The Big Picture – India-Bangladesh Land Boundary Agreement
The Constitution (119th Amendment) Bill, 2013, which will allow the operationalisation of the 1974 India-Bangladesh Land Boundary Agreement, was cleared by the Cabinet recently. The envisaged exchange of land includes enclaves and adverse possessions from West Bengal, Meghalaya, Tripura and Assam. The swap will involve handing over 17,000 acres of land to Bangladesh in return for 7,000 acres in 111 enclaves in West Bengal, Assam, Tripura and Meghalaya, and was first decided under the 1974 Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) between India and Bangladesh, but never ratified by Parliament.
India signed the additional protocol to LBA in September 2011, but it was not ratified because the then Manmohan Singh government failed to get Parliament’s backing after the bill was introduced in the Rajya Sabha by then external affairs minister. At that time, the main opposition to the legislation came from the now ruling BJP, especially its Assam unit. The BJP had objected to LBA because India stood to lose around 10,000 acres under the terms of the agreement when Bangladesh took over 111 enclaves (17,160 acres) from India’s possession and India, in turn, received 51 enclaves (7,110 acres) from Bangladesh. Enclaves are tiny landlocked territories that each country has within the borders of the other nation.
The number of people to be involved in the whole swap is approximately 52,000, of which about 15,000 are on the Indian side of the border. These people have no social security and lack basic amenities. This agreement is expected to address this humanitarian issue. Under this intended agreement, the enclave residents could continue to reside at their present location or move to the country of their choice. A number of Indian nationals living in Indian enclaves in Bangladesh territory are going to be adversely affected as they would lose their claim to Indian citizenship.
Now, it becomes the responsibilities of the governments of India and Bangladesh to ensure that there is no discrimination against them. The Union, in a major departure, had de-linked Assam from the agreement. But faced with opposition from the Assam Chief Minister and the Congress in Parliament as well as unhappiness from the Hasina government in Dhaka, the Centre later reversed its decision on excluding Assam from the purview of its Bill on exchanging land with Bangladesh.
The deal also opens the door for collaboration with Bangladesh for transit facilities to India’s landlocked North-East, a long standing demand of India crucial for developing the vast insurgency-riven region. As the proposed territorial and population exchanges shall have serious implications for the country’s security and integrity, the government should exercise all options available to put in place a suitable mechanism and modality to check for the bonafides and credentials of the Bangladeshi nationals who shall be conferred Indian citizenship after legal incorporation of the enclaves where they have so far been residing as citizens of Bangladesh.
This deal also helps check illegal migration which has been a major problem which has been termed as demographic invasion driving to out populate indigenous community and region. Smuggling of goods, drugs, trafficking of women and children can all also be put under check.