Opposition Supports Government on Land Boundary Agreement With Bangladesh
India-Bangladesh border copy
NEW DELHI: In an unwonted display of ascent and bonhomie Rajya Sabha passed the Constitution Amendment Bill to operationalise the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) with Bangladesh, with support from all the members.
The Constitution 119th Amendment Bill set to pass the Lok Sabha as well, will operationalise the LBA with Bangladesh which is pending since 1974, and facilitate the exchange of territory between the two countries.
External Affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj , while moving the bill in the Rajya Sabha asserted "This is a historic situation. We are going to implement the agreement after 41 years. I am happy that everyone supported the bill”.
The Bill aims at redrawing boundaries between India and Bangladesh by exchanging enclaves of land and settling adverse possession areas in the four states of Assam, West Bengal, Tripura and Meghalaya with Bangladesh. It gives effect to the acquiring of territories by India and transfer of territories to Bangladesh in pursuance of the agreement of 1974.
The historic Bill, once implemented is expected to pave a much stronger bond with Bangladesh and open up new areas of cooperation, including providing much needed access to northeastern states.
The Bill was approved by the Cabinet on Tuesday even though the BJP had opposed the same Bill earlier, when in opposition. The UPA government had introduced this Bill when it was in power. It was placed in the Rajya Sabha in 2013 and subsequently referred to a select committee, headed by Shashi Tharoor of the Congress, which recommended implementation of the deal.
The BJP, however, had executed a series of somersaults on the issue, changing its stand on the basis of whether it was in power or not. Before coming to power in 2014, the BJP had strongly opposed it, playing on the "will-not-give-up-an-inch" emotive plank. In December, on the other hand, the Prime Minister dramatically changed its stand by backing the deal at a political rally in Guwahati.
The Modi government then dropped hints that Assam would be excluded from the deal with an eye on the Assembly election in Assam next year and the consequent disquiet in the Assam BJP. However, the state was included under pressure from the Congress and the present Assam government.
Chief Minister of Assam, Tarun Gogoi had written a strong-worded letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, urging him to cast aside political compulsions and include Assam in the agreement to facilitate a "permanent solution to the outstanding issues" between India and Bangladesh.
As far as the state of Assam is concerned, India will be getting 470 acres of land from the neighbouring country, while 268 acres would go to Bangladesh, Sushma Swaraj had said.
Interestingly, the Assam government, on the other hand has been making huge claims. The State government on Tuesday asserted that once ratified, Assam will formally gain 714 acres (approximately 2160 bighas) of land out of the total of 982 acres of disputed land along the border. It also reckoned that the LBA will settle the boundary dispute with the neighbouring country once and for all.
A note issued by the State government on the Indo-Bangladesh Protocol of September 6, 2011 on demarcation of land between the two countries, said that as a result of the ratification of the protocol, the Radcliff Line demarcating the Indo-Bangla border will be redrawn and an area of 714 acres of land on the Lathitilla-Dumabari sector in Karimganj district will formally belong to Assam.
Subhash Chandra Das, Additional Chief Secretary (Revenue) on Tuesday apprised the people that of the 982 acres of disputed land, 268.40 acres, including 193.85 acres in Kalabari (Boroibari) area in Dhubri and 74.55 acres in Pallathal area (Karimganj) in Assam sector will go to Bangladesh. He further said that the areas (Kalabari and Pallathal) are already in adverse possession of Bangladesh.
Meanwhile, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj received praise for reaching out to convince the Opposition and bring it on board on the Bill. Leader of the Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad said if the government was to follow her example, there would be no acrimony in the passage of Bills and conduct of business.
Swaraj credited the UPA government for the introduction of this bill and honestly admitted that the BJP had earlier opposed it, however adding that her party had felt that it had not taken into account Assam’s views.
Swaraj clarified the doubts of many when she informed, “This agreement will not shrink our borders. We will have an advantage of 500 acres. Though 10,000 acres will go to them, it is just notional and those enclaves are deep and cannot be accessed by us”.
On the issue of rehabilitation of the people in the enclaves on the Indian side, she said that the Centre has met West Bengal’s demand for a Rs.3008.89-crore package, which can be used for as many as 35,000 people.
Even though an audit showed only 3,500 people had shown interest in migrating to India from Bangladesh, the government was making provisions for 35,000, Swaraj added.
Noting that the government will ensure Indians moving to Bangladesh would enjoy "dignified life", she said there would not be any "demographic change or exchange" and people from either side can avail citizenship if they wish.
“If Bangladeshi people living in Indian enclaves want to come to India we will allow them. Similarly, we will ensure that Indian that chose to live in Bangladesh live a life of dignity," said Swaraj.
It is important to note here that the celebrated Bill is also facing criticism and has triggered sharp reactions , at least in Assam.
The All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) are both angry at the Centre for clearing the Bill.
“There is hardly any difference between national parties like BJP and Congress regarding burning problems of Assam. While the Congress-led UPA government had signed the land boundary agreement in 2011 without taking the people of Assam into confidence, the BJP only made false promise to keep Assam out of the land exchange only to get votes during the 2014 Lok Sabha election,” said AGP president Atul Bora.
The AASU, on the other hand, staged protests in all district headquarters and also burnt copies of the Land Boundary Agreement on Tuesday. It also hit out at Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi for pressing the Centre not to exclude Assam from the process.
Interestingly, even the Assam BJP which tried convincing the central leadership of delinking Assam from the deal, seems disappointed.
“The Assam BJP’s stand has all along been to keep the state out of the amendment because the people in the state do not want to be part with even an inch of land,” said state BJP president Siddhartha Bhattacharyya.
The historic bill will now be taken up by the Lok Sabha today, where it is expected to be passed without any hiccup. It will then be sent for President's signature and then to the respective four state governments for ratification.