Bangladesh’s border is set to lose much of its peculiarity with India’s passage of a bill that ratified a 1974 land boundary deal between the two neighbours paving the way for rehabilitation and resettlement of the inhabitants.
The peculiarity, more like anomalies, stems from the numerous sovereign enclaves – over 160, of which several are enclaves within enclaves – where inhabitants remained in a virtual state of statelessness for decades without any modern amenities that their fellow citizens enjoy.
There are similar enclaves scattered in remote patches of Europe and Africa, about 50, but few have seen their citizens abandoned to such despair.
Folklore has it that such high number of enclaves, accounting for over three-fourths in the world, was the result of a series of chess games between the Maharaja of Cooch Behar, now a West Bengal district, and the Faujdar of Rangpur. The two wagered villages for their games.
In a more scholastically tempered account, Brendan R Whyte, the assistant curator of maps at the Australian National Library, indicates that the enclaves resulted from peace treaties in 1711 and 1713 between Cooch Behar kingdom and the Mughal Empire, “ending a long series of wars in which the Mughals wrested several districts from Cooch Behar.”
The patches remained through the ages even when the subcontinent was divided and carried on through the birth of Bangladesh.
Challenging tasks to follow land swap:
In light of recent developments, Bangladesh and India are close on exchanging 162 enclaves in which over 51,000 people are living without any nationality, as Indian parliament has passed a bill for ratification of the much-awaited land boundary agreement signed back in 1974.
The enclave people in the territories of the two countries will have ‘the right of staying where they are, as nationals of the state to which the areas are transferred,’ said officials concerned.
It would be a major challenge for the government now to rehabilitate the people, who have been deprived of all civic rights since the 1947 Partition of India, and give them nationality along with health and education facilities among others, they added.
The government could not yet work out any development plans for the adversely held areas as India dragged its feet over the issue for a long time, said a senior government official.
‘We will undertake development programmes for the enclaves in phases. The deputy commissioners concerned have been directed to take steps to maintain law and other immediately after the land swap,’ state minister for home Asaduzzaman Khan told New Age.
The enclave dwellers inside Bangladesh territory were rejoicing at the passage of the bill for LBA ratification by Indian parliament and eagerly awaiting merger with the mainland, India-Bangladesh Enclaves Exchange
Coordination Committee’s Bangladesh unit general secretary Ghulam Mustafa said, adding that all were expressing joy over the development.
He said that the enclave people wanted an end to miseries they were facing for last 68 years as there were no authorities in the enclaves to look after their wellbeing.
‘Under the agreement, India will hand over 111 enclaves measuring 17,160 acres of land with a population of over 37,369 to Bangladesh and take over 51 enclaves covering an area of 7,110 acres with a population of nearly 14,090,’ said environment secretary Kamal Uddin Ahmed, also former head of the Joint Boundary Working Group.
Bangladesh ratified the agreement on November 27, 1974 after the two countries had signed it on May 16, 1974 for demarcation of 4,156 kilometres of land boundaries.
‘Bangladesh would gain around 10,050 acres of land from the land swap. After the ratification of the agreement, the two countries would formally exchange documents of the land,’ said Kamal Uddin, who was involved in the process for resolving border land disputes and exchange of enclaves under the LBA.
He said Bangladesh could not undertake any rehabilitation plans due to delay by India in ratification of the LBA.
The Indian enclaves are located in Kurigram, Lalmonirhat, Nilphamari and Panchagarh of Bangladesh while all the Bangladesh enclaves are in Cooch Behar of West Bengal.
The Indian central government has reportedly allocated a fund of around Rupees 3000 crore for infrastructure development and wellbeing of the people in 51 enclaves inside India.
Article 5 of the accord says, ‘This agreement shall be subject to ratification by the governments of Bangladesh and India and instruments of ratification shall be exchanged as early as possible. The agreement shall take effect from the date of the exchange of the instruments of ratification.’
Indian Lok Sabha, lower house of parliament, on Thursday unanimously passed the 119th constitution amendment bill to implement the land boundary agreement with Bangladesh paving the way for settling the four-decade-old border disputes and exchange enclaves on either side of the border.
External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj introduced the bill aimed at ratifying the historic Indira-Mujib Land Boundary Agreement of 1974 to facilitate exchange of the enclaves, transfer of adversely possessed areas and demarcation of 6.5 kilometres of unmarked border lands.
The Rajya Sabha, the upper house of Indian parliament, unanimously passed the historic bill on Wednesday.
As per the Indian procedure, the bill will be sent to state assemblies known as ‘Bidhan Sabhas’ for their approval.
Enclave people having no ‘valid identity’ documents were waiting for official recognition as citizens, a number of enclave dwellers said.
In a bid to end the suffering and uncertainties of the enclave people and resolve the long-standing disputes over border, Bangladesh and India on September 6, 2011 signed a protocol on the land boundary agreement during Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Dhaka.
Subject to ratification by the two governments, the protocol included exchange of enclaves, transfer of adversely possessed land in the border, settlement of 6.5 kilometres of undemarcated land boundaries and signing of strip maps.
The people living in 162 enclaves without basic rights have long been demanding merger of the landlocked areas with respective mainland as per the agreement.