New Delhi, Sept. 13: The legal battle over demarcation of the boundaries of Assam, Arunachal Pra-desh and Nagaland today entered the decisive phase with the Supreme Court ordering the constitution of a boundary commission to settle the dispute.
The three-judge bench of Chief Justice R.C. Lahoti and Justices G.P. Mathur and Tarun Chatterjee asked the attorney general to inform it about the composition of the commission on Friday, when the case will come up for another hearing.
The commission's report will be binding on all three states, which have long been disputing each other's claims to land along their borders. The three states have already submitted before the apex court that they would abide by the proposed boundary panel's verdict.
S. Murlidhar, the counsel for the Election Commission ' one of the parties in the case ' said Parliament would have to enact a law to demarcate new areas, based on the boundary commission's findings. This, he said, would be akin to 'almost re-organisation of states'.
Assam contends that certain areas within its territory have been occupied by Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh. The other two states claim that their 'contiguous areas', inhabited by 'ethnic tribes', were wrongfully annexed to Assam during the last re-organisation of states.
All three states filed affidavits in the apex court, seeking a boundary commission.
Murlidhar said the Election Commission would have to conduct a 'delimitation exercise' to demarcate parliamentary and Assembly constituencies after Parliament enacts a new law under Article 3 of the Constitution.
This constitutional provision enables Parliament to pass a law for the 'formation of new states and alteration of areas, boundaries or names of existing states'.
In its affidavit, Assam stressed the need for a consensus on the terms of reference of the boundary commission. Its counsels, K.K. Venugopal and Krishna Sarmah, argued that the commission should look at constitutional instead of 'historical and cultural aspects'.
Nagaland, however, insisted that 'cultural, ethnic, linguistic, tribal and contiguous-zone aspects' be taken cognisance of. It said the boundary commission 'shall go into the respective claims of the states and separately indicate the boundaries by taking into account all legal, historical and political facts and other relevant documents, including the Shastri Commission and the Sundaram Committee reports'.
Assam, on the other hand, said the commission must determine whether the state was entitled to a boundary demarcated in accordance with the 'provisions of the notification of November 25, 1925, read with the Naga Hills Tuensang Area Act, 1957, and the State of Nagaland Act, 1962'.
Nagaland opposed it on the ground that the 1925 notification was 'biased and did not take into account various factors'.
Accusing Nagaland of encroaching on its territory, Assam said its neighbour should be asked to 'peacefully hand possession of those areas'. It made a case for erecting concrete pillars along the border on the basis of 'valid and relevant topographical maps prepared by the Survey of India'.
Assam also asked for a directive to the proposed boundary commission to determine whether Nagaland could be restrained from setting up polling booths within its 'constitutional boundary'.
Arunachal Pradesh said the commission should examine the claims of each state 'in the light of historical evolution of boundaries and causes of the disputes'.