They live in no man’s land, people without a country or government. But now the residents of border enclaves between Bangladesh and India have reason to hope for an identityMohammad Mansoor Ali Mian’s greatest regret in life has been his inability to undertake Haj.
The 74-year-old from Poanturkuti in north Bengal’s Cooch Behar district bordering Bangladesh had the means to travel but he never possessed a passport. The reason: he was not a citizen of any country. “But soon, Inshallah, I shall be able to fulfill my dream,” he says.
This hope springs from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s assurance of a Bill that would pave the way for exchange of enclaves between India and Bangladesh.
It is a hope that has been further boosted by chief minister Mamata Banerjee doing a U-turn and pledging to support the Bill after having opposed a similar move by then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh two years ago.
Mansoor Ali Mian is one of the 1 lakhodd people residing in 92 Bangladeshi enclaves in India who will become Indian citizens once the Bill becomes an Act and the proposed land boundary agreement for exchange of enclaves between India and Bangladesh comes into effect. Similarly, nearly 2 lakh residents of 130 Indian enclaves in Bangladesh will become Bangladeshi citizens. There will be no exchange of territories and, according to the Bharat Bangladesh Enclave Exchange Coordination Committee (BBEECC) that has been fighting for the exchange of these enclaves and citizenship rights for their residents, while no one from the Bangladeshi enclaves in India wants to go to Bangladesh, only 734 persons belonging to 149 families residing in Indian enclaves there want to migrate to India.
Of the 130 Indian enclaves in Bangladesh, 111 are ‘exchangeable’ and so are 51 of the 92 Bangladeshi enclaves in India.
“The rest are enclaves within enclaves and, hence, will automatically become part of the two countries after the exchange. For instance, there are Indian enclaves within Bangladeshi enclaves in India and once these Bangladeshi enclaves become part of Indian territory, the Indian enclaves within them also become part of India,” says Diptiman Sengupta, BBEECC chief coordinator.
The total area of the ‘exchangeable’ Indian enclaves in Bangladesh is 17,178.2 acres and the area of ‘exchangeable’ Bangladeshi enclaves in India is 7110 acres. Mamata Banerjee’s earlier argument had been that India would lose more territory than it would gain. But this ‘loss’ is only notional.
While all the Bangladeshi enclaves in India are in the Cooch Behar district of north Bengal, the Indian enclaves in Bangladesh are spread over Panchagarh, Nilfamari, Lalmonirhat and Kurigram districts of that country. The Bangladeshi enclaves on this side of the border being surrounded on all sides by Indian territory, Bangladesh could never exercise any administrative control over them. This meant no assistance or development aid from that country. India never bothered to build roads, provide water or power, healthcare, education or any other facility to the residents of these Bangladeshi enclaves either.
However, most of the residents of Bangladeshi enclaves in India have managed to get Indian documents, including voter ID cards, using subterfuge. Only 14,215 of them, says the BBEECC, are ‘stateless’. Of the nearly 2 lakh people in Indian enclaves in Bangladesh, only 37, 369 don’t possess any citizenship or other documents.These figures came up during a joint survey of their respective enclaves by India and Bangladesh in 2011.
Source: Times of India