union Home Minister Amit Shah and other Central leaders of the incident and its background.

Trinamool’s complaint

The day also saw the Trinamool Congress, eyeing power in poll-bound Meghalaya, file a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission against the Assam forest guards for using “unprovoked lethal force” against unarmed Scheduled Tribe persons who were “exercising their constitutional right to forest produce within the borders of Meghalaya”.

Meanwhile, there were some stray incidents of attacks on Assam-registered vehicles in Meghalaya. An SUV was torched in State capital Shillong on Tuesday night followed by stone pelting at other vehicles.

Miscreants from Meghalaya vandalised and torched the Mokoilum forest beat office in Assam’s West Karbi Anglong district.

Hundreds of tourists and tourist vehicles from Assam are stranded in Shillong and other places of Meghalaya. Apprehending a backlash, the drivers refrained from driving back to Assam, members of a tourist vehicle operators’ body in Guwahati said.

After the violence on the border, the Assam police are not allowing the vehicles of the State to travel to Shillong. Meghalaya-registered vehicles have been dropping tourists and passengers at Jorabat, a junction on the outskirts of Guwahati, and turning back.

Hospitality industry captains in Meghalaya said the border incident could harm the tourist season ahead of Christmas and New Year, usually the time when the State attracts the most visitors.

(With PTI inputs)

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