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Kabaw Valley Boundary

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Kabaw Valley Boundary

By Yumnam Rajeshwor Singh

A detailed report on the Kabaw Valley Boundary with Manipur was given in letter No. 124 SG. A., dated 11th September 1926 written by J.C Higgins, the then political Agent in Manipur to the Chief Secretary to the Government of Assam. The following is a copy of that letter. The file containing this letter is held with the National Archives of India, New Delhi and is published in the interest of the general public.
I have the honour to refer to the correspondence resting with your letter No. 997/2056 A.P., dated the 22nd April 1925, on the subject of the boundary of the Manipur State and Burma in the Kabaw Valley, and to report as follows.

  1. The history of this portion of the State boundary has been reviewed briefly in paragraph 2 to 5 of my letter No-2-T/1417G.A., dated the 13th November 1924. A full description will be found at page 175 to 211 of “ the History of the relations of the Government with the hill tribes of the North-East Frontier of Bengal.” By Sir Alexander Mackenzie.
  2. The Government of India has always insisted that the boundary should follow the definition stated in the “Agreement regarding the Kubo Valley, 1834,” which was signed by the British Commissioners of the Government of India in the presence of the Commissioners of the King of Ava ( Burma) at Sunuyachil Ghat on the 9th January 1834. This definition will be found at pages 39 and 40 of “Aitchson’s Treaties” ( Fourth Edition), and runs as follows:-

“The eastern foot of the chain of mountains, which rise immediately from the western side of the plain of the Kubo Valley”,

