Meghalaya stands to gain from Indo-Bangla boundary pact

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Shillong, Dec. 2: Meghalaya apparently stands to gain from the Protocol to the Land Boundary Agreement signed in 2011 between India and Bangladesh if the first report of the standing committee on external affairs is anything to go by.

The committee, chaired by Congress Lok Sabha MP Shashi Tharoor, presented its report on the Constitution (One Hundred and Nineteenth Amendment) Bill, 2013, to the Lok Sabha yesterday.

“The ministry (Union external affairs) has informed that in respect of adverse possession, India will receive 2,777.038 acres of land and transfer 2,267.682 acres of land to Bangladesh. In the case of enclaves, however, the area to be transferred is already in the possession of Bangladesh and the handing over of this area to Bangladesh is merely a procedural acceptance of the de facto situation on the ground. Similarly, areas in adverse possession of India will now be formally transferred to India with the implementation of the 2011 Protocol,” the report stated.

The ministry said the Protocol was prepared with “full support and concurrence” of the state governments of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and West Bengal.

Of the 2,777.038 acres to be received, 240.578 acres are under the Meghalaya sector of the India-Bangladesh border. Under the same sector, 41.702 acres from the 2,267.682 acres will be transferred to the neighbouring country.

An adverse possession is a portion of territory contiguous to India’s border and within Indian control, but which is legally part of Bangladesh. Residents of these adverse possessions are Indian citizens. The same applies to Bangladeshi adverse possessions.

Further, the report pointed out that the 2011 Protocol provides for redrawing of boundaries to maintain the status quo of adverse possessions and has dealt with them on an “as is where is basis” by converting “de facto control into de jure recognition”.

However, the Coordination Committee on International Border (CCIB), a conglomerate of social organisations, has been seeking answers from the government about the fate of the remaining acres of land under dispute.

“The total land under adverse possession (in Meghalaya sector) is 559.7 acres. If 240.5 acres come to Meghalaya and 41.7 to Bangladesh, what about the remaining 278 acres of land?” This question has been posed by CCIB since September 2011 after the deal was signed in Dhaka during the visit of the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Whether the answer to the question is made available or otherwise, the standing committee was of the strong opinion that the bill is “in the overall national interest as it would pave the way for broader bilateral ties with one of our closest neighbours, Bangladesh”. It opined that “delays in the passage of the bill have needlessly contributed to the perpetuation of a huge humanitarian crisis”.

The committee was also of the firm conviction that “difficulties of the people living in the enclaves of both countries would come to an end after the Act is passed by Parliament”.

“The committee would, therefore, urge the government to take urgent steps for presenting the bill to Parliament without any further delay,” the report added.

However, the report pointed out that a “modest demographic change” in both India and Bangladesh was expected to take place after the Protocol comes into force. “Not only would some Indian citizens return to the mainland from the previously held enclaves but a number of currently Bangladeshi nationals would also be given Indian citizenship after the area is ceded to India. The committee is of the opinion that the security dimensions of this influx of population should be considered seriously by the government.”

Regarding exchange of enclaves, the report stated that in accordance with the submission made by the ministry, “de facto reality gets converted into a de jure situation”.

The 111 Indian enclaves with an area of 17,160.63 acres in Bangladesh would be transferred to that country while 51 Bangladesh enclaves with an area of 7,110.02 acres in India would be transferred to India.

“While on paper, the exchange of enclaves between India and Bangladesh may seem like a loss of Indian land to Bangladesh, the actual scenario on the ground is quite different,” the report stated.

These enclaves are located deep inside Bangladesh and there has hardly been any direct access to them from India since 1947. Similarly, Bangladesh has had minimal access to its enclaves inside India. The Bangladeshi enclaves are located in Cooch Behar district of West Bengal and all Indian enclaves are located in the Bangladeshi districts of Panchagarh, Lalmonirhat, Kurigram and Nilphamari, close to the border with West Bengal.

In effect, the report stated, the exchange of enclaves denotes only a “notional exchange” of land with no substantial change in the “nation’s external boundaries”.

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