New Delhi: Hours after a violent dispute at the border between Assam and Meghalaya led to the death of six people, Meghalaya chief minister Conrad Sangma said that the Assam law enforcement had fired ‘unprovoked.’ The Assam government has suspended two police and forest officials and transferred a superintendent of police.
A vehicle with Assam number plates was set on fire near Mahavir Park in the Jhalupara locality of Shillong. No casualties were reported, but NDTV reported that the action was believed by police to have occurred in the aftermath of the violence at Mukroh village in the West Jaintia Hills on Tuesday, November 22.
Meghalaya has suspended mobile internet services in seven districts, while the Assam Police has sounded alert in the border districts and also ordered an inquiry by a retired high court judge into the matter.
The two states have a longstanding dispute in 12 areas along the 884.9-km-long inter-state border and the location where the incident took place is one of them.
A report by Shillong Times notes that, while Meghalaya claims that Mukroh is within the jurisdiction of the West Jaintia Hills district and not a “disputed border area”, Assam maintains that the area, known in the state as “Mukhrow,” falls under the jurisdiction of the Jirikinding police station in West Karbi Anglong district.
In a tweet tagging Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and Assam Chief Minister Himanta Sarma, Meghalaya chief minister Conrad Sangma, whose party is an ally of the BJP, complained that the Assam police and forest guards “entered Meghalaya and resorted to unprovoked firing”.
In an unfortunate incident that occurred at Mukroh village in West Jaiñtia Hills District, 6 persons died due to firing by Assam Police and Assam Forest Guards.
— Conrad Sangma (@SangmaConrad) November 22, 2022
Assam Police officials, however, asserted that the truck was intercepted in West Karbi Anglong district of the state by a forest department team and a mob from Meghalaya had later attacked the forest guards and policemen from the state, which led to firing by the Assam side to bring the situation under control.
Five of the six killed at “Mukroh village in West Jaintia Hills district” were Meghalaya residents and one is an Assam Forest Guard, Sangma said.
The Meghalaya CM announced an ex-gratia compensation of Rs 5 lakh each for the next of kin of the deceased individuals.
He also said that a team of state ministers will meet Union Home Minister Amit Shah on November 24 to seek a central agency probe into the matter. The delegation will also be submitting a report on the incident to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in New Delhi, Sangma said.
“We will appeal to the Centre for a CBI or NIA probe into the case. As of now, an SIT [special investigation team] will be formed to look into the case,” he said, following a cabinet meeting.
The Shillong Times has reported that the SIT will be headed by the DIG (Eastern Range).
Sangma also tweeted of a phone conversation with Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma after a meeting with community leaders and activists.
HCM of Assam informed that the OC of Zirikinding PS, the Forest Range Protection Officer incharge of the area who were involved in the incident have been suspended & the SP of West Karbi Anglong has been transferred.
— Conrad Sangma (@SangmaConrad) November 22, 2022
Sangma noted in his tweet (above) that Sarma had informed him that the Officer in-Charge of the Zirikinding police station and the forest range protection officer of the area have both been suspended and that the West Karbi Anglong Superintendent of Police has been transferred.
The Assam government also said that it will hand over the investigation into the firing incident to a central or neutral agency and provide Rs 5 lakh each to the next of kin of the six deceased as ex-gratia. It has constituted a one-man inquiry commission, headed by a retired judge of Gauhati high court, Shillong Times has reported.
West Karbi Anglong Superintendent of Police Imdad Ali, who was later transferred, told PTI that the Assam forest department team intercepted and stopped the timber-laden truck at Mukroh area around 3 am.
As the truck tried to flee, the forest guards fired at it and deflated a tyre. The vehicle’s driver and handyman and another person were then apprehended, though others managed to escape, he said.
Police reinforcements were rushed to the spot when the forest guards contacted Zirikending police station. After the police reached the spot, a large number of people from the Meghalaya side, armed with ‘daos’ (daggers) and other weapons gathered at the spot around 5 am, the officer claimed.
“The mob attacked the forest guards and the police personnel, demanding immediate release of those arrested, which prompted the police to resort to firing to bring the situation under control,” Ali said.
Initially, four people were killed and later two others succumbed to their injuries, a top police official said in Guwahati.
He also said the three persons arrested by Assam Police have been handed over to Meghalaya as a “confidence-building measure” following discussions between top civil and police administration of the two adjoining districts.
“The forest guard was killed by members of the mob with sharp weapons, who also snatched away his rifle. It was then that the Assam side had to fire to control the situation,” the official, who asked not to be named, told PTI.
He added that the body of the forest guard was taken by Meghalaya Police and will be returned after post-mortem examination.
Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge alleged that the BJP’s North-East Democratic Alliance has failed the Northeast and called on home minister Amit Shah to resolve the border dispute between the two states.
“Deeply saddened by the unfortunate incident at the Assam-Meghalaya border. 6 precious lives were lost,” Kharge said in a tweet.
Trinamool Congress national general secretary Abhishek Banerjee expressed anguish over the violence and said the incident showed the “ineptitude” of the Conrad K Sangma government.
For how long should Meghalayans live in FEAR & INSECURITY ?
FOR HOW LONG WILL THIS INJUSTICE GO ON ?
Today’s incident exposes the ineptitude of the MDA Govt, failing its own people. (2/2)
— Abhishek Banerjee (@abhishekaitc) November 22, 2022
Senior TMC leader and former Meghalaya chief minister Mukul Sangma visited the survivors of the firing incident at the Jowai Civil Hospital and the kin of the deceased, assuring them of full support.
Today, Dr @mukulsangma visited the victims of the Mukroh firing incident.
He met the survivors at the Jowai Civil Hospital and kin of the deceased, assuring them of his full support.
In these uncertain and tough times, we stand firmly by the people. pic.twitter.com/77Jftok8iU
— All India Trinamool Congress (@AITCofficial) November 22, 2022
(With PTI inputs)