In a significant move to strengthen border security, the Central government on Tuesday announced that a fence will be constructed along the 1,643 km Indo-Myanmar border, amid objections from Naga and Kuki-Zo communities against the decision to scrap the Free Movement Regime (FMR).
Making the announcement, Union Home Minister Amit Shah posted on X, “The Modi government is committed to building impenetrable borders. It has decided to construct a fence along the entire 1643-kilometer-long Indo-Myanmar border. To facilitate better surveillance, a patrol track along the border will also be paved.”
“Out of the total border length, a 10 km stretch in Moreh, Manipur, has already been fenced. Furthermore, two pilot projects of fencing through a Hybrid Surveillance System (HSS) are under execution. They will fence a stretch of 1 km each in Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur. Additionally, fence works covering approx 20 km in Manipur have also been approved, and the work will start soon,” his post mentioned.
Earlier on January 20, Amit Shah had announced during an event in Guwahati that India will fence its border with Myanmar and end the Free Movement Regime (FMR) with the neighboring country.
The Central government’s decision to revoke the free movement regime comes against the backdrop of the ongoing ethnic conflict in Manipur. However, it drew flak from various quarters, including the Naga and Kuki-Zo communities.
The All Naga Students' Association, Manipur (ANSAM) had urged reversing the decision to revoke the FMR and appealed to reinstate the same at Naga areas along the Indo-Myanmar border.
ANSAM tribunal member AC Thotso said that the Indo- Myanmar Border is an imposed imaginary line drawn between the families, and community without the consent and knowledge of the affected tribal populace residing in the borderline.
He said scrapping of FMR is not tenable and dehumanizing in nature because it will surely disrupt the traditional ties of people living on both sides of the border whose immovable assets spread across the border and their livelihood activities, age-old shared relationship of social and custom among the people.
A memorandum requesting reconsideration to scrap FMR was also submitted to Union Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah through the governor of Manipur.
The Naga Students' Federation (NSF) called the decision a regressive step while the UNC demanded that the FMR be reinstated in Naga areas. The NSCN-IM also vehemently opposed the move.
The Kuki Inpi Manipur had expressed apprehension over the decision and urged the Government of India to reassess its course of action. The United Zou Chiefs' Association Manipur (UZCAM) also submitted a memorandum to the Union Home Minister urging to revoke the decision.
Meanwhile, General Manoj Mukund Naravane PVSM AVSM SM VSM expressed in a report published by The Print that Putting up a fence is easier said than done, especially given the rugged mountainous and forested terrain along the Myanmar-India border.
He raised concern that the cost factor also must be kept in mind. By conservative estimates, it costs almost Rs 2 crore per kilometre of fencing. For example, the government sanctioned fencing for approximately 3,326 km of the 4,000 km India-Bangladesh border (the rest being riverine terrain) under two phases, as per the report.
Under Phase-I, an expenditure of Rs 1,059 crore was incurred for the construction of fences and roads. For Phase-II, the government sanctioned the construction of 2,468.77 km of fence and 1,512.68 km of roads at an estimated cost of Rs 4,393.69 crore, it said.
By the same yardstick, the fencing of the 1,643 km-long Myanmar-India border could easily cost Rs 3,200 crore, if not more, given the difficulties of terrain and weather, it mentioned.
It may be recalled that India Today had published a report in June, 2023, stating that a significant consignment of weapons was received in Manipur via the Myanmar route in the month of June.
A total of 1,012 rounds of ammunition were also seized by Central forces from Parva village near the Indo- Myanmar-Bangladesh tri-junction in south Mizoram's Lawngtlai district on June 4, 2023. Three persons have been arrested in this connection.
The seizure was made after the Assam Rifles received inputs of suspected Kuki-Chin National Army (KCNA) cadres having crossed the Indo-Bangladesh border in the garb of destitute Bawm immigrants, as per reports.
Meanwhile, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) has busted a cross-border smuggling network of arms, ammunition and explosives operating in northeastern states, and arrested a key accused in the case from Mizoram's capital, Aizawl on February 1.
The accused has been identified as one Lalngaihawma, a resident of Mamit area of Mizoram. He was caught following inputs regarding the operations of a well-organised, large-scale illegal arms and ammunition supply network operating in certain northeastern states
The accused, along with others, was engaged in trafficking of arms, ammunition and explosive materials not only in the northeastern states but also across the border, as per NIA investigations. He was working in collusion with various operatives, including insurgent groups situated across the international border.
As part of their conspiracy, the accused had already distributed such terror hardware to various individuals in India and abroad, as per the NIA. These illicit weapons and explosives are suspected to have been used in violent terrorist acts and criminal activities across different regions.