Guwahati: A group of villagers from Meghalaya vandalised and burnt down a forest office in Assam’s West Karbi Anglong district, soon after six people were killed in violence that occurred in a disputed area along the border between the two states, officials claimed on Wednesday.
Armed with machetes, rods and sticks, residents of Mukroh village in Meghalaya’s West Jaintia Hills district gathered in front of a beat office under the Kheroni Forest Range in Assam along the inter-state border on Tuesday night and set the structure on fire.
The mob vandalised the forest office and torched properties such as furniture, documents and motorcycles parked in the complex, the officials said. However, no injury to the forest personnel posted there has been reported so far. The villagers had left the area before a team of policemen and other security personnel reached the spot, he said.
Following reports of attacks on vehicles from Assam in Meghalaya, the Assam Police continued to advise car owners to avoid entering the neighbouring state for safety. At various points to enter Meghalaya from Assam, including at Guwahati and Cachar district, the police personnel put up barricades and asked people not to travel to the hill state in a vehicle bearing a number plate from Assam.
“Since yesterday, we have been advising people not to go to Meghalaya till the situation completely normalises. We are only requesting the private and small car owners not to travel as miscreants are targeting such vehicles there,” Deputy Commissioner (East) of Guwahati Police Sudhakar Singh.
He, however, said the commercial vehicles have not been stopped as of now. Sources told that a car with an Assam number plate was burnt in Meghalaya’s capital Shillong on Tuesday evening after miscreants asked the passengers to leave the vehicle. Some taxi drivers, who returned to Guwahati on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, said that the Meghalaya Police escorted them to the Assam border, but still, stones were thrown on their vehicles by onlookers while on the move.
Cachar Superintendent of Police Numal Mahatta said they asked vehicles from Assam and other states not to travel through Meghalaya as per requests from the hill state. “The Meghalaya Police had requested us to control vehicles going inside their state following the disturbances. Restrictions have been put in place as a precautionary measure for the safety of the people,” he added.
Six people, including a forest guard, were killed in violence at a disputed area on the Assam-Meghalaya border in the early hours of Tuesday after a truck allegedly laden with illegally felled timber was intercepted by forest guards from Assam.
The Meghalaya government suspended mobile internet services in seven districts, while the Assam Police sounded alert in the border districts and also ordered an inquiry by a retired high court judge into the matter.
In a tweet tagging Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and Assam Chief Minister Himanta Sarma, Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma, whose party is an ally of the BJP, complained that the Assam police and forest guards “entered Meghalaya and resorted to unprovoked firing”.
Assam Police officials, however, asserted that the truck was intercepted in West Karbi Anglong district of the state by a forest department team and a mob from Meghalaya had later attacked the forest guards and policemen from the state, which led to firing by the Assam side to bring the situation under control.
Five of the six killed at Mukroh village in West Jaintia Hills district were Meghalaya residents and one is an Assam Forest guard, Sangma said. The Meghalaya Chief Minister announced a compensation of ₹ 5 lakh each for the family members of the victims from his state. The Assam government too said that it will provide ₹ 5 lakh to the families of each victim as compensation.
A team of Meghalaya ministers will meet Union Home Minister Amit Shah on November 24 to seek a central agency probe into the matter. The Assam government, however, said that it will hand over the probe to a central or neutral agency.
The Himanta Biswa Sarma government also said it has transferred the district SP, and suspended the Officer-in-Charge of Jirikinding Police Station and the Forest Protection Officer of Kheroni Forest Range. The two states have a longstanding dispute in 12 areas along the 884.9-km-long inter-state border, and the location where the violence took place is one of them.
The two northeastern states had signed a memorandum of understanding in March this year in the presence of Mr Shah in New Delhi towards ending the dispute in six of them.
Meghalaya was carved out of Assam in 1972 and had since then challenged the Assam Reorganisation Act, 1971, which had demarcated the border between the two states.