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'Purely Political...': Meghalaya Govt Tells Supreme Court Amid Border Row With Assam

The state government has challenged the December 8, 2022 order of the Meghalaya High Court staying the memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed by the chief ministers of Assam and Meghalaya for settling their festering boundary dispute.

Candle vigil in Meghalaya following the Assam-Meghalaya border firing incident
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Issues concerning the alteration of boundaries or exchange of areas between two states are a purely political question within the "sole domain" of the Executive, the Meghalaya government has told the Supreme Court.

The state government has challenged the December 8, 2022 order of the Meghalaya High Court staying the memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed by the chief ministers of Assam and Meghalaya for settling their festering boundary dispute.

In its plea before the top court, the Meghalaya government said the high court failed to appreciate that an interim order cannot be passed on mere asking of the petitioner when the matter pertains to the exercise of sovereign functions like demarcation of boundaries between the states.

"It is submitted that any issues concerning the alteration of boundaries between two states or issues concerning the exchange of areas between two states are a purely political question relating to the political administration of the country and its federal constituent units.

"It is submitted that the said exercise has no shade of judicial adjudication, and falls squarely within the sole domain of the Executive. It is submitted that any interference or staying of such MOU amounts to a complete breach of the separation of powers enshrined under the Constitution of India," the plea said.

The petition stated that the MoU signed by the two states is a sovereign act between the states to demarcate the boundaries in a fair and transparent manner which cannot be interfered with by way of a writ petition and much less by passing an interim order.

Moreover, the scope of judicial review in respect of such matters is extremely narrow, it said.

"It is respectfully submitted that in passing the impugned judgment Division Bench failed to appreciate that the MoU dated March 29, 2022, signed between the State of Assam and the State of Meghalaya in the presence of Union Minister of Home Affairs settling outstanding boundary disputes in respect of six areas.

"Clause 19 of MoU required the Survey of India to demarcate the boundary of the State of Assam and the State of Meghalaya in respect of six areas in presence of representatives of both the states. The interim order passed by the Single Judge has in effect resulted in stalling the said process of demarcation of boundary between the two states and derailing the resolution of a long pending boundary dispute between the State of Assam and the State of Meghalaya," the plea said.

The state government said the high court ought to have interfered with the interim order passed by the single judge as the same was passed in a mechanical manner without adherence to the judicially determined principles for grant of interim relief.

A single judge bench of the Meghalaya High Court had on December 8 ordered an interim stay on physical demarcation or erection of boundary posts on the ground following the inter-state border pact.

Later, a division bench of the high court refused to interfere with the order of the single-judge bench, prompting the petitioners to file an appeal in the top court.

Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma and his Assam counterpart Himanta Biswa Sarma had in March last year signed an MoU for demarcating the border in at least six of the 12 contested locations that often raised tensions between the two states.

On March 29 last year, the agreement was signed in the presence of  Union Home Minister Amit Shah by the chief ministers of Assam and Meghalaya.

The pact sought to resolve the protracted dispute in six of the 12 places along the 884.9-km border between the two states.

The boundary dispute between Assam and Meghalaya has lingered for 50 years. However, efforts to resolve it have gained pace in recent times.

Meghalaya was carved out of Assam as a separate state in 1972, but the new state had challenged the Assam Reorganisation Act, 1971, leading to disputes in 12 border locations.

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