Porous Indo-Bangladesh border and missed deadlines
The latest Annual Report of the Ministry of Home Affairs has mentioned a fresh deadline of March 2024 for the completion of all physical and non-physical barriers along the Indo-Bangladesh Border
The latest Annual Report of the Ministry of Home Affairs has mentioned a fresh deadline of March 2024 for the completion of all physical and non-physical barriers along the Indo-Bangladesh Border (IBB). This has laid bare the bitter truth of this international border left to remain porous even after 37 years of the signing of the Assam Accord. The report reveals that of the total 4096 km length of the IBB, 3145 km has been covered by physical fencing and the remaining about 951 km will be covered by physical and non-physical barriers. Compared to this, of the total sanctioned 2,091 km fence along the Indo-Pakistan border, work 2,065 km has been completed and the remaining 26.38 km of work is in progress, which is likely to be completed by October 2022. These figures speak volumes about the negligence of successive governments at the Centre towards the sealing of the IBB despite the historic Accord signed in 1985 promising that the international border shall be made secure against future infiltration by the erection of physical barriers like walls, barbed wire fencing and other obstacles at appropriate places. West Bengal shares the longest stretch of 2216 km of IBB, followed by Tripura with 856 km, Meghalaya with 443 km, Mizoram with 318 km and Assam shares 263 km. Ironically, despite sharing the shortest stretch of the IBB, Assam bears the maximum brunt of unabated illegal migration through the porous border as illegal migrants entering not just through the Assam-Bangladesh stretches in Dhubri and Karimganj sectors but also through West Bengal and Tripura have settled in the state posing a demographic existential threat to the Assamese and other indigenous people. The report highlights that currently there are 1078 Border Out Posts (BOPs) along the IBB which are the main workstation of the Border Security Force (BSF). The Central Government has sanctioned a proposal for the construction of 422 composite BOPs along the IBB and Indo-Pakistan border of which 326 are to be constructed along the Bangladesh border and the project is targeted to be completed by March 2024. Border roads are essential for better communication and operational mobility of BSF troops and work on the remaining section of 423 km of IBB is targeted to be completed by March 2024 which indicates the challenges faced by BSF in these stretches. The Assam Accord clause on sealing international borders also promises to patrol by security forces on land and riverine routes all along international borders shall be adequately intensified. Progress of work along the Assam-Bangladesh border cannot effectively curb the migration of illegal Bangladeshi migrants until the entire IBB is sealed and an adequate number of BOPs are set up. Out of 3077 km of Border Flood Light sanctioned along the IBB, 2682 km of work has been completed and the ongoing work in the remaining stretches is targeted to be completed by March 2023. The MHA admits in the report that "The Indo-Bangladesh Border is marked by a high degree of porosity and the checking of illegal cross-border activities and illegal migration from Bangladesh to India have been major challenges," vindicates the apprehension of Assamese people of being overwhelmed by illegal Bangladeshi migrants soon if the border is not sealed on a war footing. The work of updating the National Register of Citizens (NRC) remaining unfinished had only added to the worries of the Assamese people. Publication of an error-free final updated NRC list is crucial for the detection of illegal Bangladeshi migrants and their expulsion from Assam to allay the fear of marginalization. Granting of constitutional safeguards to Assamese people as enshrined in the Assam Accord to ensure that illegal migrants are prevented from capturing political power also needed to be expedited. The All Assam Students Union succeeding in impressing upon the Central and the State government about expediting the finalisation modalities for various clauses of the accord is crucial for safeguarding the Assamese people and their identities. The Government sanctioned a total of 731 BOPs along the Indo-Pakistan border of which 675 km have been completed and 26 km were targeted to be completed by July this year, and alternative sites are being located for the remaining 30 sites, adds the report. The two different pictures of the progress of work of securing the Indo-Pakistan border and Indo-Bangladesh border is baffling as the existential threat to the identity, language and culture of indigenous communities in Assam and the infiltration of growing internal security threat of anti-Indian Jihadi elements from Bangladesh are not lessened by the fact that Bangladesh is a friendly country and India-Bangladesh relations have deepened. The MHA report explains that there have been some problems in the construction of fencing in certain stretches on this border due to riverine/low-lying areas, habitations within 150 yards of the border, pending land acquisition cases and protests by the border population, which delay the completion of the project. India leveraging the deepening relations with Bangladesh to overcome the problems in sealing IBB with physical barriers and electronic surveillance is critical to ensuring that the new deadlines are not missed again.