The land boundary between India and Bangladesh (the erstwhile East Pakistan) has been a vexed one since Independence. The Nehru-Noon agreement of 1958 and the agreement concerning the demarcation of the land boundary between india and Bangladesh and related matters of 1974 (referred to as 1974 LBA or land boundary agreement) sought to find a solution to the complex nature of the border demarcation involved. However, three outstanding issues pertaining to an un-demarcated land boundary of approximately 6.1 km, exchange of enclaves and adverse possessions remained unsettled.
The protocol (referred to as the 2011 protocol) to the 1974 LBA, was signed on 6 September 2011 during the visit of the then Indian Prime Minister to Bangladesh. This paved the way for the settlement of the outstanding land boundary issues between the two countries. The 2011 protocol sought to prevent the displacement of populations and ensured that all areas of economic activity relevant to the homestead had been preserved. It was prepared with the full support and concurrence of the State governments concerned, viz Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and West Bengal.
The 2011 protocol was ratified by the Indian Parliament in 2015. Subsequently, on 6 June 2015, during the visit of India’s Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi to Bangladesh, the two countries signed a historic agreement to simplify their 4,000km long border and clarify the identities of the people living in those enclaves. In essence, the two countries agreed toexchange those enclaves that are in adverse possession of each other. Accordingly, 106 Indian enclaves in Bangladesh will revert to Bangladesh and 92 Bangladeshi enclaves in India will come under India sovereignty. There will be no displacement of populations. A string of trade and investment agreements accompanied the land deal, with India according USD 4.5 billion worth of investments in power and a USD 2 billion credit facility for Bangladesh. The land accord was originally agreed to in 1974 by the Indian Premier Smt Indira Gandhi and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman of Bangladesh. Progress however was stalled after the assassination of Mujib in 1975, with subsequent governments failing to agree on the transfer of enclaves.
After the partition of india in 1947, the Radcliffe Line became the border between India and East Pakistan and following the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971, the same line became the border between India and Bangladesh. The demarcation of the border between India and East Pakistan had started soon after 1947, but there were difficulties in determining precisely where the border ran. Even though some of these boundary disputes were sought to be settled by the Nehru-Noon agreement of 1958, subsequent hostilities between the two countries left the task unaccomplished. Even after the creation of Bangladesh, the boundary dispute between the two countries inherited the legacy of history and fractured politics.
Soon after the Independence of Bangladesh, both countries were able to conclude a land boundary agreement (LBA) in 1974. This agreement has been implemented in its entirety except for three outstanding issues. These were:
• An un-demarcated land boundary of approximately 6.1 km in three sectors viz. Daikhata-56 (West bengal), Muhuri River- Belonia (Tripura) and Lathitila-Dumabari (Assam).
• Exchange of enclaves.
• Adverse possessions. Present Status Though the agreement was not ratified by India, it was implemented in full less the above three issues. In respect of Dahagram and Angarporta enclaves of Bangladesh, article 1(14) of the 1974 LBA provides for access to these enclaves by leasing in perpetuity an area of 178 metres x 85 metres near Tin Bigha. This was implemented through Letters of Exchange on October 7, 1982 between the then foreign minister of india and the then foreign minister of Bangladesh and on March 26, 1992 between the Foreign Secretary of india and the additional foreign Secretary of Bangladesh.
During the visit of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh to India in January 2010, India and Bangladesh expressed the desire to reach a final resolution to the long-standing problem and agreed to comprehensively addressall outstanding boundary issues keeping in view the spirit of the 1974 LBA. This led to the protocol concluded in September 2011, in finalising of which, the situation on the ground and wishes of the people residing in the areas involved were taken into account and the written consent of the concerned State governments was obtained. The present agreement, ratifying the 2011 protocol accord, will contribute substantially to a stable and peaceful boundary and create an environment conducive to enhanced bilateral cooperation. it will result in better management and coordination of the border and strengthen our ability to deal with smuggling, illegal activities and other trans-border crimes. The 2011 protocol departs from the 1974 LBA in seeking to maintain the status quo of adverse possessions instead of exchange of territories in deference to the wishes of the people to remain in their land. The 2015 Agreement will now result in a fixed demarcated boundary in all the undemarcated segments; the exchange of 111 Indian enclaves in Bangladesh with 51 Bangladesh enclaves in India and a resolution of all adversely possessed areas.
transfer 111 enclaves with a total area of 17,160.63 acres to Bangladesh, while Bangladesh will transfer 51 enclaves with an area of 7,110.02 acres to India. The people living in these areas without a nationality will be allowed to choose their nationality. On the face of it, this exchange appears to be a loss of land to India. However, in fact this is not so as enclaves lie deep in each others territory and there is no physical access to them from either side. The exchange is hence notional, as the Agreement converts a de facto reality to a de jure one. The Agreement is also beneficial to the inhabitants who for long had a stateless status and could not enjoy full legal rights as citizens of either India or Bangladesh and infrastructure facilities such as electricity, schools and health services were deficient. further, due to lack of access to these areas by the law and order enforcing agencies and weak property rights, certain enclaves had become hot beds of criminal activities.
In respect of adverse possessions, India will receive 2777.038 acres of land and will transfer 2267.682 acres of land to Bangladesh through implementation of the 2011 protocol. As in the case of enclaves, however, the reality is that the area to be transferred was already in the possession of the two countries. More importantly, the 2011 protocol will allow people living in the adversely possessed areas to remain in the land to which they have deep-rooted ties, sentimental and religious attachments.
With a settled boundary, we can expect greater cross-border cooperation, reduced friction, mutually beneficial exchanges and better relations between the two countries. With the Boundary permanently settled, there will be no differences in interpretation, regardless of the government in power. This also helps on issues of security concern, including security cooperation and denial of sanctuary to elements inimical to india. The physical exchange of enclaves and land parcels in adverse possession, and the boundary demarcation, will be implemented in phases between 31 July 2015 and 30 June 2016. The enclaves shall stand exchanged on the midnight of 31 July 2015 and the boundary demarcation will be completed by 30 June 2016 by Survey Departments of the respective countries. The transfer of enclave residents is expected to be completed by 30 November 2015. All in all, a welcome step indeed.