  1. After the signing of this agreement, the boundary line appears to have been partially demarcated in 1834 by the British Commissioners, Major Grant and Captain Pemberton, and was shown in old maps of the Kabaw Valley by a line subsequently known as “Pemberton’s line,” I have no information whether this line was actually demarcated on the ground or merely marked on a map. No copy of the old maps is available in my office, the records of which were entirely destroyed in 1891. The boundary Commission of 1881-82 in paragraph 23 of its report, expresses the opinion that “the tract in the north of the valley was never visited by the Commissioners, who settled the boundary of 1834, and ……, that the line as depicted in the old map and commonly called ‘Pemberton’s line,’ was never drawn by that officer or sanctioned by him”.  The first presumption may be true, but against the second is the fact that the Boundary Commissioners of 1896, in paragraph 4 of its report refer to a “map of the territory of Manipur, which part of the Kubo valley and Burmese Frontier” by Captain Pemberton to which they had access. However, from maps prepared by officers of the Survey of India attached to the 1881-82 Commission, and from paragraph 3 of the report of 1896 Commission, it appears that the “Pemberton line” conformed approximately, to the definition in the agreement, as far as north as latitude 24*30’. From there, crossing Yu River between the northern of the two “Nepali khutis” and Chaungkan ( Sheet 83L./N.W. F6), it ran in a direction approximately E.N.E. to a point just south of the stream rising on the southern slopes of peak 2215 on the Augouching range of hills ( Sheet 83L/N.E; B6). Thence it turned due north and ran in a straight line through Thana ( Sheet83L/N.E., A5), to the foot of the hills east of Kongal Thana ( Sheet 83L/N.E., A4.)
  2. The Boundary Commission of 1881-82, consisting of the Political Agent in Manipur, Colonel Johnson, as Commissioner, assisted by Mr. Phayre of the Burma Commission, was appointed by the government of India to demarcate the boundary in the mountainous country immediately to the north of the Kabaw valley which was loosely defined in the agreement of 1834. It was, therefore, not directly concerned with the boundary in the Kabaw Valley itself. But it was necessary for the Commission to fix on a starting point in the Kabaw Valley. For this purpose, Colonel Johnstone rejected the “Pemberton’s line” of the map, on the ground that it included in Manipur a large portion of the plain of the Kabaw Valley, in violation of the written terms of the agreement. He accordingly assumed the true boundary to follow the foot of the eastern slope of the Mulain( Marring) hills, comformably to the definition in the agreement, and fixed as his starting point two pillars on opposite banks of the Namya river, where it debouches from the hills a few hundred yards south of Kongal Thana. From there he laid his line eastwards along the foot of the hills to the Taleyn(Tinaing) river, and up to the Tinaing valley northwards into the hills, not concerning himself with the boundary south of Kongal Thana.
  3. Owing to raids and disputes a Boundary Commission was again appointed by the Government of India in 1896, consisting of the Political Agent in Manipur, Colonel Maxwell, and Captain Macnabb of the Burma Commission, to demarcate the boundary in the Kabaw Valley itself, from Kongal Thana to the Tinzin river, with instructions “to adhere as far as possible to the definition of the boundary as laid down by Pemberton”. This they subsequently reported that they had done with modifications at Nattaung, near Tinzin, and at Yangoupokpi, rejecting the “Pemberton’s line” of the old maps north of Thap or old Sumjok, and laying the line along the foot of the hills, in accordance with the wording of the agreement.
  4. The line laid down by the 1896 Commission was demarcated at the time by stone cairns and masonry pillars. It is not clear from the report of the commission whether any of the pillars coincide with the pillars, if any, laid by Pemberton, or to what extent the 1896 line differ from “Pemberton’s line” south of Thap. The 1896 line remains the de facto boundary to the present day. In 1913-14 it was cleared, surveyed and demarcated with stone prisms, without any alteration, by the Political Agent in Manipur, Colonel Shakespear, and the Deputy Commissioner of the Upper Chindwin, Mr Fowler. The stone prism were placed on mounds built on the actual sites of the masonry pillars of 1896, which had become damaged, and were, in some cases difficult to trace.
  5. Until recently, the boundary line laid down by the 1896 Commission was not questioned, and the claim of the Commission to have adhered to the definition of the agreement of 1834 was assumed to be correct. For eleven years after the Commission, the Manipur State was administered by the Political Agent, in his capacity as Superintendent of the State on behalf of the minor Raja. After His Highness the Maharaja came of age in 1907 and took over the administration of the State, no Manipuri official of any standing ever had occasion to visit the dense forests at the foot of the hills, inhabited on the Manipur side over a distance of upwards of sixty miles in an airline by only four small hamlets of wild hillmen, with one small Manipuri Village. The fact that the line departed very materially from the definition in the agreement of 1831 came to my notice, when, as President of the Manipur State darbar, I toured along this boundary in 1914 and 1916, in connection with the lease granted to the Bombay Burma Trading Corporation for the extraction of teak from the Manipur foothills. But I took no steps to bring the matter forward, being aware that the Political Agent had come to the same conclusion in 1913, when demarcating the 1896 line, and assuming, from his inaction, that the line was regarded as “res judicata”. In his tour diary from January-February, 1913, Colonel Shakespear commented strongly on the unfair treatment accorded to the Manipur State by the Commission of 1896, and noted his intention to consider the advisability of reopening the question of the boundary, but I cannot find that he took any steps to do so.
  6. During the past three cold weathers, His Highness the Maharaja has periodically visited the Kabaw Valley and the Manipur foothills abutting thereon, in connection with kheddah operations. In the course of his tour in the foothills, His Highness has personally noticed the discrepancy between the actual line and the boundary as defined in the agreement of 1834. He has on several occasions expressed his dissatisfaction with the existing boundary, and complained of the fact that it cut off and included in Burma considerable areas of teak forest, which should rightly belong to his State. He also complains that his kheddah operations have been appreciably hampered by the withdrawal of the boundary up the lower slopes of the foothills, and the exclusion from the State of the re-entrants of many streams flowing out of the Manipur hills. In February 1925 His Highness requested me to represent his complaint to Government, which I did. He also intimated that he wished me to visit the boundary with him. Accordingly, in your letter No. 298/93, A.P., dated the 24th February, 1925, to the address of the Director, Eastern Circle, Survey of India, you stated that the Government had decided that the demarcation of the boundary in the new survey sheets should be provisional, until after it had been inspected by His Highness, in company with me and his formal complaint received. Last spring I visited portions of the boundary with His Highness, the Maharaja, and I will describe it briefly, nothing the principal points at which His Highness claims that the line has been laid to the disadvantage of the Manipur State, and adducing corroborative evidence from the report of the 1836 Commission, from Colonel Shakespear’s tour diary, above referred to and from my own personal knowledge.
  7. Commecing from Kongal Thana, at the extreme north end of the Kabaw Valley, where the Namya river debouches into the plains, no objection can be taken to the pillars erected on the banks of that river by the 1881-82 Commission. A claim to Kongal Thana or Humaing village raised by the Sawbwa of Thaungdut in 1892, with a view to gaining possession of the salt well situated in the village, was overruled by the Government of Burma. From the pillar on the right bank of the Namya river, the boundary follows a straight line to:-

Pillar No. 1 of the 1896 Boundary Commission, on the Tuilut stream. The survey map marks this pillar just above the 800 feet contour line, the junction of the Namya and Tinaing rivers in the plains at approximately the same latitude being at 730 feet level. This pillar is, presumably unobjectionable. I have no personal knowledge of it, and Colonel Shakespear does not refer to it in his diary.

