By Amrita Dasgupta, South Calcutta Law College.
The Agreement on the demarcation of Land Boundary between India and Bangladesh and related matters, signed in May 1974 is a unique document that epitomized the depth of the friendship, goodwill and mutual trust and above all, the vision of peace and harmony of two great statesmen, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and Smt. Indira Gandhi. This comprehensive agreement was intended to resolve all lingering and vexing problems that history had bequeathed on the two nations. It has been recognized by all concerned that the implementation of the Agreement in letter and spirit is a sine qua non for the redress of the causes of tension and conflicts, along the long border between the two countries. The two leaders’ even fixed practical time frames for completion of various steps they knew would be necessary for the Agreement to be implemented. But the later leaders’ couldn’t do the needful to carry on with the peace and harmony between the two nations.
Now, after almost 41 years of the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) being signed for the swapping of enclaves, the passage of the Bill ratifying the 1974 Indo-Bangladesh LBA is an indication that India’s ‘neighbourhood-first’ policy is beginning to work. This is a new milestone in the relations between the two countries.
The bilateral relations between India and Bangladesh took a positive start from 2010 when Sheikh Hasina, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, visited India and in 2011 India’s the then Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Siingh, visited Bangladesh. With the ratification of this agreement, the relationship of the two countries strengthened even more.
There was a mistake in the landmark legislation that was passed on May 7, 2015 (ratified by the Rajya Sabha on May 6, 2015 and by the Lok Sabha on the following day). When the Bill was introduced, it was numbered as 119th Constitutional Amendment Bill but when passed, it became 100th Constitutional Amendment which dragged huge criticisms even from ministers. The opposition leader Ghulam Nabi Azad mentioned the mistake as a major embarrassment to the entire House. Finally, the error-free Bill was passed on May 11, 2015.
The Bill was unanimously approved by both the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha members, ranging from Shiv Sena party members to other party members, dropping down their diversified principles. The External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj also lends the credit to the former Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh for his contribution in this matter. She said, “Manmohan Singh is the one who started the whole thing. I have merely completed the task”.
India shares the longest international boundary with Bangladesh i.e. about 4096 kilometre land boundary. It shares it’s boundary with Assam, West Bengal, Mizoram, Tripura and Meghalaya. The Bill embodies exchange of territories of Assam, West Bengal, Meghalaya and Tripura. There are 111 Indian enclaves in the territory of Bangladesh covering 17,160 acres of land and 51 Bangladeshi enclaves in India’s territory covering an area of 7110 acres, which is a place of abode for approximately 52,000 stateless people. By this agreement, India is expected to lose about 10,000 acres of land. Enclaves, popularly known as chitmahals, are the small lands across the boundary of India and Bangladesh.
The Land Boundary Agreement is a key to solve the terrorist activities and illegal migration that goes on in the borders. This agreement will also ensure the security to the people of both the countries. This will also help both Modi Government and Awami League government fight the cross border terrorisms jointly. The rate of trade and commerce will take a leap. The smuggling of goods like drugs, cattle, trafficking of women and children will be impeded. These stateless people have no basic amenities and lack security. By this agreement, these stateless people will get a proper right as a citizen, though few living in the Indian enclaves within the Bangladesh boundary may be adversely affected as they will lose their right to claim to Indian citizenship. The boundary disputes will also be resolved through this. It will improve the access to north-eastern states and help to enhance the development works over there.
The LBA also opens up the passage to new business opportunities for India through Bangladesh to Thailand, Myanmar, etc. The labour and communication charges will take a major plunge and improve the connections with other countries through Bangladesh.