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The Mizoram government has asked the Centre to review the inter-state border in order to resolve the long-pending boundary dispute with Assam. Home Minister Lalchamliana, while replying to a query made by the Congress legislature party leader Zodintluanga Ralte, said the state government had sent a letter to the Union Home Ministry, on the date of December 15, 2019, requesting for a review of the border. The efforts are being made by the government to resolve the dispute at Zophai area near Bairabi town along the state border with Assam.
Lalchamliama affirmed that a core committee has collected some important documents related to the border. Chief Minister Zoramthanga had said, in July 2019, that his government was thinking of a strategy to resolve the border dispute. However, no elaboration on the same was made. Since the year 1995, there here have been instances of several dialogues held between the two states to resolve the border dispute. However, no conclusive and effective remedy could be devised up until now.
Background: How are state borders determined?
British India was divided into various princely states under the control of local hereditary rulers and various other princely states were governed and administered directly by the British officials. Upon independence, these princely states were transformed into provinces and were provided with an opportunity to join India or Pakistan. India became a “Union of States” after the Constitution came into force on 26 January, 1950. However, in the early 1950s the movement to reorganize the states on the basis of language started taking place.
Linguistic lines to be taken into consideration for the purpose of state reorganization were being asked by people. Various states were then reorganized on the grinds of linguistic considerations. The reorganization of Bombay into Maharashtra and Gujarat in the year 1960, Punjab into Himachal and Haryana in 1966, the creation of the three states of Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand in 2000 and the like were being done on the same principle. Hence, the state borders started getting determined on the basis of linguistic provisions.
Who/how can the borders be changed?
Dr. B R Ambedkar called India as an “indestructible Union of destructible states” as the word Union was deliberately chosen in place of Federation to indicate that Indian Union is not the result of an agreement between states which can be broken at their whims and fancies. The Parliament possesses the power to create new states and alter the areas, boundaries or names of existing States by making suitable law under the Indian Constitution. The Constitution even empowers the Parliament to change the status of a Union Territory to that of a State.
Moreover, India is a sovereign state which has the power to alter the boundaries of its states. The Parliament is empowered by the Constitution to alter the boundary or names, etc. of the States, without their consent. A new State may be formed and its area, boundary or names of the existing States may be altered by simple majority in the Parliament. This clearly implies that the existence and creation of any state depend simply upon the sweet will of the Parliament. The boundary of States can be demarcated by the Central government.
The Parliament can form a new State or alter the boundary of existing States if certain conditions are fulfilled. The bill for the formation of new States or the alteration of the boundaries or names of the existing States shall be introduced in either House of Parliament only upon the recommendation of the President. The President then refers the bill to the legislature for the expression of its views within a certain period of time. The same period may be extended by the legislature. The legislature’s view on the bill, however, doesn’t bind the Parliament to accept those views. It can simply be as per the will of the Parliament.
Legal/Constitutional provisions regarding inter-state borders:
The Parliament possesses the power to create new states and alter the areas, boundaries or names of existing States by making suitable law under Article 2 and Article 3 of the Indian Constitution. Article 2 of the Indian Constitution says, “The Parliament may by law admit into the Union, or establish, new States on such terms and conditions, as it thinks fit”. It makes a mention of the power bestowed upon the Parliament to be able to admission of new states and their establishment on the terms and conditions determined by the State.
Article 3 allows the alteration of areas, boundaries, names of existing states and formation of new states. It can increase as well as diminish the area of any state. The Article 3 of the Constitution provides the power to alter the boundaries of the state to the Parliament. It also mentions the Parliament’s power to form a new State. It can be done in three primary ways. The first one can be done by separation of territory from any State. The other way of doing so is by uniting two or more States or parts of States or the same can be done even by uniting any territory to a part of any State. The case of Babulal Parate v. State of Bombay also held that the ultimate deciding power lies with the President, with the State government playing an advisory function.
India is a country of diversity. In order to maintain the integrity in such diversity, the allocation of power must be made objectively. The power to alter the state boundaries in various ways like diminishing the area, increasing the area, merging parts of existing states, carving out of a particular area from an existing state to make it a separate state, establishing new state, changing the status of Union Territories and the like lies with the Parliament of India.
It can even alter the name of states, “provided that no Bill for the purpose shall be introduced in either House of Parliament except on the recommendation of the President and unless, where the proposal contained in the Bill affects the area, boundaries or name of any of the States, the Bill has been referred by the President to the Legislature of that State for expressing its views thereon within such period as may be specified in the reference or within such further period as the President may allow and the period so specified or allowed has expired”.
It has been done so because the Parliament will act as a fair and reasonable authority in cases involving the state boundaries relation. It will not let any state influence its decision and the Parliament will able to make decisions more rationally. Parliament can do so on the grounds as it seem fit.
Author: Archie Anant from Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Punjab.
Editor: Anna Jose Kallivayalil from NLU, Delhi.