Thursday, October 6, 2011

Hope Against Hope

FULL implementation of the 1974 land boundary agreement as well as the protocol signed on September 6, looks uncertain, with the Indian parliament yet to ratify the deals, politicians and experts said.
Residents of enclaves in Bangladesh and India have long been living in misery, without any ‘official identity’, as governments of the two countries have failed to resolve the issues surrounding disputed land boundary, left pending since the partition of the subcontinent in 1947.

‘It (settlement of land boundary issues) remains risky till the Indian parliament ratifies the agreement. They should not keep it hanging on, in any excuse,’ the general secretary of the Communist Party of Bangladesh, Mujahidul Islam Selim, told New Age.

 Much to the disappointment of the people of the enclaves, the two neighbouring countries have thus far failed to implement the land boundary agreement of 1974 which stipulates expeditious exchange of the landlocked areas, subject to ratification of the accord by the two governments, despite several attempts in the past.
‘We are neither India nor Bangladesh. We want implementation of the Mujib-Indira land boundary treaty so that the Indian enclaves become a part of Bangladesh,’ said Md Ramzan Ali, 66, a resident of an Indian enclave, and also member of the India-Bangladesh Enclaves Exchange Coordination Committee.
He said there were no authorities to look after their welfare and they were not even allowed to enter into their mainland.

Akbar Ali Khan, who was an adviser to the Iajuddin Ahmed-led caretaker government, said that Bangladesh has lived up to her commitments but ‘it is the Indians who have so far not implemented the 1974 land boundary agreement on the plea of agitation and court cases.’

‘We are not yet sure whether India will implement it at all. We are still afraid,’ he said. ‘Bangladesh should demand complete implementation of the agreement and the protocol.’

Asif Nazrul, a professor of law at Dhaka University, said that the signing of the agreement cannot be deemed complete until the Indian parliament ratifies it.

‘In the past they claimed that a small part of the border was yet to be demarcated, so they could not ratify it,’ he said. ‘Now, there is no such barrier, and the remaining 6.5 kilometres stretch of the border has been demarcated. So, where is the obstruction in ratifying the agreement?’

M Humayun Kabir, vice-president of the Bangladesh Enterprise Institute, hoped the new protocol would not face the same fate as the agreement.

Ruling Awami League lawmaker Mostafa Faruque Mohammed hoped that the people living in enclaves will get their identity, as the complications regarding demarcation of boundaries have narrowed down by now.
After the Indian prime minister’s recent visit to Dhaka, the people of the 162 enclaves, who are denied all basic rights, have launched a fresh movement for merger of the landlocked areas with their respective mainland as per the agreement.

The Bangladesh parliament in 1974 ratified the agreement signed by the then Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his Indian counterpart Indira Gandhi, but the sufferings of the virtually ‘stateless people’ continue as the execution of the deal was left pending for its ratification by the Indian side.

People still hope against hope that the authorities in India and Bangladesh will exchange the enclaves along the bordering areas and recognise the citizenship they have been denied over 64 years.

In a bid to end the suffering and uncertainty of people living in the enclaves and to resolve long-standing disputes over border, Bangladesh and India on September 6, 2011 signed, among others, a protocol on the land boundary agreement, during Manmohan Singh’s visit to Dhaka.

Again subject to ratification by the two governments, the protocol includes exchange of enclaves, transfer of adversely possessed land in the border, settlement of 6.5 kilometres of un-demarcated land boundary and the signing of strip maps.

Residents in the already-settled Bangladesh enclaves Dahagram and Angarpota in Lalmonirhat have got 24-hour ‘unfettered movement’ to their mainland through the Tin Bigha corridor, following a joint announcement by the two governments during Manmohan’s visit.

‘The enclaves—111 Indian ones located inside Bangladesh and 51 Bangladeshi ones inside India—will be exchanged between the two countries under the Mujib-Indira land boundary agreement on ratification of the protocol,’ the joint home secretary (political), Kamal Uddin Ahmed, told New Age.

He said that people of the enclaves, in keeping with the agreement, would have the right to choose their citizenship.

The 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.’

The foreign minister, Dipu Moni, and her Indian counterpart SM Krishna signed the protocol on the Mujib-Indira Land Boundary Agreement 1974 in the presence of Bangladesh’s prime minister Sheikh Hasina and her counterpart Manmohan Singh in Dhaka.

With regards to the protocol, the Indian prime minister in a statement said, ‘We have signed a protocol to the Land Boundary Agreement of 1974. With this, both our countries have now demarcated the entire land boundary as well as resolved the status of enclaves and adversely possessed areas.’

In a separate statement, Sheikh Hasina said, ‘I would like to announce that from now on, our people in Dahagram and Angarpota will have 24-hour unfettered movement through Tin Bigha corridor.’

The Indian authorities on September 8 opened the iron-gate on the Tin Bigha corridor for round-the-clock movement of people and started maintaining a signalling system to continue traffic inside India.

Authorities of Bangladesh and India earlier made all preparations for the exchange of the landlocked areas between the countries during Manmohan Singh’s two-day visit to Dhaka, renewing hope and enthusiasm among the hapless residents of the enclaves.

The people of the enclave on both sides are eagerly waiting for 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.

The enclave dwellers are denied basic rights as there are no schools and hospitals or any other government facilities inside the enclaves.

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, according to a joint headcount.

Enumerators from the two countries simultaneously conducted the first-ever headcount in the enclaves in Bangladesh and India, the first-time ever since the British left the subcontinent in 1947, from July 15 to 17.
Most people in Indian enclaves surrounded by the Bangladesh territory already identify themselves as Bangladeshi citizens and many have already managed to get national identity cards, taking the advantage of lax local administration.

People of the enclaves with no ‘valid identity’ documents are eagerly waiting for the exchange of territories in adverse possession 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 had recognised them as their citizens.
The enclave people want merger with their respective mainland as they cannot enter their own countries.
The 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 the ratification of the land boundary agreement, halting the 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.’

The 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.

The inhabitants of the enclaves in Bangladesh and India announced a 10-day programme beginning September 23 to press their demand for the implementation of the 1974 Mujib-Indira Land Boundary Agreement without wasting any further time.

At a press conference in Dashiar Chhara, an Indian enclave located in Kurigram district of Bangladesh, leaders of the India-Bangladesh Enclaves Exchange Coordination Committee said that the inhabitants of all the 51 Bangladesh enclaves in India and 111 Indian enclaves in Bangladesh would simultaneously hold the peaceful agitations to press the demand.

They said that they would hold protest rallies, observe lightless nights, mass campaigns for building public opinion, signature campaign, candlelight vigil, bicycle rallies and take out torch processions to press their demand.

The enclave residents now demand a definite timeframe for the implementation of the 1974 land boundary agreement.

Out of 51 Bangladesh enclaves, 18 of Kurigram and 33 of Lalmonirhat are situated in Cooch Bihar district of West Bengal in India. Similarly, out of 111 Indian enclaves, 12 are situated in Kurigram, 59 in Lalmonirhat, four in Nilphamari and 36 in Panchagarh districts of Bangladesh.

BY : Mustafizur Rahman.