On 7th May 2015, the parliament of India has passed the 119th constitutional amendment bill 2013, which now after the assent of the President will enter in to the statue book [as Constitution 100th Amendment Act 2015].
India and Bangladesh share a 4,096 km land boundary covering West Bengal, Assam, Tripura, Meghalaya and Mizoram. This is largest among the international boundaries that India shares with its neighbours. On this boundary, some 50,000-100,000 people reside in so called Chitmahals or Indo-Bangladeshi enclaves. There are 102 Indian enclaves inside Bangladesh and 71 Bangladeshi ones inside India. Inside those enclaves are also 28 counter-enclaves and one counter-counter-enclave, called Dahala Khagrabari.
This ambiguity has led the life of the residents of these enclaves to misery. They are unable to get the basic government services because they are isolated from their own country by strips of foreign land. This issue was pending ever since Bangladesh got birth.
For the first time, a vision to solve this issue had been enshrined in the Indira-Mujib pact of 1972. Accordingly, the India Bangladesh Land Boundary Agreement was signed between the two countries in 1974. However, this agreement need ratification from the parliaments of the both countries as it involved exchange of the territories. While Bangladesh had ratified it as back as 1974 only, it was not ratified by Indian parliament till now.
The 119th Amendment Bill 2013
The 119th constitutional amendment bill 2013 sought to ratify the land boundary agreement between the two countries. This amendment needed special majority in the parliament to get passed. The bill proposed to amend the 1st schedule of the constitution to exchange the disputed territories occupied by both the nations in accordance with the 1974 bilateral LBA.
Key features of Land Boundary Agreement
The LBA envisages a notional transfer of 111 Indian enclaves to Bangladesh in return of 51 enclaves to India. The area transferred to India is less than that transferred by India to Bangladesh. In totality India incurs a net loss in terms of area occupancy. This remained a major concern of opposition from the north-eastern affected states and west Bengal. Also, most of the area concerned is occupied by the tribals of the NE states and hence the swapping takes away their land rights leaving them more vulnerable.
The Constitution (119th Amendment) Bill has been passed by the Parliament of India on 7th May 2015.While India will gain 510 acres of land, ten thousand acres of land will notionally go to Bangladesh. However, these are remote enclaves which India cannot access. This legislation will redraw India’s boundary with Bangladesh by exchanging enclaves in Assam, West Bengal, Tripura and Meghalaya.
- It will secure the long stranded boundary and enable to curb the illegal migration, smuggling and criminal acts cross the border.
- It would help those stateless citizens by granting the citizenship from their respective countries.
- It would help settle the boundary dispute at several points in Meghalaya, Tripura, Assam, and west Bengal.
- It would improve the access to the underdeveloped north-eastern state and would further enhance the developmental works in the region.
- It would help to increase the connectivity with the south-east Asia as part of India’s North-eastern policy.
All these could be achieved with the active support from Bangladesh. LBA and the Teesta water agreement are the two major setbacks for future cooperation, development and trade in the region and would damage India’s short and long-term national and security interest.