Pillar No.2 is near the foot of the hills, close to the Ankongtui stream. It is marked in the survey map above the 900 feet contour.

Pillar No.3 is approximately at the foot of the hills, just above the 800 feet contour.

Pillar No.4 is according to the Commissioners’ report, “ on a hill called Angkunung or Hmantoung”. As Colonel Shakespear points out, and as is clear from the survey map, it is placed at a height of 1213 feet , on a low peak of the spur running out from the main range into the valley south of Zedi. The greater part of this spur is , in consequence, wrongly included in Burma.

Pillar No. 5 is at a height of 1085 feet, clearly at a very considerable distance from the foot of the hills. The namya river which at this point flows along the foot of the hills is on the 666 feet level some distance north of this pillar. Referring to pillars No.4 and No.5, Colonel Shakespear says :-

“It is curious that the Commissioners could not find a line conforming more closely to Pemberton’s description….. The teak-bearing land lies all along the foot of the hills, and by drawing the line up the hills to the west, the Commissioners have deprived manipur of the greater part of the teak.”

The survey map clearly shows here that a large area of the foothills has been included in Burma.

Pillar No.6, according to the Commissioners, report , is on “a small hill called “Choroching”. Colonel Shakespear refers to this pillar as being at a height of 796 feet. But Survey map shows it above the 1000 feet contour. The line from pillar No. 5 to pillar No. 6 excludes the foothills from Manipur, as the survey map shows.

Pillar No. 7 and No.8 are on the Maklang river, a little above where it leaves the hills. The line from pillar No 6 to pillar No. 7 again deprives Manipur of the foothills, and pillar No. 7 and No.8 might  with advantage, have been placed slightly lower down the stream.

Pillar No. 9 is, according to the Commissioners, on a small hill. The line from pillar No. 8 to pillar No. 9 especially in its northern portion, crosses the lower spurs of the foothills, but is not so disadvantageous to Manipur as the boundary from pillar No. 3 to pillar No. 7.

Pillar No. 10 is on a low hill on the left bank of the Taret( Nantalet) river. The line from pillar No. 9 to pillar No. 10 cuts off a considerable spur of the foothills.

Pillar No. 11, as Colonel Maxwell notes in his tour diary, “is on a hill north of Yangoupokpi”. The hill is not a high one, but is more in the nature of a flat spur, jutting out into the plain. The line from pillar No. 10 to pillar No. 11, as the survey map shows, passes above the 1000 feet contour, 400 feet above the level of the valley at this point.

Pillar No. 12 is on the left bank of the Tuiyang(Namtisen) river, which flows below the Manipuri village of Yangoupokpi Thana, and is situated a very short distance below the village.

Pillar No.13 is approximately at the foot of the Nwaysaing Hill, west of the large Shan village of Mangsa ( Mintha). The position of pillar No. 12 and No.13 is unobjectionable. But the line from pillar No. 11 to pillar No. 12 cuts off from Manipur a portion of the plateau mentioned above, on which pillar No.11 is situated. The line from pillar No.12 to pillar No.13 again passes above the 1000 feet contour, 400 feet above the level of the valley, a low hill north of the Tuiyang being also entirely included in Burma. Moreowner, though the  1896 Commission made a great point of including in the Manipur state the low spur on which Yangoupokpi is situated, in exchange for including in Burma the hill known as Nattaung, on the ground that Yangoupokpi was the site of an old thana of the Manipur State and Nattaung an object of veneration to the villagers of Tinzin, it entirely neglected to include in Manipur with Yangoupokpi more than a negligible area of land which had been or could be cultivated. The villagers of Yangoupokpi consequently eke out a proverty- stricken existence by means of trade ( and possibly smuggling), as the Shawbwa of Thaungdut and his officials refuse them permission to cultivate land on the Burma side of the border, unless they agree either to thansfer their residence and allegiance from Manipur to Thaungdut, or to pay land revenue at the extortionate rate of half the produce of the land.

