Myanmar has indefinitely deferred signing agreement with India to streamline free movement of people within 16 km along open border between two countries. It has cited domestic compulsions and has asked for more time for the agreement to be sealed.
India and Myanmar share 1,643 km unfenced border along four states viz. Arunachal Pradesh (520 km), Nagaland (215 km), Manipur (398 km) and Mizoram (510 km) and permit free movement regime (FMR) upto 16 km beyond border. In January 2018, Union Cabinet had approved agreement (Memorandum of Understanding) between India and Myanmar on land border crossing to enhance economic interaction between people of two countries. To give it shape, Central Government had asked four border states with Myanmar to distribute “border pass” to all the residents living within 16 km from the border. The agreement has been deferred twice in the past seven months.
Significance of agreement
The agreement will facilitate movement of people on basis of valid passports and visas which will enhance economic and social interaction between two countries. It will facilitate regulation and harmonization of already existing free movement rights for people ordinarily residing in border areas of both countries.
It will also give boost to economy of North East and leverage geographical connections with Myanmar to boost trade and people to people ties. It will also safeguard traditional rights of largely tribal communities residing along border which are accustomed to free movement across land border.
Free movement regime (FMR)
FMR was bilateral agreement between India and Myanmar that allows free movement of Indian and Myanmarese citizens within 16 km of the border without visa restrictions for 72 hours. Its purpose is to alleviate insecurity of tribals living along India and Myanmar border as they still continue to have trans-border linkages with their kiths and kins. This regime has been in place to protect traditional social relations among border people. However, it has been misused by militants and criminals who are using it to smuggle weapons, narcotics, contraband goods and Fake Indian Currency Notes (FICN). Both countries are intend to put common system in place to append India’s concerns.
Border Pass Proposal
There are over 250 villages with over 300,000 people living within 10 km of border who frequently cross it through 150 small and large, formal and informal, border crossings. As per proposal, there will be no restrictions on movement of people across borders. But, domiciles across the border will be allotted border passes and those going across for agriculture, work or to meet relatives need to carry pass all times.