MoU Assam-Nagaland: How to Avoid Another Violent Incident at the Border

As the aftermath of the violent clashes at the Assam-Mizoram border on July 26 in the Lailapur-Vairengte sector continued – and in particular the transfer of the conflict to cyberspace – Assam and Nagaland signed a memorandum of understanding on July 31 to withdraw their respective forces from the Dessoi valley reserve forest to their base camps. The movement is significant.

If a resolution for the 512 km long Assam-Nagaland border can be reached at least in spirit, then a resolution for the 165 km Assam-Mizoram border – or, for that matter, for the 884 km long Assam -Meghalaya and 801 those in Assam-Arunachal Pradesh, one kilometer long, could also be sincerely wanted.

These border disputes arose due to past disputes, when technology to accurately measure vast areas was not possible. As a result, the case was left lying around and even manipulated. Over time, encroachments on forest reserve lands and expansion of housing have increased pressure points in various places, a few of which have become flash points.

It is important to note that in this resolution for the Assam-Nagaland border, the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and satellite imagery has been mentioned in the MoU for surveillance purposes so that the status quo quo is maintained. However, these two technologies can go further in the search for a lasting solution to the thorny border problems between the northeastern states.

Home Secretary Amit Shah said this in January at the Northeast Council (NEC) meeting, where he suggested the use of satellite imagery technology from the Space Applications Center. du Nord-Est (Nesac), a joint venture between GoI’s Space Department and NEC. Nesac has started providing geographic information system (GIS) and remote sensing for various activities in the eight northeastern states in natural resource and disaster management. He recently released the North Eastern Spatial Data Repository (NeSDR), with 950 datasets that will help states deal with encroachment. Obviously, this can go a long way in helping states resolve their border disputes.

The use of technology for interstate borders will have to be based on two premises: first, to scientifically demarcate the borders; and second, manage agreed boundaries and prevent encroachment, maintain buffer zones where they are created and prevent habitat construction and destructive cultivation on classified forests. In addition to satellite imagery, which is characterized by its latency and medium-resolution images, communications management enables real-time, high-resolution images of targets to be obtained.

Today, fixed and mobile CCTV systems, range finders, thermal imaging devices, ground sensors and radio frequency sensors are readily available to meet these requirements. Boundary demarcation on satellite imagery based on latitudinal and longitudinal positions on existing cartographic maps should be respected, as agreed by States at the time of their formation. Once this is done, the next steps in maintaining the sanctity of this will be based on communicating technology on terrains that are not necessarily the easiest to move. CCTV with resolutions below 0.3m via drones can capture precise streams.

The fact remains that if the technology remains available, it must be used in a shared way so that the surveillance of each other does not end up becoming another problem to be solved. During the last skirmish in Lailapur-Vairengte, drones from the Assam and Mizoram police forces were seen flying over their respective territories. In a few states, various student associations and civil organizations have set up non-police checkpoints to screen traveling passengers who often lead to harassment. This is being intentionally ignored by state governments for political reasons and reached its peak during lockdowns and restrictions related to Covid-19. Clearly, these states – with the northeast being vulnerable to a spike in Covid cases – need to be responsible and prevent such situations.

The northeastern region of India has benefited from greater engagement and attention during the time of the current central government than before. An effort has now been made to use technology for better reach and better governance. As secular perceptions of the region change with better law and order, the last thing anyone wants to see is interstate conflict where police and residents on either side of the border launch missiles or use kinetics against each other.

In resolution as well as future oversight, disputes that arise should be resolved jointly and collectively with technology sources and footprints, without allowing issues to escalate into conflict.

The author is a defense and cybersecurity analyst.


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