Pillar No. 14 is approximately at the foot of the hills, and the line to it from pillar No. 13 is quite unobjectionable.

Pillar No. 15 is on the Waksu ( Wetyu) stream. It is approximately on the 900 feet contour, and a considerable distance from the foot of the hills. The line from pillar No. 14 to pillar No. 15 cuts off an area of foothills, including teak forest.

Pillar No. 16 is , in itself, well placed on the bank of the Wuksu stream. But owing to the unsatisfactory position of pillar No. 15, the line from that pillar to pillar No. 16 excludes from Manipur State certain foothills bearing teak.

Pillar No. 17 is, as the Commissioners’ report, “situated on a hill”, a low peak of a spur running out from the main range, at an altitude of approximately 1000 feet, some 400 feet above the level of the plain. The line to this pillar from pillar No. 16 excludes several spurs of the foothills from Manipur.

Pillar No. 18 is situated at an altitude of about 800 feet. The line from pillar No. 17 again cuts off several spurs from Manipur.

Pillar No. 19  is, as the Commissioners’ report, “erected on a hill”, at an altitude of about 900 feet. Colonel Shakespear says of it:-

“ The Commission certainly had curious ideas as to the foot of the hills, for pillar 19 is perced on the top of a rocky hill, several hundred feet above the plain, and there is no excuse for this, as the hills here rise very abruptly from the plain, so that there is no difficulty in fixing where the real foot is. The hills here are rocky and it seems possible that minerals might be found, in which case Manipur would have a very real grievance.”

The line from pillar No. 18 to this pillar crosses a considerable number of high spurs. Colonel Shakespear of this portion of the boundary:-   “the line goes through most difficult country crossing ravine after revine, and climbing to the top of hills, only to descend the other side…..The unfairness of the line from pillar 18 to pillar 19 is very clearly seen from pillar 17.

Pillar No. 20 is on the bank of the Laiching(Nampalaw) stream, at a little distance from the plain. The line from pillar No.19 cuts off several spurs from Laiching Hill, touching the 1000 feet contour in three places.

Pillar No. 21 by the side of the Manipur-Tamu bridle path, is also situated on a spur of the foothills, about the 800 feet contour.

Pillar No.22 is on the left bank of the Lokchao( Chaunggyi) river, approximately where it leaves the hills, at a level of between 600 and 700 feet. But the line from pillar No.21 to pillar No. 22 cuts off a spur, passing over a hill upwards of 900 feet.

Pillar No.23 is on the right bank of the Lokchao, about a mile above pillar No.22. It is not clear why this pillar was placed up the Lokchao valley, in the foothills, at an altitude of approximately 800 feet, instead of opposite pillar No. 22. The Manipur State has thereby lost a considerable area of teak-bearing hills on the right bank of the Lokchao. The level of the valley at Tamu, a short distance below pillar No. 22, is 582 feet.

Pillar No. 24, at the junction of the Mongmong ( Chaungngynaung) and Palesikang ( Pyathekhyauk) streams, is at the foot of the hills. But owing to pillar No. 23 having been placed so far up the Lokchao valley, the line from it to pillar No. 24 cuts off a large stretch of foothills.

Pillar No. 25 lies, according to the report of the Commissioners, “on the neck of a hill,” near Tuinang( Nampalaung) stream. Colonel Shakespear remarks:-

“Pillar 25 is over a mile from the foot of the hills, and on a saddle a considerable height above a plain”.

The line from pillar No. 24 to pillar No. 25 excludes from Manipur a long spur gradually sloping down to the plain.

Pillar No. 26 is on a hill just south of the Pantha stream. Colonel Shakespear says of it:-

“Pillar 26 is about 1.5 miles from the foot of the hills, and at a considerable elevation, though the ascent is very gradual. I could see no reason for choosing that particular point for the pillar.”

The line from pillar No. 25 to pillar No.26 excludes some spurs of the foothills from the Manipur State.

Pillar No. 27 is on the bank of the Tabasay stream, and its position appears unobjectionable, though a large spur is cut off by the line running to it from pillar No. 26, owing to the faulty position of the latter pillar.

