The Supreme Court on Friday stopped the execution of the Meghalaya High Court order staying the memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed by the chief ministers of Assam and Meghalaya for settling the festering boundary dispute between the two states, terming it “unwarranted”.
A bench of Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justices P S Narasimha and J B Pardiwala took note of the submissions of Solicitor General Tushar Mehta and the lawyers representing Assam and Meghalaya, and directed the Meghalaya High Court order to be stayed.
“Prima facie, it appears that the single judge (bench of Meghalaya HC) has not furnished any reasons. Whether the MoU requires further consideration by Parliament is a distinct issue. However, the interim stay was not warranted. Notice shall be issued to respondents… Meanwhile there shall be stay on the order of the single judge,” the bench said in its order.
The court took note of the submissions that some of the areas, which are covered under the MoU, are not getting the benefits of the developmental schemes due to the old border disputes and, moreover, the boundary between the two states has not been altered due to the agreement.
It also issued notices to the four people who had originally moved the high court against the execution of the MoU on various grounds including that the settlement breached Article 3 of the Constitution.
Article 3 empowers Parliament to make a law related to the formation of new states and alteration of the boundaries of existing states.
The solicitor general, at the outset, said that the MoU signed by the chief ministers to resolve the long standing inter-state boundary dispute, particularly in respect of six areas, was a decision taken in “the political thicket”.
Lawyer Pragyan Pradip Sharma, appearing for the original writ petitioners before the high court, said the pact between the two states did not have concurrence of Parliament as mandated under Article 3.
“Tribal land is being converted into non-tribal land. There are attacks on citizens by police officers of Assam because the process for demarcation is not followed. Let a copy of the petition be given to me, I will address the arguments…,” he said.
The counsel for Assam contended the MoU is not redrawing the boundary and it records “the arrived position” between the two states.
The CJI-led bench, while staying the high court’s direction, agreed to consider the plea of transferring the case to the apex court itself at a later stage and fixed it for hearing after two weeks.
Earlier during the day, the apex court agreed to hear the plea challenging the order of the Meghalaya High Court.
“We will hear it. Please provide three copies of the petition,” the CJI said.
A single judge bench of the Meghalaya High Court had on December 8 ordered an interim stay on physical demarcation or erection of boundary posts on the ground following the inter-state border pact.
Later, a division bench of the high court refused to interfere with the order of the single judge bench, prompting the petitioners to an appeal in the top court.
Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma and his Assam counterpart Himanta Biswa Sarma had in March last year signed an MoU for demarcating the border in at least six of the 12 contested locations that often raised tensions between the two states.
The single judge bench of the high Justice had ordered the interim stay till the next date of hearing on February 6, 2023 on a petition filed by four traditional chiefs’ of Meghalaya.
“It is however understood that during the intervening period, no physical demarcation or erection of boundary posts on the ground, pursuant to the MoU dated 29.03.2022 shall be carried out, till the next date,” the high court had said.
The traditional chiefs’, in their petition, had urged the high court to set aside the MoU signed between the two northeastern states, claiming it violated the provisions of the 6th Schedule of the Constitution which deals with special provisions for the administration of tribal areas.
They alleged that the MoU was signed “without consulting or taking the consent of or involving the constitutionally recognised native chiefs and their durbars”.
On March 29 this year, the agreement was signed in the presence of Union Home Minister Amit Shah by the chief ministers of Assam and Meghalaya.
The pact sought to resolve the protracted dispute in six of the 12 places along the 884.9-km border between the two states.
The boundary dispute between Assam and Meghalaya has lingered for 50 years. However, the effort to resolve it gained pace in recent times.
Meghalaya was carved out of Assam as a separate state in 1972, but the new state had challenged the Assam Reorganisation Act, 1971, leading to dispute in 12 border locations. (PTI)