By J P Rajkhowa
On May 16, 1974 the India- Bangladesh Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) was signed between the Prime Ministers of the two countries for exchange of territories, held by each country in the other country, by way of adverse possession, which are known as enclaves. India has 111 enclaves within Bangladesh (70 square km) as against 51 enclaves in India possessed by Bangladesh (28 square km). Most enclaves of Bangladesh are in Assam, West Bengal, Meghalaya and Tripura. The Rajya Sabha passed the Constitution’s 119th Amendment Bill, 2015 on last Wednesday (6 May, 2015) to amend the First Schedule of the Constitution, which defines the area of each State, Union Territory, unimously, followed by its ratification in the Lok Sabha on Thursday (7 May, 2015). Thus the Indian Parliament having passed the Constitutiol Amendment for transfer of India’s land to Bangladesh, from the States of Assam, West Bengal, Tripura and Meghalaya and Bangladesh’s enclaves to India, the long- pending land boundary issue seems settled once and for all, with the Bangladesh Parliament already concurred to the 1974 Agreement.
It is recalled, that, on September 6, 2011 when Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh visited Dacca (Bangladesh), a Protocol to the 1974 pact, was signed by the Prime Ministers of the two countries, for exchange of the enclaves, where Assam chief minister Torun Gogoi, who strongly advocated in favour of the land- swap, was also present. This Protocol was required to be ratified by India’s Parliament, for which the then UPA government put up the Constitution (119th Amendment) Bill, 2013 in the Rajya Sabha, which was then referred to a Select Committee. At that time, there was much brouhaha in Assam over the Protocol, which was spearheaded by the BJP, which was then in the opposition, the State AGP, a number of Students’ organizations, on the ground that, Assam would be losing considerable amount of land, if the transfer of enclaves were to take place.
After the BJP captured power at the Centre after their resounding victory in the 2014 Lok Sabha Elections, the position taken by the party changed, with the new awakening that, the border problems with Bangladesh- a friendly neighbour needed to be solved by implementing the 1974 LBA as well as the 2013 Protocol, and that, this would benefit Assam too, as the border fencing works could then be completed for full length and there would be better and more effective border magement between the two countries, which, in turn would also tackle the infiltration problem (stop infiltrators from Bangladesh?). But, the doubts and suspicions on the ‘exchange of enclaves’ issue continued to persist in Assam, as neither the ruling Congress in Assam nor the ruling BJP at the Centre nor the State leadership of the BJP, could impress the people and organizations, by providing a factually correct picture, on the exact gains and losses of territories of Assam, due to the ‘agreed’ transfer.
Even the new Prime Minister rendra Modi, when he addressed a mammoth rally, at Sarusajai Stadium on November 30, 2014, did not clearly spell out the complete implications, in terms of loss or gain. He simply announced that, his government would “utilize the land swap agreement with Bangladesh in a manner that might seem to be an immediate loss to Assam but serve the security interests of the State in the long term. He said that, he would utilize the agreement to seal all routes across the intertiol border through which ‘illegal’ Bangladeshi immigrants had been entering Assam and creating havoc in the state. We will always protect the interests of Assam and the security.”
A few days before the afore-stated Amendment Bill was placed in the Rajya Sabha, the media carried reports that, the Union Cabinet, after considering the sentiments of the people of Assam, against surrender of its land to Bangladesh, had decided to exclude Assam from the purview of the Amendment Bill. This led to euphoria among the people and organizations, which were opposed to the ‘transfer’. But, a subsequent decision by the Union Cabinet, to re-include Assam, following interl discussions within the BJP, about the likely consequences on intertiol relations and the tion’s credibility, and also requests from Assam chief minister, Torun Gogoi to stick to the origil 2013 Protocol, and include Assam in the ‘Deal’, much hullaballoo has been recreated, in Assam with the State BJP accusing the Congress and vice versa, accompanied by stout opposition from some opposition parties and students’ / youth organizations.
If the claim made by Assam’s Additiol Chief Secretary, Subhash Chandra Das, that the LBA with Bangladesh will benefit the State and help seal the Indo-Bangladesh border, hold true, then there’s hardly any justification to continue with ‘protest demonstration’ and other forms of agitation against the LBA, which now has the mandate of our Parliament. At a press conference in the city on 5th May 2015, Subhash Das said that, according to the ‘protocol’ (LBA), Assam will concede 268.4 acres of land in Boraibari (Dhubri) and Pallathal (Karimganj), and in return will get 714 acres of land in Lathitila- Dumabari area (Karimgan). Moreover, as a result of the demarcation, 3 km stretch of an area at Lathitila- Dumabari will be demarcated to facilitate erection of border fence that has been stalled in that place. Das also said that, the inhabitants in the portion of the land that Assam had conceded to Bangladesh, have been identifying themselves as Bangladeshis, have been casting votes in Bangladesh and want to be part of Bangladesh formally. But, from this statement, would it be safe for us to presume that, no Bangladeshi tiols would pour to Assam (India) from the Bangladeshi enclaves transferred to India? As per one report, there would be transfer of population as well, and their resettlement in India, would also be necessary, which is why, West Bengal has been given a package of 3,008 Crore by the Centre, in order to placate its chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who demanded that amount, for rehabilitating those living in Indian enclaves in Bangladesh who would like to settle in Indian territory after the exchange of enclaves. [Source: The Telegraph, 7 May 2015]. No such package has been declared for Assam, as no demand seemed to have been made by the Assam chief minister!
For creating the much needed public awareness, in order to garner support on the compulsions for the exchange of territories / enclaves and redefining the border between India and Bangladesh, thereby re-drawing the Radcliffe Line, both Torun Gogoi’s government and party, which had supported the 2013 Protocol as well as the present Union government at the Centre, which decided to ditto it, were responsible, but failed. Much confusion was also created in the public mind, first, by the decision of the Union cabinet on 29th April 2015 to go for a revised LBA delinking Assam, and then after just five days, for revoking that decision, at another cabinet meeting dated May 4, 2015, reversing that decision and placing the Constitution Amendment Bill in the Rajya Sabha, with Assam re- included. This led to emotive reactions in Assam, as no one cared to reassure the people about protecting Assam’s interests, by fully revealing all underlying facts publicly.
Now it is filly clear that, the ‘land swap’ protocol envisages transfer of 111 enclaves with a total area of 17,160.63 acres to Bangladesh, while the neighbouring country is to transfer 51 enclaves with an area of 7,110.02 acres to India. A 6.1-km undefined border stretch will be demarcated with the Bill passed. [The Sentinel, 8 May 2015]. Thus while Assam appears to be a gainer, if we go by the statement of Subhash Das, India as whole seems to be a loser, with handing over of extra 10,050.61 acres of land to Bangladesh. Whether the 37,334 population of 111 enclaves and the 14,215 population of the 51 enclaves also stand transferred to the respective country, is not yet clear. The Exterl Affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj said in the Rajya Sabha, on 6th May, that the estimates of people who are likely to shift to India vary from 3,500 to 35,000. “The government is not sure how many people would filly come,” she said. Prime Minister rendra Modi, tweeted on the passing of the Constitution (119th Amendment) Bill by the Parliament- “This would contribute to a stable and peaceful boundary, better magement & coordition of the border & will lead to enhanced security as well. The Amendment passed ensures a permanent settlement of land boundary with Bangladesh & resolution of long-standing boundary issues.” Though not spelt out, will this Amendment also help in repatriation of illegal Bangladeshi migrants from Assam to Bangladesh and also ensure total prevention of infiltration of Bangladeshi tiols to India?