Civil Society Groups in India’s Manipur Oppose Plan to Fence Part of Border With Myanmar

By Rajeev Bhattacharyya 23 December 2022

The Indian government’s plan to fence a certain stretch of the country’s border with Myanmar has hit a hurdle with several local organizations from the border state of Manipur raising objections against the scheme.

The United Committee Manipur (UCM), an apex body of 32 civil society organizations in Manipur, has warned that an agitation opposing the move would be launched if the government goes ahead with the fencing project before the border disputes are resolved.

“We want the border row with Myanmar to be resolved ahead of the fencing.  However, very recently we have received information that efforts have been initiated to restart the project in the border district of Tengnoupal which was stalled some time ago,” president of UCM Joychandra Konthoujam told The Irrawaddy. He pointed out that state and central governments have been apprised about the concerns of the civil society organizations in Manipur.

The UCM has identified three zones along the state’s border with Myanmar in the districts of Kamjong and Tengnoupal which it considers as disputed. The total length of the disputed sites is around 10 km.

The matter was raised in the Indian Parliament on Dec. 14 by Manipur’s representative in the upper house Leishemba Sanajaoba, who urged the government to resolve the issue.

Three months ago, the UCM alleged that Myanmar had encroached around 5 km into Manipur along Border Pillar 103 after a visit to the spot by a team of the apex body. A decision was taken by UCM to compile a report on the situation along the border with the assistance of experts and then submit it to the prime minister and home minister.

The development came on the heels of a series of protests in Imphal in June by local groups objecting to the fence erected between border pillars 81 and 82 at Tengnoupal near the border town of Moreh. The state government was prompted to make a case for the suspension of the fencing before the central government.

Subsequently, Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh informed that a team of the Home Ministry would convene a meeting with the Myanmar government to sort out the issue. He added that fencing would continue in the zones along the border where there are no disputes.

Manipur shares a border of 398 km with Myanmar out of a total of 1643 km skirting three more states in India. The “free border regime” between the two neighbors allows local residents to travel up to a distance of 16 km on the other side of the border provided they can produce a border pass issued by a competent authority which is valid only for two weeks.

The boundary was settled as per the provisions laid down in the agreement inked by both countries in 1967. According to the  annual report of the Indian Home Ministry,  only 136 km at Lohit sub-sector in Arunachal Pradesh and 35 km at Kabaw Valley in Manipur are “undemarcated”.

The Manipur government has accorded top priority to fence the state’s border with Myanmar. The government believes that a fence can check cross-border criminal activities such as drug trafficking, illegal immigration and insurgency.

Although the number of insurgency related incidents has declined in India’s northeast over the past several years, the unrest in Myanmar since last year has compelled thousands of people to take refuge in Manipur and Mizoram.  Consignments of drugs are also frequently being confiscated in spite of intensified surveillance along the border and certain routes in the region.