However, the trigger of the latest incident that left six people dead along the Assam-Meghalaya border, appears to be slightly different. Violence had broken out in the early hours of Tuesday after a Meghalaya-bound truck allegedly laden with illegally felled timber was intercepted by forest guards in Assam’s West Karbi Anglong district. The guards apparently opened fire to deflate the tyres of the vehicle and three persons were nabbed. Police reinforcements were rushed to the spot.
Soon, a mob of villagers from the Meghalaya side armed with machetes surrounded the forest guards and the police personnel demanding immediate release of those nabbed and allegedly attacked them. This prompted the police to resort to firing to bring the situation under control, a senior police officer told PTI. Six people, including five villagers from Meghalaya and an Assam forest guard, were killed.
The two northeastern states have a longstanding dispute in 12 areas along the 884.9-km-long interstate border, and the location where the violence took place is one of them.
In March this year, Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma and his Meghalaya counterpart Conrad Sangma had signed a memorandum of understanding in Delhi to resolve the border row.
Assam CM Sarma on Friday criticised his own police force for Tuesday’s violence. The state cabinet also decided to hand over the probe into the incident to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
“I feel there was no need to fire to the extent the police did. The firing was a little unprovoked, and the police could have acted in a little more controlled manner,” Sarma told reporters on the sidelines of a function in Delhi.
The move to hand over the probe to CBI came hours before a team of Meghalaya ministers were to meet Union Home Minister Amit Shah to demand a probe by a central agency into Tuesday’s incident.
“We will officially inform him (Shah) about the firing incident that took place in Mukroh village and demand that an investigation be made by a central agency either NIA or CBI,” Sangma said after the cabinet meeting.
In a tweet on Tuesday, Sangma had complained that the Assam police and forest guards “entered Meghalaya and resorted to unprovoked firing”
Swift action, SOP for cops
The Assam government said it has transferred the district SP, and suspended the officer-in-charge of Jirikinding Police Station and the Forest Protection Officer of Kheroni range where the incident took place.
During a special Assam Cabinet meeting held in Delhi on Wednesday, the council of ministers decided to bring out a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for the police and forest personnel to deal with situations arising out of altercations with civilians.
“We advised police to restrain use of lethal weapons while dealing with civilian population. SOPs for Police as well as Forest personnel will be prepared to deal with such situation. All police station in charges will be properly sensitized on such matters,” Sarma tweeted.
Assam ministers also expressed deep concern and expressed condolences at the death of six people and injuries caused to several others in an “unfortunate police-civilian conflict situation” in West Karbi Anglong district.
“Our Cabinet also decided to hand over the related police investigation to CBI,” the Assam Chief Minister said in a series of tweets after the meeting.
The state government also decided to request Justice Rumi Phukan, a retired Judge of Gauhati High Court, to conduct a judicial probe into the circumstances that led to the incident, he added. The judicial probe will be completed within 60 days, Sarma said.
A group of villagers from Meghalaya allegedly vandalised and burnt down a forest office in Assam’s West Karbi Anglong district, a day after the border incident. At least two vehicles — one in Mukroh village in Assam where the violence took place on Tuesday and another in Meghalaya’s capital Shillong- were set ablaze by a mob.
The influential Khasi Students’ Union (KSU) took responsibility for the torching of the forest beat office and the Assam government vehicle at Mukroh and alleged that the Conrad Sangma government failed to protect its citizens, according to a PTI report.
Leader of the Opposition in Meghalaya Assembly and former CM, Mukul Sangma, on Wednesday described the killing of unarmed villagers allegedly by Assam Police as a “case of genocide” and demanded action against the culprits.
Following reports of attacks on vehicles from Assam driving through Meghalaya, the Assam Police set up barricades at various border crossings and asked people not to travel to the hill state in vehicles bearing Assam number plates.
“Since yesterday, we have been advising people not to go to Meghalaya till the situation completely normalises. We are only requesting the private and small car owners not to travel as miscreants are targeting such vehicles there,” Deputy Commissioner (East) of Guwahati Police Sudhakar Singh told PTI.
Singh, however, said the commercial vehicles have not been stopped as of now. Some taxi drivers, who returned to Guwahati on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, said the Meghalaya Police escorted them to the border, but still, their vehicles were pelted with stones by onlookers while on the move.
(With inputs from agencies)