Source: The Economic Times Relevance: GS II (India and its Neighbourhood, Effect of Policies & Politics of Countries on India’s Interests

Context: The Eastern Naga People’s Organisation (ENPO) has announced opposition to the scrapping of the Free Movement Regime (FMR) from the Indo-Myanmar border.


The Home Minister of India has declared intentions to construct a fence along the entire India Myanmar border, aiming to restrict the free movement of individuals. This measure will limit the seamless passage of people over the 1,643 km boundary that extends through Assam, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, and Manipur. 

In light of this plan, the current Free Movement Regime (FMR) agreement with Myanmar is under reconsideration. While the fencing initiative is driven by security reasons, it is expected to significantly impact cross-border movement.

India-Myanmar Border:

  • 1,643 kilometers separate the four states of Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland, and Arunachal Pradesh on the Indian side of the border with Myanmar.

  •  It is an Open Border that is challenging to monitor, nearly totally unfenced, and passes through hilly and forested areas.

  •  Less than 6 kilometers of the border in Manipur is fenced.

Free Movement Regime:

Historical Background:

  • Prior to the formal demarcation of the India-Myanmar border by the Treaty of Yandaboo in 1826, a significant part of what is now northeastern India was under Burmese control. 

  • The treaty was signed by General Sir Archibald Campbell on behalf of the British and by the Governor of Legaing, Maha Min Hla Kyaw Htin, for the Burmese, effectively ending the First Anglo-Burmese War (1824–1826).

  • However, the establishment of this border, done without the agreement of the local populations, split communities with shared ethnic and cultural identities.

  •  This division affected groups such as the Kuki-Chin-Mizo communities across Manipur and Mizoram, as well as the Nagas in Nagaland and Manipur.

Free Movement Regime (FMR) on the India-Myanmar Border:

  • As a component of India’s Act East program, the FMR was created in 2018 and encourages visa-free travel up to 16 kilometers across international borders.

  • For stays as long as two weeks in the neighbouring nation, people living at the border require a one-year border permit.

  • Its objectives were to boost diplomatic relations, ease local border trade, and give border populations better access to healthcare and education.

Reasons for Reconsidering the FMR:

  • Concerns over Illegal Immigration: The FMR is criticized for facilitating unauthorized exits from Myanmar, particularly amid recent turmoil.

  • The influx of tribal Kuki-Chin individuals from Myanmar to India is a significant factor in the ongoing disturbances in Manipur.

  • Risks of Drug Trafficking and Insurgency: The ease of smuggling and insurgency due to the border's permeability and misuse of the FMR raises alarms.

  • In 2022, Manipur witnessed 500 cases under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, with 625 arrests, as reported by the Chief Minister's Office.

  • Security Risks: The extensive, unguarded border poses challenges to both border management and national security.

  • Various insurgent groups, including the United National Liberation Front (UNLF), People's Liberation Army (PLA), United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN), and smaller Kuki and Zomi factions, have set up bases in Sagaing Division, Kachin State, and Chin State in Myanmar.

India-Myanmar Relationship:

  • Geopolitical Importance:

  • Southeast Asia’s gateway point: Myanmar acts as a land bridge that links South Asia and Southeast Asia. Myanmar’s closeness to the northeastern states of India creates a strategic link and promotes regional connectivity.

  • Bay of Bengal Connectivity: India and Myanmar share a maritime border in the Bay of Bengal, which expands marine cooperation prospects and promotes strategic and commercial cooperation.

  • Regional Power Balancing: Given the geopolitical complexity of the area, India can prevent any potential imbalances in power that may result from the influence of other important actors in the region by maintaining strong connections with Myanmar.

  • Strategically Significant Neighbourhood: Myanmar is a sizable country with a diverse population that is situated in a strategically important neighbourhood. Bangladesh, China, Laos, Thailand, and India are the nation’s five neighbours, and their developments are affected by those within the country.

  • Neighbourhood First Policy: India’s Neighbourhood First policy emphasizes the need of building a strong, cooperative, and mutually beneficial relationship, which is seen in its approach to Myanmar.

  • Historical and Cultural Links: India and Myanmar have a rich cultural and religious heritage that dates back many years, with a foundation in Buddhism. Their diplomatic relations are based on the 1951 Treaty of Friendship.

  • Economic Cooperation: India is a significant source of investment and ranks as Myanmar’s fourth-largest trading partner.

  • India has undertaken several projects in Myanmar, such as the Kaladan Multimodal  Transit Transport Project, the Trilateral Highway Project, and the 2018 completion of the restoration and conservation of Bagan’s Ananda Temple.

  • Strategic Defense Partnership: India and Myanmar have a tight defense alliance, with India training Myanmar Army soldiers and organizing joint drills.

  • The goal of the India-Myanmar Bilateral Army Exercise (IMBAX) is to strengthen and foster ties between the two forces.

Way forward:

Strengthening and improving economic cooperation in areas like trade, energy, and infrastructure between the two nations could be beneficial, fostering deeper connections that transcend political differences. India needs to develop a comprehensive and balanced border management approach that addresses security concerns while facilitating lawful cross-border commerce with Myanmar.

Advait IAS