Assam barred local vehicles and tourists from entering Meghalaya after a car registered in the state was torched in Shillong, 98km from Guwahati, late in the evening. Meghalaya blocked mobile internet across seven districts for 48 hours and cancelled all events, including the ongoing Cherry Blossom Festival, a mega music contest and a literary fest.
Meghalaya CM Conrad Sangma accused Assam Police of entering his state along with forest guards and “resorting to unprovoked firing”. The BJP-led Assam government claimed the firing was “in self-defence”, mentioning that one of the casualties was a forest guard from the state.
Both states said the clash occurred in their territory. Assam claimed Mukroh village was part of West Karbi Anglong district while Meghalaya marked the hamlet as being within West Jaintia Hills district.
“Based on the reports we have received, a truck carrying timber was pursued by Assam forest guards and police and detained at Mukroh in West Jaintia Hills. People from Mukroh gathered in large numbers and surrounded the police and forest guards, leading to firing in which five villagers from Meghalaya and one forest guard of Assam were killed,” Sangma said.
Assam issued a statement saying “Mukhrow” was under the jurisdiction of Jirikinding police station of West Karbi Anglong. “The incident took place when the forest party attempted to stop a truck smuggling timber…They were gheraoed by miscreants, who resorted to violence. To save lives, the forest party resorted to firing.”
Both states set up inquiry commissions, besides calling for a “neutral” probe by a central agency like the NIA or CBI. Sangma said a special investigation team headed by the DIG of the eastern range would investigate the incident until the Centre initiates a probe.
As an interim measure, the Himanta Biswa Sarma government shunted out the West Karbi Anglong SP and suspended the officers-in-charge of Jirikinding police station and kheroni reserve forest. The government also withdrew all the cops and forest guards involved in the incident. Assam and Meghalaya also separately announced Rs 5 lakh each to the families of the deceased as compensation.
A cabinet delegation from Meghalaya will meet Union home minister Amit Shah on Thursday to convey the state’s stand and also brief the National Human Rights Commission, Sangma said. The border flare-up comes three days after Mizoram officially apologised to Assam for the death of six cops and a civilian in police firing from across the inter-state boundary at Lailapur in Cachar in July last year. The two states, under the direct supervision of Union home minister Shah, had settled land disputes in six out of 12 sites last March after five decades of status quo. Talks are underway to settle disputes in the remaining places.