An altercation on Tuesday morning between Assam Police and a Meghalaya mob has caused the death of five Meghalayan villagers and a forest guard.
The incident occurred after Assam Police crossed the highly disputed state boundary to catch a truck that was reported to be illegally carrying timber wood. The move has also ‘reignited’ the controversial boundary issue that was recently put to rest partially only eight months ago.
The states are now amid a clash to determine the area where the incident occured; while Assam maintains that it happened in West Karbi, in its Anglong district, Meghalaya claims it to be within its West Jaintia Hills district.
Meghalaya CM Conrad Sangma claimed that Assam Police entered the state along with forest guards and got involved in firing without provocation. However, Assam’s BJP-led state government responded that it was in “self-defence”, adding that a forest guard accompanying the police was also killed.
“Based on the reports we have received, a truck carrying timber was pursued by Assam forest guards and police and detained at Mukroh in West Jaintia Hills. People from Mukroh gathered in large numbers and surrounded the police and forest guards, leading to firing in which five villagers from Meghalaya and one forest guard of Assam were killed,” said CM Sangma.
Assam has insisted in its statement that “Mukhrow” was under the jurisdiction of Jirikinding police station of West Karbi. “The incident took place when the forest party attempted to stop a truck smuggling timber…They were gheraoed by miscreants, who resorted to violence. To save lives, the forest party resorted to firing.”
After the incident, an SUV with Assam’s registration was set on fire on Wednesday; however, it was put out soon and no casualties were reported. As a precautionary measure, Meghalaya shut down internet services “to prevent the misuse of media to disturb peace and tranquillity in the state”.
The Meghalaya government has filed an FIR against Assam’s officers and called for a ‘judicial inquiry’ to determine the facts of the incident. The states have established individual inquiry commissions. Additionally, a “neutral” probe by a central agency will be initiated soon by either the NIA or the CBI, but until then the DIG of the eastern range will lead the SIT probe into the matter.
Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma has ‘shunted out’ West Karbi Anglong SP and has suspended the officers-in-charge of the Jirikinding police station and Kheroni reserve forest. The government has also withdrawn all working officers and forest guards involved in the incident.