During a passing out parade of Assam police commandos in Guwahati, Home Minister Amit Shah promised that the border between India and Myanmar would be fenced shortly.

What is the India – Myanmar Free Movement Regime (FMR)?

• Established through mutual agreement, the Free Movement Regime (FMR) is an arrangement permitting tribes residing along the shared border to travel up to 16 km into each other’s territory without needing a visa.

• Enacted in 2018 under the Indian government’s  Act East policy, the FMR gained significance amid growing Chinese influence in Myanmar.

Historical Background of India – Myanmar Border (IMB)

• India shares a 1643 km border with Myanmar, which runs through its four northeastern states. Arunachal Pradesh (520 km), Nagaland (215 km), Manipur (398 km), and Mizoram (510 km).

• The IMB, established through the Treaty of Yandabo on 24 February 1826 between the British East India Company and the King of Ava, persisted as a colonial legacy until 1969.

• In 1969, the Government of the Republic of India and the Union of Burma (now Myanmar) signed a boundary agreement, marking the end of the colonial-era arrangements.

British Demarcation (1826):

Rationale Behind FMR:

• The British demarcated the India-Myanmar border in 1826 without taking cognisance of the local inhabitants, resulting in the division of people sharing similar ethnicity and culture into two nations without their consent.

Safeguarding Traditional and Economic Rights:

• The Free Movement Regime (FMR) aimed to boost local trade and business in an area with a rich history of cross-border commerce through customs and border haats, especially in the context of the region’s low-income economy.

• For people residing on the Myanmar side of the border, Indian towns are more accessible for business, education, and healthcare than facilities in their own country.

Ethnic Ties and Social Bonds:

• The Chin people inhabiting the Chin state of Myanmar, which is contiguous with Mizoram, share a common ethnicity with the Mizos and the Kuki-Zomis of Manipur.

• There is a substantial Naga population in Myanmar, primarily concentrated in the Naga Self-Administered Zone in Myanmar’s Sagaing region.

Why the Reconsideration of Free Movement Regime (FMR):

Security Challenges:

• Only a 10 km stretch in Manipur is fenced; the rest of the India-Myanmar border through hills and jungles remains unfenced.

• Security forces face challenges from extremist groups such as the United National Liberation Front (UNLF), the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN), operating clandestinely in the Chin and Sagaing regions of Myanmar.

Concerns Related to Drug Trade:

• Cross-border movement has been associated with concerns such as inward trafficking of drugs and outward trafficking of wildlife body parts.

Issues of Illegal Migration:

• During the civil war in Myanmar, a few thousand Myanmar nationals sought refuge in Manipur, coinciding with the conflict in May 2023.

• The conflict between the majority of Meitei and tribal Kuki-Zo communities in Manipur was mainly attributed to the perceived “influx” of Myanmar nationals, particularly Kuki-Chins.

TribeLocationLanguageReligionCultural Features
KukiNortheast India (Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland) and Chin State in MyanmarKuki-Chin languagesPrimarily Christian (Protestant and Roman Catholic) with traditional animistic beliefsKnown for their martial traditions, distinctive weaving patterns, and vibrant festivals. Historically engaged in shifting cultivation.
ZomiNortheast India (Manipur, Mizoram), Myanmar, and BangladeshZomi language (also known as Mizo or Lushai)Predominantly Christian, with a mix of Baptist, Roman Catholic, and other denominationsPrimarily agricultural, they are known for their rich oral traditions, traditional dances, and festivals. Strong community ties and a hierarchical social structure.
MeiteiManipur (mainly in the Imphal Valley), IndiaMeiteilon (Manipuri)Predominantly Hinduism, with a minority practicing Sanamahism (indigenous religion)It is culturally rich with a history of classical dance, music, and art—predominantly settled agriculturists. The Ras Lila dance and the Kangla Fort are significant cultural symbols. Meitei society has both plains and hill inhabitants.

Way Forward:

• Local Aspirations: Develop a clear FMR plan, actively considering the aspirations of North East Region (NER) residents in India’s Myanmar strategy.

• Formal Trade and Infrastructure: Revise FMR to formalise trade via infrastructural development at LCSs, effective regulatory mechanisms, and efficient ICPs.

• Entry Points and Vigilance: Establish multiple entry points along the IMB, ensuring strict vigilance by border guards for compliance with designated points.

• Development Initiatives: Improve connectivity and essential infrastructure; establish schools, hospitals, and vocational training centres to deter youth from illicit activities.

• Manpower Deployment: Deploy manpower 24/7, increase numbers, and intensify checks to monitor traders’ movement and prevent illegal activities.

• Monitoring and Review: Implement a system for regular monitoring and periodic reviews to adapt strategies to evolving challenges and requirements.


Apart from being a strategic issue, the FMR has become a sentimental issue, which is very close to the hearts of locals, and any wrong decision by New Delhi might lead to adverse consequences. New Delhi must tackle the issue by pursuing a carefully calibrated approach of ‘killing the snake without breaking the stick’.

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