Statelessness limbo for over 50,000 ends with India-Bangladesh land swap
With the clock striking zero hour, 111 Indian enclaves in Bangladesh became Bangladeshi territory while 51 Bangladeshi enclaves in India became part of India, ending nearly seven decades of sufferings of over 50,000 people, who had been deprived of civic, legal and property rights. “The exchange of 162 enclaves stood physically transferred from the midnight,” Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque told The Independent over phone at 12:04am today. “With the exchange, the sufferings of more than 50,000 people came to an end. This is a wonderful development,” he said as the two neighbours physically exchanged the enclaves giving the inhabitants full citizenship of their choice. The Indian government also termed it a “historic day” for both India and Bangladesh.
The historic exchange took place in accordance with the Land Boundary Agreement, 1974 and its additional protocol signed in September 2011, and instruments of ratification that were exchanged during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Dhaka visit in June. Bangladesh ratified the LBA in 1974. However, India failed to ratify it until May this year. The exchange marked the resolution of a complex issue that had been a major irritant in the relationship between the two next door neighbours. Since 1947, the inhabitants of the enclaves could not enjoy full legal rights as citizens of either Bangladesh or India. They had no access to facilities including treatment, electricity, roads and schools. There was hardly any enforcement of law in the enclaves and that the inhabitants did have poor property rights. After the midnight transfer, residents of the immediate-past Indian enclaves in Bangladesh, including women and children, celebrated the historic development braving rain.
Following the transfer, President Abdul Hamid and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina issued separate messages congratulating the residents of the exchanged enclaves. In his message, the president said the exchange of the enclaves after the resolution to the 68-year-old land boundary dispute is historic moment for Bangladesh and India, reports BSS quoting President’s Press Sectary Joynal Abedin.
The president also congratulated Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi on this historic moment.
The long-cherished dreams of the enclaves’ people have been fulfilled through the exchange of these enclaves, he added.
Side by side with ensuring their nationality and identity, it will have an impact on the socio-economic development of the residents of the enclave, the president said.
In her message, Sheikh Hasina said the enclave people have got their identity, the national flag and map of their beloved motherland and a scope for residing in a specific territory.
She said they have no difference with other citizens of Bangladesh.
“We would undertake all kinds of initiatives whatever necessary for improvement of the livelihood of the enclave people,” she added.
The 111 Indian enclaves that have been transferred to Bangladesh were situated in four districts of Bangladesh – Lalmonirhat, Panchagarh, Kurigram and Nilphamari. And, Bangladeshi 51 enclaves were in Cooch Behar district of the Indian State of West Bengal.
The 111 Indian enclaves in Bangladesh cover a total area of 17,160 acres while Bangladeshi 51 enclaves in India have an area of 7,110 acres.
According to a headcount jointly conducted by Bangladesh and India in July 2011, the number of residents in all the 162 enclaves stood at 51, 549 – 37,334 in the Indian enclaves in Bangladesh and 14,215 in Bangladeshi enclaves in India.
According to Foreign Ministry officials, the number has seen an increase due to birth of children to the residents. The approximate number of total residents of enclaves both in Bangladesh and India now stands at about 56,000, they hinted.
As per the LBA, the residents of the enclaves were given a choice either to be citizens of Bangladesh and India, said the officials, adding that with the transfer there would be an increase of Bangladeshi territory by about 10,000 acres as well as population by some thousands.
Some 979 residents of Indian enclaves in Bangladesh decided to go to India while none of the residents of Bangladeshi enclaves in India has chosen to come to Bangladesh, they said.
About the exchange, the officials said the transfer will be brought to Bangladesh’s map, and every change with regards to transfer of enclaves, adversely-possessed land and border demarcation will be notified in a government gazette.
“It can be safely said that our map will be slightly enlarged,” said an official.
The officials also said that all but one strip maps have been signed by Bangladesh and India to finalise the new maps of both the countries. According to the officials, the movement of the residents of the enclaves from one country to another will be complete by November, 30 this year.
The travel of the residents who exercise the option of moving from an enclave to the mainland of India or Bangladesh will be arranged by the respective governments through cooperation as mutually agreed, and will take place by November 30, they added.
Entry/exit points would be Haldibari, Burimari and Banglabandha on the India-Bangladesh border, they added. According to Bangladesh Foreign Ministry, the transfer of territorial jurisdiction of adversely possessed lands also took effect from midnight yesterday.
Gazette notifications pertaining to territory would be issued by both the governments, it said on Thursday. The officials also said that the issues relating to adversely-possessed land and border demarcation will be settled by June 30, 2016.