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2nd round of border talks with Assam to begin in April, regional committees reconstituted

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Shillong, March 22: Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma on Wednesday announced that the second round of border talks aimed at resolving the remaining six areas of difference with neighbouring Assam would take place next month. Sangma also informed the Assembly that regional committees had been reconstituted three days prior, with the two deputy chief ministers – Prestone Tynsong and Sniawbhalang Dhar – heading the regional committees for Ri Bhoi District and West Jaintia Hills District, respectively. Meanwhile, cabinet minister Paul Lyngdoh will be the chairman of the regional committee for West Khasi Hills District.

The chief minister was responding to a special motion moved by opposition Congress legislator Charles Marngar during the Budget Session on Wednesday on the need to discuss the second phase of interstate boundary settlement and to review the memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed between the two chief ministers. Sangma assured the Assembly that the government would ask the regional committees to have detailed discussions with all stakeholders, including autonomous district councils, to fully understand the concerns of people living in the border areas before deciding how to move forward.

Sangma acknowledged that resolving the border dispute was a complex issue and that finding a solution acceptable to all would not be easy. However, he appealed to members of the House to keep the bigger picture in mind, stating that a negative mindset would not help solve the issue. He emphasized the importance of open-mindedness and consistency in approach to keep the larger interest of the people in mind.

The chief minister also assured the Assembly that sufficient manpower would be present in areas of difference to ensure the safety of the people. While supporting the special motion, Voice of the People Party (VPP) legislator from Nongkrem, Ardent Miller Basaiawmoit, questioned whether the MoU signed between Meghalaya and Assam chief ministers would stand in the court of law, citing the need for the government to review and relook into the MoU.

“I don’t think we will allow the government to take us for a ride. How can we allow more than 18 sq km of land be given to Assam. We are on the losing side as I said anything done in haste will end up in a waste,” Basaiawmoit said. He also slammed the MDA government for claiming that it is the only government which has done a marvellous work as far as boundary issue is concerned, and said, “It is not fair because we must also give credit to the previous governments which have done diligent works and place the documents (before) Assam.”

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In response, Sangma said that it would be incorrect for the VPP leader to say that the Meghalaya Democratic Alliance (MDA) government was making claims and not giving credit to past governments and their contributions towards the border issue. Sangma pointed out that he had always started his speech by thanking past governments and former chief ministers for their contributions. He also highlighted that the issue required political will, and the MDA government had the will to take the talks to the next level.

Sangma informed the Assembly that 32 meetings had been held between the two states since 1971, with ten meetings at the chief ministers’ level in the past five years from 2018 to 2022, leading to the signing of the MoU that resolved the first six areas of difference between the two states. Sangma emphasized that the MDA government was clear that it would go ahead with the MoU, which he regarded as a huge milestone.

The chief minister also informed the Assembly that based on the people’s will, Tarabari, which was earlier under the administrative control of Assam, had been given to Meghalaya. The Assam government had also withdrawn teachers it had appointed, and Meghalaya was in the process of appointing teachers in the area. The MDA government had to face a lot of challenges due to the 2011 report submitted to the Assam government, which had failed to include some of the villages. This caused problems during public hearings, with more villages requesting to be part of Meghalaya due to their exclusion from the report. Despite these challenges, Sangma remained optimistic that the issue could be resolved through open-mindedness, consistency, and political will.

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