Pillar No. 28 is on the left bank of the Tuiyong or Rangkep ( Nanayaung) stream approximately “ where it leaves the hills,” as the Commissioners remark. The line from pillar No. 27 to pillar No. 28 cuts off two low spurs.

Pillar No. 29 is about a mile up the same stream, on its left bank.

Pillar No. 30 is on a low hill, a short distance from the right bank of the same stream.

Pillar No.31 is approximately “in the same straight line as pillar No. 27 and No. 28,” by the side of the “Mahalan” or “Lanmadaw” the “royal road” which traverses the Kabaw Valley from  north to south. It is in the neighbourhood of the foot of the hills.

Pillar No.28, No.29, No.30 and No.31 excludes from the Manipur State a large area of the foothills. In my tour diary fro May, 1914, I wrote:-

“The boundary appears to take a tremendous re-entrant here, up the course of the Tuiyoung or    Nanayang, with no apparent reason save that of giving a considerable area of teak forest to Burma.”

What reason the Commissioners can have had in their minds, when making this re-entrant, it is difficult to conceive. In their report they refer to pillar No. 28 as being  “where the stream leaves the hills.” Yet they proceeded to place pillars No.29 and No.30 “a distance of one mile” up the stream, and consequently well inside the hills.

 Pillar No. 32 is on the right bank of the Tuidim(Nainka) stream, at a distance of more than five miles from pillar No. 31. The line between these two pillars cuts off several teak- bearing spurs of the foothills. Colonel Shakespear’s comment is:-

“The more I see of the line, the more unfair it appears to Manipur. There is no pretence of keeping near the foot of the hills, as the Commissioners were directed to do. Two points far up re-entrants have been selected and pillars built there, and then the Commissioners say the line shall go straight from one to the other. This method cuts off considerable areas from Manipur, the line often passing a mile or more from the foot of the hills, and , as all the teal is close along the foot of the hills, Manipur loses e a good deal.”

Pillar No.33 is on the left bank of the tuiwang ( Sunle) river. The line to it from pillar No. 32 cuts off several spurs, and , according to Colonel Shakespear, “passes over a hill of considerable height.”

Pillar No.34 is on the left bank of the Auktaung river, “at the point where it leaves the hills.” The line between pillar No.33 and pillar No. 34 cuts across two long sloping spurs of the foothills, and in his tour diary, Colonel Maxwell notes that pillar No.34 is “on a small spur”.

Pillar No. 35 is on the right bank of the Auktaung river, some distance above pillar No.34.

Pillar No. 36 is at the junction of the “road used by the inhabitants of Malloo and Tinzin villages to bring minor forest produce from the hills.” From Colonel Maxwell’s tour diary, it appears that the Commissioners were in doubt as to where to place this pillar, in the absence of an accurate survey. He says:-

“Until the country is mapped, I am doubtful of the exact position where this cairn should be placed.”

Of the line to this pillar from pillar No. 35, colonel Shakespeare says:-

“It cuts off a considerable area of hills, which according to Pemberton’s line should have been in Manipur. Both the pillars are at the heads of re-entrants, and the line goes straight from one to the other.”

Pillar No. 37 is at the foot of the Nattaung hill, at an altitude of 425 feet. The line between pillars Nos. 36 and 37 excludes a number of spurs from the foothills of Manipur.

Pillar No. 38 is at the sorce of the Nampankan stream, rising on the saddle west of the Nattaung hill, at an altitude of 1215 feet.

Pillar No. 39 is on the Tuisa(Tinzin) river, the southern boundary of the Manipur State in this locality, fixed by the Manipur-Chin Hill Boundary Commission of 1894. Pillars No. 38 and 39 do not conform to Pemberton’s definition, but as I have mentioned above, the Nattaung hill, which has sacred associations for the villagers of Tinzin, was included in Burma by the 1896 commission, in exchange for the inclusion of Yangoupokpi in the Manipur State.

