THE Indira-Mujib Treaty of Friendship is supposed to address three kinds of land border disputes between Bangladesh and India, who share a 4,098 km long border. These are, un-demarcated border, enclaves and adversely possessed land (APL). Specifically, the two countries have yet 6.5 km of border to demarcate, 162 enclaves measuring a total 24,268 acres as per the agreed list signed in April 1997 at the level of Director General Land Record & Survey (DGLR & S), Bangladesh and DLRS, India and 6500 acres of adversely possessed land. Article 1(12) and Article 3 of the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) of 1974 envisage that Bangladeshi enclaves in India and Indian enclaves in Bangladesh should be exchanged expeditiously and the people in the enclaves offered a choice of citizenship. In accordance with the agreement, Bangladesh handed over the Berubari enclave to India while India pledged to lease in perpetuity to Bangladesh an area measuring 178×85 meters near 'Tin Bigha' to reach the Dahagram- Angorpata enclave of Bangladesh. However, it has taken India 27 years to open the corridor for 12 hours daily to Bangladesh on the pretext of legal complications.
Though the Nehru-Noon Agreement of 1958 -- and the 9th amendment of the Indian Constitution ratified the said agreement and does not need further amendment to ratify the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) of 1974-- the Indian policymakers say the exchange of enclaves requires further amendment. After a quarter of a century the agreement is awaiting ratification. Major Indo-Bangladesh tension points from the Indian perspective are insurgents from Northeast India using Bangladesh territory as a sanctuary to launch terrorist campaigns against India and cross border movements from Bangladesh to the bordering states of India, which have been raised by India on several occasions at different official meetings. While Bangladesh's major sources of concern are human and drug trafficking, smuggling of small arms and ammunitions, increased smuggling in goods, frequent clashes with the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) and unprovoked firing leading to death of innocent citizens.
Though Government of India recognises the need to ratify LBA to resolve the dispute one wonders whether the killing of more than 1000 innocent Bangladeshi's in the past 10 years by BSF, or more than 1000 Bangladeshi tortured by BSF since 2001, 974 abduction, 107 missing from the border, 14 rapes, 71 snatched/looting and 313 illegal pushing into Bangladesh in the Bangladesh-India border area, are not enough of a wakeup call. (Statistics credited to Odhikar). If this is not enough then maybe the Baraibari border clash of April 18, 2000, which left 3 BDR and 16 BSF men dead in the worst border clash in the 42 years of Bangladesh's independence due to the unresolved adversely possessed land issue, would be. But surely the plight of 51000 people living today in the 162 enclaves in the two countries (as per statistics of The Times of India), who neither hold refugee status nor have access to any internationally recognised civil rights in the prison like enclaves, would definitely be. The inhabitant of these enclaves could argue that even prisons have rights and prisoners are sentenced for definite term times.
Even the economics of this unresolved dispute should have been an important factor if the human aspect was not, that Taka 832.2 million worth of smuggled food grain, sugar, textile, machinery and many other commodities enter Bangladesh on a monthly basis from India (as per a survey conducted by the Bangladesh Unnayan Parishad on the annual seizure statement from Border Guard Bangladesh BGB). While there are no reliable data available on women and child trafficking from Bangladesh, it has been estimated in surveys done by NGOs that 200-400 young women and children are trafficked every month to India and beyond. Researches have shown that traffickers use the border enclaves as collection points. Although Bangladesh and India, along with other SAARC countries, have signed an agreement on child and women trafficking in 1997, BGB and BSF do not have any joint action programme to prevent trafficking yet.
Recent efforts of the Indian government to place a constitution amendment bill in the Rajya Sabha to ratify the LBA with Bangladesh failed. The Trinamool Congress, Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and India's main opposition lawmakers scuttled the move to ratify the Indian Constitution (119th Amendment) Bill, which intended to give effect to an exchange of enclaves adversely held by India and Bangladesh. Birendra Prasad Baishya of AGP sat on the floor carrying two placards and saying the bill was “an injustice to Assam.” The BJP and AGP oppose the agreement insisting that India is ceding too much territory to the neighbouring country. When contacted by the media , Trinamool leader Derek O'Brien said, “It is not a vanilla ice-cream; it is the country's precious land that is at stake,” while justifying Trinamool's opposition to the bill.
Derek O'Brien or Birendra Prasad Baishya, who, in all likelihood, have not visited and do not share the difficulties such as faced by the residence of Balapara Khagrabari an Indian enclave of district of Cooch Bihar, situated inside Nilphamari district of Bangladesh, should visit and tell the same to the Indian citizen who have been waiting for their lawmakers for the last 66 years to take a decision on their fate. In the words of Abu Bakr Siddiqui, one of the oldest Indian resident of the enclave, “After the partition by the British, we woke up the next morning to realise we were neither part of India nor erstwhile Pakistan but of an enclave inside East Pakistan. Only for couple of years we were given Non Visa Required Identity Card to travel to Bangladesh and India in the 1970's but eventually stopped it. From outset we are very peaceful where everyone has a smile to greet. The hospitality is warm enough to confuse a common bystander but reality differs from the norm, when looking deep into our lives. We are desperate people with no sign of hope with a brewing anger, desperation and lack of trust. The Indian Government has never looked into the livelihood of our people. They have now even constructed fences closing any kind of communication between us. We are like livestock, we are living a life like animals and no one cares if we die.”
On Bangladesh-India borders, Mr. R.N. Bhattacharya, ex IG, BSF has made the following comment: “It's the most artificial border in the world.” These are realities and the Indian policy makers should finally wake up to realise and act upon if they are to make positive and effective steps to improve Bangladesh- India relationship.
The writer is a human rights activist and is working as Vice President of Policy Research Centre. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org