The more the day passes, the more the AL-led regime is proving to be a wizard in fanning fire, not in extinguishing. Some media reports claimed, and our sources confirmed, that the President will sign an Ordinance proscribing any political or legal dissent to the deals being prepared for signing with India during PM Manmohan Singh’s upcoming visit to Dhaka in early September.
Barring the decisions relating to the appointment of the PM and the Chief Justice, the President has a constitutional obligation pursuant to Article 48(3) to consult with the PM before making any decision, let alone such a suicidal one. The PM, hence, must explain to the nation how and under what authority 261 acres of land along the Sylhet- Meghalaya border has been transferred to India lately.
India shares the longest border with Bangladesh among all its neighbours, about 4351 km in total. Our ownership of the land stems from the laws of inheritance as well as the treaties and agreements concluded subsequently. One of the conceded patches of land includes the disputed—and previously fought out — 6.5 km stretch of natural resource-rich swathe along the Tamabil-Meghalaya border on which Delhi had staked a claim since 1971.
The claim follows Indian forces’ use of the land to train freedom fighters during the liberation war. But Bangladesh’s ownership of the land is historically guaranteed by an arbitral decision, a number of agreements, as well as a plethora of irrefutable records, maps and other documents pertaining to the border demarcation between Pakistan and India, and India and Bangladesh.
Besides, the allegedly conceded land housed pre-independence (1971) border pillars which have reportedly been removed lately by the BSF. This is an annexation by consent, which simply means a sell out of the nation’s sovereignty through an executive usurpation of power. It neither took consent of the parliament, nor of the people. The PM should order the land’s immediate repossession.
If it’s an annexation by consent, the government has breached the standard practices of international laws and acted in contravention of the decision rendered by the Bengal Boundary Commission on January 26, 1950 while settling the dispute. The report said, the settlement is related to “a portion of the boundary line dividing, between East Bengal (Pakistan) and Assam (India), the district of Sylhet as it was prior to the partition of 1947.” Based on the report’s recommendations, border pillars were erected. Sandwiched between Assam on one side and the 423 km border with the Sylhet plains of Bangladesh on the other, the state of Meghalaya was carved out of Assam as a separate state on January 21, 1972.
The Boundary Commission also referred to the dispute as having been addressed in paragraph 13 of Sir Cyril Radcliffe’s Report relating to India-Pakistan border demarcation. This treasured document is preserved in the UN treaty series, titled as “Reports of International Arbitral Awards: Boundary disputes between India and Pakistan relating to the interpretation of the report of the Bengal Boundary Commission; 26 January 1950, VOLUME XXI pp. 1-51, UNITED NATIONS.”
Based on this arbitration by some of the most eminent jurists from both India and Pakistan, the Nehru-Noon Agreement on India-East Pakistan borders was signed in New Delhi on September 10, 1958; which too addressed all the disputes relating to the West Bengal, Assam and Tripura borders with East Pakistan. In that Agreement too, there is no trace of Delhi staking a claim on the allegedly re-possessed Sylhet (Tamabil) land.
Pursuant to the decision of the arbitration, as well as the Nehru-Noon Agreement, India and Pakistan concluded a comprehensive border agreement (Agreement No 5180) on October 23, 1959, resolving the East Pakistan border disputes with India. This is why major Indo-Pak battles in 1948 and 1965 were fought along India-West Pakistan borders, not in East Pakistan.
Following the independence of Bangladesh in 1971, the Indira-Mujib Agreement was concluded on May 16, 1974, which the Bangladesh parliament ratified in November of that year in keeping with the treaty’s obligations. Articles 2 and 3 of the 1974 agreement deals with the adversely possessed enclaves relating to which a treaty is now under preparation and slated to be signed during Manmohan Singh’s Dhaka visit.
Article 2 of the 1974 Agreement stipulated that the “territories in adverse possession …… shall be exchanged within six months of the signing of the boundary strip maps by the plenipotentiaries. They may sign the relevant maps as early as possible, and… not later than the 31st December, 1974 and… (they) should be printed by 31st May 1975 and signed by the plenipotentiaries thereafter in order that the exchange of adversely held possessions in these areas may take place by the 31st December 1975.”
Article 3 states: “when areas are transferred, the people in these areas shall be given the right of staying on where they are, as nationals of the State to which the areas are transferred.”
While non-compliance of an international agreement does not render the agreement null and void, the adversely possessed enclaves were not swapped as promised in the following decades, leaving open a soaring gaffe for recurring border skirmishes to occur and poison relations between the two nations.
Moreover, on April 15-16, 2001, Delhi ordered Indian BSF to launch a battalion-strong attack at Bangladesh’s Baroibari outpost along the Assam frontier, following the BSF’s failure to capture the claimed Tamabil land in Sylhet which the government has now surrendered, without letting the nation knowing, to India.
Ironically, Sheikh Hasina was the PM of the nation when, hell bent on defending to death in the midst of a surprised attack by the Indian BSF battalion, three BDR soldiers embraced martyrdom while the attackers were dealt with a body blow. At least 21 BSF soldiers were killed and dozens injured in the Padua battle.
Yet, the prolonged Indian non-compliance with the 1974 Agreement resulted in the as yet un-demarcation of 6.1 km of borders, which include (1) Lathitilla-Dumabari (3 km with Assam), (2) South Berubari (1.5 km with West Bengal), and (3) Muhuri river/Belonia (1.6 km with Tripura). This catalogue of disputed land too does not include the Indian Tamabil-Padua claim.
All these means India does not have a case in hand to claim the Tamabil land it has now repossessed from its puppet regime in Dhaka. For decades, Delhi also chose to hold Bangladesh under a tight leash by not swapping the adversely possessed land, mindful that the swap will result in India losing over 4,000 hectares of its territory, or about 40 sq. km, from the total 70 sq. km it owns in the 111 enclaves inside Bangladesh.
Bangladesh, on the other hand, has 51 enclaves inside India, comprising 28 sq. km. Pursuant to the modalities outlined in the 1974 Agreement, the swap entails 10,000 acre of net loss to India.
Demographic time bomb
Meanwhile, the elapse of time has turned the matter into a demographic and emotional time bomb. The stranded citizens on both ends now find it difficult to embrace a new nation as new citizens. A group of residents from the Bangladeshi enclaves in India have already declared to stage a program of dharma on August 15, knowing that their enclaves face transfers in early September.
The non-disclosure of the finding of a recently concluded census notwithstanding, it is presumed that about 1.8 lakh Indians live inside the Indian enclaves in Bangladesh while Bangladesh has about 1.13 lacs inhabitants inside the Bangladeshi enclaves in India.
That India had already flouted the 1974 boundary Agreement should have served as the most convincing rationale in not making any concession to Delhi in this regard. One source within the government said the Sylhet land concession is the part of a quid pro quo. Well, even if it is so, that too must have been thrown into the public domain to assess its feasibility in the context of our national interest. The nation does not belong to the Prime Minister or the President alone.