Bangladesh and India have made all preparations for exchange of enclaves between the countries during Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Dhaka next week to put an end to the suffering and uncertainty of the landlocked people, who have remained stateless for 64 years.
The enclave people both in India and Bangladesh will have ‘the right of staying where they are, as nationals of the state to which the areas are transferred’, said government officials.
‘The enclaves –111 of India located inside Bangladesh and 51 inside India belonging to Bangladesh – are expected to be exchanged between the two countries under the Mujib-Indira Land Boundary Agreement of 1974 during the Indian prime minister’s visit to Dhaka in September 6-7,’ home ministry’s joint secretary (political) Kamal Uddin Ahmed told New Age.
He said the enclave people would have the right to choose their citizenship as per the agreement.
Residents of the enclaves on both sides are eagerly awaiting the exchange as the issue has remained pending since the partition of India in 1947, said Kamal Uddin, also head of the Joint Boundary Working Group.
Both the authorities had made all preparations for exchange of the enclaves and settling other border-related disputes through implementation of the land boundary agreement, he added.
The enclave dwellers are denied basic rights as there are no schools and hospitals or any other government facilities inside the enclaves.
The joint secretary said a protocol might be singed between India and Bangladesh during Manmohan Singh’s visit to Dhaka to resolve the border issues.
The number of people living in the Indian enclaves located in four districts of Bangladesh – Lalmonirhat, Nilphamari, Kurigram and Panchagarh – is 34, 000 while the number of people in Bangladeshi enclaves inside the Indian district of Cooch Behar is 17,000, shows a joint headcount.
Enumerators from Bangladesh and India conducted the first-ever headcount since the British had left the subcontinent in 1947, simultaneously in the enclaves in Bangladesh and India in July 15-17, 2011.
‘The number of people living in the enclaves in Bangladesh and India is not more than 51,000 as found in the recently conducted joint headcount,’ Indian home minister P Chidambaram said in Dhaka on July 30.
Chidambaram was confident that the enclaves would be exchanged between the two neighbouring countries during the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh’s scheduled visit.
Most people in Indian enclaves surrounded by the Bangladesh territory already identify themselves as Bangladesh citizens and many of them have already managed to get national identity cards taking the advantage of lax local administration.
Enclave people having no ‘valid identity’ documents are eagerly awaiting exchange of the territories in adverse possessions between Bangladesh and India to get official recognition as citizens, a number of enclave dwellers have told New Age.
They said that neither India nor Bangladesh recognised them as their citizens.
The enclave people want merger with their respective mainland as they cannot enter their countries.
Mujib-Indira land boundary agreement required India and Bangladesh to exchange the enclaves in adverse possession ‘expeditiously’ and demarcate un-demarcated patches of their land boundary for which it had laid down the principles.
India has kept pending ratification of the land boundary agreement, halting settlement process of border demarcation and exchange of enclaves till date, said officials in Dhaka.
Article 5 of the accord says, ‘This agreement shall be subject to ratification by the governments of Bangladesh and India and instruments of ratification shall be exchanged as early as possible. The agreement shall take effect from the date of exchange of the instruments of ratification.’
Bangladesh parliament ratified the land boundary agreement on November 27, 1974 after prime ministers of the two countries had signed it on May 16, 1974 for demarcation of 4,156 kilometres of land boundary between the two countries.