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HomeThePrint EssentialWhy BRO apologised to Arunachal residents after Rajnath's road inauguration event

Why BRO apologised to Arunachal residents after Rajnath’s road inauguration event

An area named Kimin was portrayed by the BRO and others as being in Assam, leaving Arunachal Pradesh residents fuming.

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New Delhi: A massive controversy erupted in Arunachal Pradesh last week as a place in the state was depicted as Assamese territory during a visit by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh.

The place in question is Kimin in the Papum Pare district, which also houses state capital Itanagar. 

Singh was in the area to inaugurate 12 border roads (new ones and widened roads), in Arunachal and beyond, built by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), and some official social media posts about the event — including by the defence minister — appeared to mention the inauguration site as Assam, while others clearly identified the location as Lakhimpur (some others got it right). 


Additionally, several boards captured in photos reportedly had the word Arunachal painted over, and the BRO was accused of portraying Kimin as Bilgarh in Assam.

While several residents took to social media to protest, organisations such as the All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union and the All Kimin Youth Welfare Association held demonstrations outside the BRO office in Kimin and demanded an apology. A youth organisation filed a police case against CM Pema Khandu alleging a conspiracy to cede the area to Assam.

Union Minister Kiren Rijiju, an MP from Arunachal Pradesh, said a serious mistake was committed by the BRO, which functions under the Ministry of Defence. 

“The matter came to my notice (names covered with white paste) after the event and I’ve immediately conveyed to BRO for urgent rectification of the mistake which happened without the knowledge of the Defence Minister and Arunachal Govt,” he wrote in a Facebook post. 

The BRO, which has been undertaking massive infrastructure work in the Northeast, subsequently apologised, with Additional Director General (East) P.K.H. Singh saying the error was unintentional and the organisation did not intend to “hurt sentiments of the loving brothers and sisters of Arunachal Pradesh”.

The reason behind the anger of the state’s residents, say local experts, can be attributed to the tense boundary between Assam and Arunachal. The 804-km boundary between the states is also currently in the Supreme Court, 32 years after the dispute was first taken to court by Assam for permanent demarcation.

Also Read: NCERT textbooks need to include chapter on Northeast to educate ‘mainland’ Indians

Why the controversy?

The Kimin region is predominantly home to Arunachal’s Nyishi tribe. The dispute reportedly goes back to the period of the Ahom kings, who ruled Assam before the state’s annexation by the British in 1826.

The demarcation by the 1951 Bordoloi Commission, rejected by Arunachal, has added to tensions. The current row revolves around encroachments and ensuing violence.

A 2011 report in The Times of India said despite status-quo agreements between the states, “the forest and police officers of Assam often resort to unprovoked eviction of people from Arunachal from the border areas”.

Experts say the border dispute between Assam and Arunachal Pradesh has a history to it.

Ranju Dodum, an expert on local matters, said the primary issue here is that no side would want to cede any land to the other.

“If it was any other place along the disputed borders and not Kimin, renamed by BRO, the reactions would have been similar,” he added.  

“Land is a contentious issue for everyone and it also links to the identity of people. While the BRO did not give a clear reply on why they did it, it was seen by people of Arunachal as giving credence to what Assam has been demanding,” he said.  

The border issue, Dodum added, has been festering for decades in the absence of a conclusive solution.

There is a feeling among the people of Arunachal that Assam believes the state begins from the hills and not the foothills, he said. “It’s a complicated relation along the border for people who have been living there for generations,” he said.

Dr Nani Bath, Professor of Political Science at the Rajiv Gandhi Central University, Doimukh, said people of Arunachal Pradesh are emotionally attached to Kimin, one of the oldest administrative headquarters of the state. 

Changing of the name, he added, “looks wilful and with an agenda”. “We only hope that the political map of the state is not redrawn again,” he said. 

Bid to resolve dispute

Several attempts to resolve the boundary dispute have come to naught.

Former Army officer Brig. Ranjit Borthakur (Retd) said in a November 2020 article on the website for the Forum for Integrated National Security (FINS), a policy research institution, that officials of affected states meet and once the situation is stabilised, the issue is put in cold storage till another round of violence takes place. 

“No doubt everyone is looking for a permanent solution. However, like any other international border dispute, there has not been any visible progress,” he wrote.

Last year, both states decided to constitute an inter-state committee to address the border dispute between them. 

Rijiju wrote in his post that “Arunachal Pradesh CM Pema Khandu ji & Assam CM Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma ji will… meet soon for better coordination to avoid any local land disputes. We are sister States and we must co-exist peacefully”.

Subsequently, Khandu said he had proposed to Sarma that they try to find a permanent resolution of the boundary issue outside the court.

(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)

Also Read: Northeast not sustaining its forests well, needs to catch up on infra too, Niti report shows


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