PUNJAB BOUNDARY COMMISSION was one of the two high powered panels set up under Governor General Lord Mountbatten`s partition plan of 3 June 1947 (the other one being the Bengal Boundary Commission) to divide the Punjab between India and Pakistan, the two new states that were being carved out. The almost universal support of Muslim masses to the Muslim League at the elections held during the winter of 1945-46 had reinforced the League`s demand for an independent Pakistan, comprising the six provinces of Bengal and Assam in the east and the Punjab, the North-West Frontier Province, Sindh and Baluchistan in the northwest.

Widespread communal riots following the Direct Action resolution adopted by the Muslim League on 27 July 1946 convinced the Indian National Congress that a division of the country on communal lines was unavoidable. However, the “provinces” claimed by the Muslim League had large non Muslim enclaves. In the event. Lord Mountbatten`s plan provided for the exclusion from Pakistan of Assam (except Sylhet district where a referendum was to be the final arbiter) and the division of Punjab and Bengal. The exact dividing lines were to be drawn by the boundary commissions, both headed by Sir Cyril (later Lord) Radcliffe, a noted British jurist.

The Punjab Boundary Commission was set up on 30 June 1947 and was asked to give its award by 15 August. Its terms of reference were defined thus: “The Boundary Commission is instructed to demarcate the boundaries of the two parts of the Punjab on the basis of ascertaining the contiguous majority areas of the Muslims and the non Muslims. In doing so it will take into account other factors.” Its other members were Punjab High Court Judges, Justice Din Muhammad and Justice Muhammad Munir, both nominees of the Muslim League, and Justice Mehr Chand Mahajan and Justice Teja Singh (nominees of the Indian National Congress).

Since the Commission as constituted could scarcely be expected to produce a unanimous verdict, an amendment was made in the Indian Independence Bill signifying that “In section 4 the expression `award` means in relation to the Boundary Commission the decision of the Chairman of the Commission, contained in his report to the Governor General at the conclusion of the Commission`s proceedings.” The award sub sequently given, therefore, came to be called the Radcliffe Award.

The 3rd June Plan also suggested a notional division of the Punjab as “only a preliminary step of a purely temporary nature…” According to this notional division, Rawalpindi, Multan and Lahore divisions, minus Amritsar district, were provisionally assigned to Pakistan while Ambala and Jalandhar divisions, plus Amritsar district, were to be treated as parts of Indian Punjab.

The Punjab Boundary Commission, at its first meeting held on 14 July 1947 under the chairmanship of Sir Cyril Radcliffe, invited all interested parties to submit their memoranda by 18 July. It held its public sessions at Lahore from 21 to 31 July under the chairmanship of the seniormost member, Justice Din Muhammad, Sir Cyril having decided to attend the meetings of the Bengal Boundary Commission first. Mohammad Zafar Ullah Khan appeared before it to plead the case of the Muslim League, while Chamanlal Setalvad and Harnam Singh represented the Congress and the Shiromam Akali Dal, respectively.

Apart from arguments on legal niceties such as interpretation of the terms “demarcate,” “ascertain,” “continguous majority” and “other factors,” the protagonists of Pakistan based their case upon community wise population which was the main operative principle in the partition of the country, whereas the Indian side laid stress upon “other factors” which included economic considerations such as property, land revenue paid, contribution towards the development of canal colonies in western Punjab, rational distribution of river waters and the integrated rail and road systems as well as cultural and emotional factors such as number of educational institutions belonging to a particular community, the location of sacred shrines and the attachment for religious and historical reasons of a community to given area.

After 31 July, the Commission retired to Shimla where Sir Cyril also rejoined it. As expected, the four members failed to evolve a consensus and each of them prepared his own individual report. Justice Mahajan was the first to submit his report on 3 August 1947. According to him, “The frontier line will take the course of Basantar River as leaving the tract of Shakargarh Tehsil on the West side. This line should join the River Ravi at the confluence of the Basantar River with the River Ravi below Narowal. From there it should follow the course of the Ravi up to Shahdara.

From Shahdara it should proceed via Sheikhupura to Nankana Sahib, include that town in East Punjab and then it should join the Deg Nala up to its confluence with the River Ravi near Syedwala. From there the course of the Ravi should be followed till Channu and then should adopt the border of the Montgomery District with the Multan District and join the River Sutlej above the Islam Headworks.” Justice Teja Singh`s report, submitted on 4 August 1947, suggested the boundary line “along the River Chenab where it enters the Punjab going right up to Khanki and from there turn to the right bank of the Lower Chenab Canal up to the Nauwana, then follow the bank of Rakh Branch to a place where it enters the Lyallpur District, go along the present boundary line between the districts of Sheikhupura and Lyallpur right up to the point where Deg Nala joins the river Ravi…” Thereafter it followed the line suggested by Justice Mahajan.

Justice Din Muhammad and Justice Mohammad Munir submitted their reports on 5 and 6 August, respectively. They did not suggest any specific line but both strongly supported the boundary line suggested by the Muslim League, which roughly ran from Madhopur Headworks, near Pathankot, following the crest of the Sivaliks to Ropar, then turning west along the River Sutlej up to Ludhiana and follow the Ludhiana Firozpur Fazilka railway line extended to the boundary of Bahawalpur state. Sir Cyril Radcliffe`s Award, submitted to the Governor General on 12 August 1947, was announced on 16 August.

Under the Award, 13 districts comprising the whole of Ambala and Jalandhar divisions, Amritsar district, three tahsils (Pathankot, Gurdaspur, and Batala) of Gurdaspur district and a part of Kasur tahsil (four police circles, roughly the PattI subtahsil) of Lahore district were allocated to East (India) Punjab, and the rest went to West (Pakistan) Punjab. The Radcliffe Award failed to satisfy any of the political parties. The Muslim League was sore because it was not given the Muslim majority tahsils of Gurdaspur and Batala in Gurdaspr district and Fazilka, Firozpur and Zira tahsils in Firozpur district.

Hindus and Sikhs were unhappy because a large part of their population and vast properties were left in Pakistan. The Sikhs were the worst hit. The frontier drawn between India and Pakistan split them vertically into two halves. Those residing in the canal colonies of Montgomery, Multan, Lyallpur and Shahpur (Sargodha) suddenly found themselves cut off from their ancestral homes. With a bare 13 per cent population in the undivided Punjab, the Sikhs left in Pakistan were further reduced to a still smaller minority, helpless in case of mass violence which eventually forced them to migrate en masse to the Indian side of the border.

References :

1. Banerjee, A.C.. The Making of Indian Constitution. 1939-46. Calcutta, 1948
2. Rai, Satya M., Partition of the Punjab. Bombay, 1965
3. Kirpal Singh, The Partition of the Punjab. Patiala, 1972
4. Durga Das, ed., Sardar Patel`s Correspondence, 1945-50. Ahmedabad, 1972
5. Chaudhri, Mohammad Ali, The Emergence of Pakistan. New York, 1967
6. Moon, Penderal, Divide and Quit. London, 1961
7. Harbans Singh, The Heritage of the Sikhs. Delhi, 1983
8. Khushwant Singh, A History of the Sikhs, vol II. Princeton, 1966
9. Gopal Singh, A History of the Sikh People (1469-1978). Delhi, 1979