Boundary pact with Bangladesh passed by Parliament

On 7 May 2015, four decades after India and Bangladesh agreed to solve their complex boundary issues, Parliament passed the Constitutional 119th Amendment Bill (now re-number as Constitution 100th Amendment Bill) paving the way for transferof enclaves—111 Indian enclaves in Bangladesh and 51 Bangladesh enclaves in India—held by each country on other’s land.

The Bill included territories in Assam, West Bengal, Meghalaya and Tripura for exchange with Bangladesh. Many of these are enclaves (territory belonging to one country entirely surrounded by the other country), even enclaves within enclaves.

The Bill will require endorsement and ratification by at least 50 per cent of the State legislatures before it comes into effect.

The implementation of the agreement would enable India to fence and seal the border, checking infiltration and smuggling, reduce travel distance and imply gain of more land than loss.

India and Bangladesh have a 4,096.7-km land boundary. The boundary (with erstwhile East Pakistan) was determined by the Radcliffe Award of 1947. Disputes arose out of provisions of the award.

The flawed partition had left 111 Indian enclaves in Bangladesh (17,160.63 acres) and 51 Bangladeshi enclaves in India (7,110.02 acres). Their inhabitants do not enjoy full legal rights as citizens of either country, or facilities like electricity, schools and healthcare. Law and order agencies do not have proper access to these areas. A joint headcount estimated the population in the enclaves to be around 51,549 (37,334 in Indian enclaves within Bangladesh). An India-Bangla delegation that visited the enclaves in May 2007 found that residents on either side would rather be in the country where they had lived all their lives. So, not much peoples’ movement is likely.

The Protocol: After 1974 Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) signed between then Prime Ministers Indira Gandhi and Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, a protocol was signed between India and Bangladesh on 6 September 2011, to address the outstanding land boundary issues. It encompassed demarcation of undemarcated boundary, the territories in adverse possession and identification of exchange of enclaves. The protocol was prepared with support and concurrence of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and West Bengal.

Article 2 of the LBA, 1974, stated the two countries are expected to exchange territories in adverse possession in already demarcated areas. The 2011 protocol provided for redrawing of boundaries so that the adverse possessions do not have to be exchanged. It dealt with them on an ‘as is where is’ basis by converting de facto control into de jure recognition.

The protocol was subject to ratification by the two governments and will enter into force on the date of exchange of Instruments of Ratification. Now, after passing of the Bill by the Indian Parliament, the protocol is likely to be ratified leading to exchange of Instruments of Ratification and its immediate implementation.

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