BJP Must Not Oppose India-Bangladesh Land Boundary Agreement
In a few days the question of implementation of the India-Bangladesh Land Boundary Agreement which PM had signed in September 2011 with Sheikh Hasina would come up for discussion in Parliament. It is being opposed by BJP on the plea that the Cooch Behar enclaves that are being exchanged will lead to give away of some more additional territory to Bangladesh than India would get in exchange. This article seeks to put the facts in perspective and underline the need for its urgent implementation on humanitarian considerations, apart from the overall interest of India-Bangladesh relations.
On March 2, 2013, Bharatiya Janata Party President Shri Rajnath Singh in his presidential address at the Party’s National Council in New Delhi had said: “Under the work of exchanging ‘Enclaves’ which the government of India is undertaking under Teesta water sharing , India will have to forgo 13,000 acres of land while Bangladesh will have to forgo 3,000 acres only. The government is not answering as to how it will compensate for this loss of 10,000 acres of land.”
Ever since the Protocol on the Land Boundary was signed in September 2011 between the Prime Ministers of India and Bangladesh, the BJP has made known its opposition to the agreement and declared that it would not help in the constitutional process that the implementation of the agreement would require because of loss of territory in the exchange of enclaves.
The 130 Indian enclaves are 20,957 acres in area making an excess of 8805 acres or 8 sq. miles over the Pakistani/Bangladesh 93 enclaves of 12152 acres. This was the position on partition in 1947. In 1951 West Bengal made a proposal to New Delhi for exchange of enclaves. In so doing West Bengal Government demanded that Pakistan should compensate West Bengal for the excess area. Prime Minister Nehru had then advised Chief Minister Dr BC Roy that the idea was well intentioned and he could go ahead in sounding the East Bengal Government initially, but he doubted that Pakistan would agree to part with any territory in exchange, as suggested by him.
And this is what exactly happened. Pakistan Prime Minister Mohammad Ali on February 3, 1954, replying to Nehru’s letter of October 8, 1953, while agreeing to straight exchange of enclaves, ruled out any possibility of cession of territory to compensate West Bengal. Since Calcutta would not agree to straight exchange, the matter has drifted all these years.
The question of enclaves has to be looked not from the territorial angle alone but from a humanitarian angle too, since it involves the human, constitutional and civic rights of thousands of Indians, who have been deprived of them ever since the independence of India in 1947. They are living in utter misery, with no education, no health care, no voting rights and no access to amenities of any kind; in short nothing which the millions of Indians take for granted in the rest of the country. There were about 12600 people, mostly Hindus, living in Indian enclaves at the time of partition. With the emergence of Bangladesh in 1971, it is now a problem between India and Bangladesh.
In June 1995 the plight of the residents of the enclaves was brought to the notice of the National Human Rights Commission by Amar Roy Pradhan, Member of Parliament. In his complaint Mr. Roy had mentioned the number of residents in the Indian enclaves to be one lakh. The Commission taking cognizance of the complaint, asked the Ministry of External Affairs for a report. The Ministry in its report informed the Commission that the work of identification of the enclaves had been completed by the survey authorities of India and Bangladesh and the two countries had finalised the list of exchangeable enclaves of both sides. The Ministry however added, since their exchange was “linked to the completion of boundary demarcation/identification of adverse possession and consequent legal and constitutional processes” and the same was still in progress, the actual exchange has to wait. The Commission happily took the report of the Ministry “on record” and closed the case.
It is unfortunate that the Commission was not moved by the neglect, plight, misery and deprivations suffered by one lakh citizens, (as claimed by Roy), of their constitutional and civic rights since 1947 and was satisfied by the MEA’s report without application of mind, particularly when it was presided over by a retired Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India. If only the NHRC had glanced at the Land Boundary Agreement of 1974, it would have seen the hollowness of the MEA’s claim. The exchange was not linked either to the boundary demarcation or identification of the adverse possessions or any other condition. Article 1.12 of the above Agreement stated: “The Indian enclaves in Bangladesh and the Bangladesh enclaves in India should be exchanged expeditiously”. The Agreement also provided specifically the exchange “without claim to compensation for the additional area going to Bangladesh”. Obviously the MEA’s claim of linkage of exchange to the boundary demarcation was not borne out by the Agreement. Now, as far as the, additional area going to Bangladesh is concerned, BJP must realise that India is bound by the Agreement of 1974 and cannot go back on it. It may be relevant to point out some exchange of enclaves had already took place in 1974. The Agreement of 1974 in Para 1.14 allowed India to “retain the southern half of the South Berubari Union No.12 and the adjacent enclaves measuring 2.64 square miles approximately” in lieu of Bangladesh retaining two of the Indian enclaves of Dahagram and Angarpota.
In any case one has to remember that in any boundary settlement there is never an inch for an inch basis of settlement. India gained 15,178 acres from Pakistan in the boundary settlement between the two Punjabs as a result of the Sheikh Swaran Singh talks held in January 1960, followed by the signing of the Agreement on January 11, 1960.
The Bharatiya Jananta Party should not hold up its support to the Land boundary Agreement merely on the ground that some excess territory is going to Bangladesh and prolong the agony and deprivations of the unfortunate people of the enclaves who have suffered, and suffered enormously since 1947, and allow the new generation that has now come of age to enjoy a full life as honourable citizens of India.
By Avtar Singh Bhasin
[The author is a Director (Retd), Ministry of External Affairs]