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India's Northeastern states tame COVID-19, but wary about border spillover

Even as four of the eight northeastern states are free from novel coronavirus and its spread tamed in other four states, authorities have kept a tight vigil on India's borders in the region as threat of the disease spilling over from Bangladesh and Myanmar looms large

Sujit Chakraborty Apr 27, 2020

Agartala/Imphal/Aizawl: Even as four of the eight northeastern states are free from novel coronavirus and its spread tamed in other four states, authorities have kept a tight vigil on India's borders in the region as threat of the disease spilling over from Bangladesh and Myanmar looms large. Eight northeastern states share India's around 5,500 km borders with five countries, including China (1,300 km), but the northeastern region's main worry lies over 1,880 km borders with Bangladesh and 1,643 km with Myanmar.

Northeastern states' fear has deepened after Bangladesh reported more than 140 coronavirus death and over 5,000 infections.

Tripura Director General of Police Rajiv Singh said that while BSF (Border Security Force) further strengthened their vigil along the India-Bangladesh border, as a second line of security, Tripura State Rifles (TSR) were deployed all along the 856 km border with Bangladesh in the state.

After Tripura Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb's appeal, villagers along the international borders have been watchful to prevent anyone's illegal entry from across the border into the Indian territory," the police chief told IANS.

He said that special round-the-clock focus is on around 62 km unfenced border and where human habitations are just along the zero line of the frontier.

Deb said that most of Tripura's border is with Bangladesh and the government is concerned about this.

Deb, who also holds the home portfolio, urged the people to observe the "Janata curfew' to foil any bid to cross over into Tripura from Bangladesh.

In Aizawl, Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga has asked the Assam Rifles and BSF officials to further tighten security along Indian border with Myanmar and Bangladesh in his state.

Mizoram Chief Secretary Lalnunmawia Chuaungo said the Chief Minister and state's Home Minister Lalchamliana besides him interact with BSF and Assam Rifles on regular intervals to review the border security.

Mizoram has unfenced international border of 404 km with Myanmar and 318 km with Bangladesh. While the BSF guards the Bangladesh border, the border with Myanmar is secured by Assam Rifles.

In Imphal, Manipur Chief Minister N. Biren Singh has stressed on the highest vigil along the state's 398 km unfenced India-Myanmar border areas and has directed Director General of Police L.M. Khaute and Assam Tifles officials to reinforce checkpoints at various areas, particularly in the Churachandpur district.

Manipur government's fresh directives to the Assam Rifles to strengthen security along the border areas came after media reports of 127 positive cases surfaced in Myanmar. A small village in Myanmar, Tiddim, at walking distance from the villages of Churachandpur district, reported four positive cases.

Three hill districts of Manipur -- Tengnoupal, Chandel and Churachandpur -- share borders with Myanmar which are extremely porous.

In Shillong, Meghalaya Home Minister Lahkmen Rymbui held a series of meetings with the BSF officials to further intensify border security along India's 443 km border with Bangladesh in the state.

India's Home Ministry had suspended passengers' movement through all land immigration checkposts on the country's borders with Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, and Myanmar from March 15 midnight.

The four 'Border Haats' (markets) in Tripura and Meghalaya along the India-Bangladesh frontier are also closed from mid-March as a precautionary measure against novel coronavirus.

The Manipur and Mizoram governments also prohibited cross-border movement of people along India's border with Myanmar and Bangladesh in the two northeastern states as preventive measure from the second week of March.

An official press release quoting Union Minister for Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER) Jitendra Singh said that the ongoing lockdown in the eight northeastern states, including Sikkim, has been effectively enforced along the region's 5,500 km international borders with five countries.

A top BSF official said that besides deployment of additional troopers, the authorities have cancelled leaves of all BSF officers and jawans and even paramilitary personnel undergoing training have been deployed along the borders with Bangladesh to plug security loopholes.

"The Home Ministry and top BSF officials from Delhi are closely monitoring the border security and giving necessary instructions from time to time," a top BSF official told IANS in Agartala while refusing to be named.

The Home Ministry since March 15 had sealed the northeastern states' international borders with China, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan and asked the border guarding forces to maintain a strict vigil along the frontiers.

While no positive novel coronavirus case was reported from Sikkim, the other seven northeastern states have so far reported 55 coronavirus positive cases, including Nagaland's lone case.

Two people - a senior doctor in Meghalaya and an attendee of Tablighi Jamaat congregation in Delhi - died in southern Assam.

Of the 55 positive cases, there are 20 active cases at present in the northeastern region -- seven in Assam, 11 in Meghalaya and one in Mizoram, besides a 33-year-old trader from Dimapur in Nagaland undergoing treatment at the Guwahati Medical College and Hospital since April 12 (IANS)

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