  1. From the above detailed description of the boundary, it is clear that the Commissioners of 1896 treated the Manipur State not only ungenerously, but unfairly. As the Commissioners remark in paragraph 6 of the report and Colonel Shakespear in his tour diary, the slope of the foothills in many places becomes so gradual, that it is a matter of very considerable difficulty to determine exactly where the plain ends and the hills begin. But this is not the case throughout whole valley, and in many localities the line selected cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be held to conform to the definition laid down in the agreement of 1834, the discrepancy being invariably to the disadvantage of the Manipur State. The reason for the line selected by the Commissioners is probably to be found in a laudable desire to restrict the number of pillars as far as possible, with a view to cutting down the expenses of demarcation. The sites of the pillars were, doubtless, chosen on low hills, with the object of rendering them more easily identifiable in the thick jungle. Moreover, it is probable that the Commissioners imagined it would be sufficient if the line, running as it does through almost uninhabited forest, were to approximate to the foot of the hills, and that a slight departure therefrom would not be very material. But having carried the line in so many places across the spurs of the foothills, the Commission might, with advantage, have endeavoured to equalise matters by refraining from taking the boundary up the re-entrants of streams, as was done in the following places:-

(1)  Between pillar Nos. 6 and 9.
(2) Between pillar Nos. 9 and 11.
(3)  Between pillar Nos. 11 and 13.
(4)  Between pillar Nos. 14 and 16.
(5)  Between pillar Nos. 17 and 19.
(6)  Between pillar Nos. 22 and 24.
(7)   Between pillar Nos. 28 and 31.
(8)  Between pillar Nos. 34 and 36.

  1. I have suggested that the Boundary Commission of 1896 probably considered that the demarcation of the boundary in strict and accurate accordance with the definition laid down in the agreement of 1834 was not a matter of essential importance. But from my own personal knowledge I can vouch for the fact that the Manipur State has been deprived of a number of valuable patches of teak- bearing forest, which should rightfully belong to it. This is confirmed by the extracts from Colonel Shakespear’s tour diary quoted above with reference to the situation of pillar Nos. 4,5,31 and 32. Other localities where I know loss to have been caused to the State are in the neighbourhood of pillar Nos 7, 8, 10, 15, 18, 23,29 and 30 and there may be still more. The inadequacy of the area granted to Manipur in the vicinity of Yangoupokpi, in exchange for the Nattaung hill, has already been mentioned, as well as the restriction of His Highness the Maharaja’s kheddah operations. Further, there is a possibility that certain of the foothills, excluded from the State by the present line may contain valuable minerals. The Darbar has recently granted a mining lease for the extraction of copper ore in the neighbourhood of Kongal Thana, and the Maharaja of Manipur once worked copper on a small scale near More Thana and elsewhere in the foothills. It is clear, therefore, that the demarcation of the boundary should approximately more closely to the definition laid down in the agreement of 1834 than it does at present.
  1. His highness the maharaja claims that the debatable sloping ground, known in Manipuri as loiroi, lying between the flat plain proper (Tampak) and the unmistakable hills(ching), should , by the terms of the agreement of 1834, belong to Manipur, and the definition refers to the hills as rising ‘immediately from the western side of the plains.” As I have pointed out, the exact determination of the “foot of the chain of mountains” is often extremely difficult, and His Highness’ claims in this respect can only be settled after a careful examination of the whole length of the boundary. His Highness has also suggested that the “Mahalam” or “Lanmadaw” the “royal road” referred to above was once regarded as the boundary. But this road does not constitute a suitable line. It does not conform to the definition of 1834. Iot runs through a number of villages, admittedly in the Kabaw valley, which under the first clause of the agreement of 1834, are explicitly included in Burma. And finally, the alignment of the road has recently been changed in several places and is liable to be changed again.
  1. Whether or not the claims of His Highness the Maharaja are completely justified, there can in my opinion, be no doubt that the present line, laid down by the Boundary Commission of 1896, departs from the agreed definition of 1834, in contravention of the orders of the Government of India, and that the Manipur State has suffered by the departure. The Manipur Darbar has, therefore, undoubtedly strong grounds for urging the reconsideration of the boundary. A line more in accordance with the definition of 1834 could certainly be selected without in any way causing inconvenience to the Government of Burma or to the Thaungdut State, or their subjects in the Kabaw valley. Such a line could be demarcated, assuming a spirit of give and take on both sides, without unduly increasing expenses bybthe multiplication of pillars.
  1. In the event of the Government deciding to appoint a commission to relay the boundary, I consider it most desirable that the Darbar should be represented on the Commission, as well as the Government of Assam and Burma.

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