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Meghalaya Village Fears Being Cut Off As Fencing Along Zero Line Nears Completion

Image used for representation only. (Source: PTI)

Lyngkhong (Meghalaya): Nearly 90 residents of this village located along the zero line on the Indo-Bangladesh border live in danger of their village being could be cut off from the rest of the country, as work on a border fence being built 150 yards inside the Indian border is near completion, village elders said on Sunday.

At Lyngkhong village in East Khasi Hills district, the foundation for the single line fence has been built but the fencing has been stopped due to protests of the residents. However, as yet the authorities have not agreed to either not build the fence or build it on the zero line itself.

Dabling Khongsdir, the matriarch of Lyngkhong and one of the landowners here, told PTI, “It is not fair that our village will fall outside the territory of India once the fence is built. We do not feel safe.”

“We have lived here since time immemorial … The government should do something for our safety and well-being,” she said.

Dabling has reasons to feel insecure. Her house is barely a few feet away from the zero line and the border pillar that separates her and those living in Bangladesh.

Although a camp of The BSF is located at Lyngkhong, Dabling said ‘anti national elements’ do take advantage of the porous border and wanted that the fence come up as soon as possible, but on the zero-line.

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Temporarily, the village has set up a fence made of bamboo and small twigs to separate themselves from Bangladesh since last year in view of the pandemic, she said.

Contractors engaged to build the fence along the 443 km long border in Meghalaya had almost cut them off last year itself but protests by villagers eventually forced the authorities to put the project near their village on hold.

About 80 percent of fencing along the Indo-Bangladesh border in Meghalaya has been completed except in stretches where there is opposition from residents or from the Border Guards of Bangladesh or in difficult terrain where it is almost impossible to build a fence.

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“By convention, the fence is to be built at least 150 yards away from the zero line but that is not the case always as the Border Guards of Bangladesh agree in certain cases for fences to come up nearer the zero line depending upon the presence of habitation such as in Lyngkhong, ”a senior official of the BSF Meghalaya Frontier told PTI.

The Government of Bangladesh has given ‘concurrence’ to relaxing this norm in at least 7 such locations along the border in Meghalaya. BSF officials said a proposal has been initiated for Lyngkhong too.

At present there are at least 13 such areas where approval is awaited from the Government of Bangladesh through the BGB, the BSF officer said, adding that it may require years of negotiations to get the agreement.

“We had earlier sent a similar proposal way back in 2011 and the concurrence was received about two years ago in certain areas,” he stated.

Of the 17 families, only the newly constructed lower primary school and a newly built house of Dabling’s nephew are located well within the border fence.

Lyngkhong is connected only by the border roadthat have come up along with the border fence. The village does not have electricity and is dependent on solar energy.

Dabling’s son Ramu Khongsdir said “villagers cannot freely use the border roads since it is under the administrative control of the BSF. We want electricity and we need road connectivity till the last home.”

A quick tour of the village reveals that the only football ground is also located on the zero line and whenever any kids play football here, it is under the watchful eyes of the BSF.

Another village council member Lahduh Khongji said the village urgently needs a secondary school to help check the drop-out rate. “Only those who can afford to go to other villages in the hinterlands get to continue with their studies,” he said, pointing out that a fence will only compound the problem of connectivity.

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