Historic India-Bangladesh enclaves' swap next week

Historic India-Bangladesh enclaves' swap next week

Dispute over demarcation of 6.5 km of border also to be settled

Historic India-Bangladesh enclaves' swap next week

New Delhi and Dhaka are set to sign a deal next week to exchange 162 “enclaves” to end their border disputes, pending since 1947, during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s historic visit to the Bangladeshi capital. “We expect a deal to be signed on exchanging the enclaves during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit next week,” a Bangladesh home ministry official said.

His comments came as Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s foreign affairs adviser Gawher Rizvi earlier said the two sides intend to agree on the swap to end the historic border dispute during Singh’s September 6-7 Dhaka tour.

“We are trying to address all outstanding border issues during the Indian premier’s visit,” he said Monday after reviewing the progress of proposed deals with visiting Indian National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon. What is, however, not clear is whether there will be any exchange of population, which is a contentious and a potentially explosive issue in Cooch Behar district of West Bengal where some of the Bangladeshi enclaves are located.

There is a demand on the part of people living in these Bangladeshi enclaves that even though they are technically Bangladeshi nationals, they prefer Indian citizenship. Some of the Bangladeshi nationals have been able to procure documents by virtue of which they are Indian citizens.

Diptiman Sengupta, assistant secretary of the Cooch Behar-based Bharat Bangladesh Enclave Exchange Coordination Committee, told Deccan Herald: “The situation can get out of hand if there is any population exchange.” Sengupta said he expects ‘Indians’ and ‘Bangladeshis’ living in these enclaves to continue to live in these pockets even after a formal settlement deal between the governments of the two countries is signed.

“No Bangladeshi citizen living in enclaves within India will prefer to migrate to our eastern neighbour, though there is a possibility that some Indian nationals living in enclaves in Bangladesh will choose to return to India,” Sengupta said.

The enclaves, where pockets of one country’s territory are surrounded by the other, appeared as “islands of land” as a major cross border issue after Partition. The ownership arrangements, however, were made centuries ago as the then local kings exchanged pieces of lands of their estates winning or losing in gambling.

Home Minister P Chidambaram last month said surveyors found the population in 162 enclaves on Bangladesh-India frontiers to be 51,000 as a process was underway for a tangible decision to end the protracted cross-border problem by next month.
The figure is much less than what was assumed earlier,” he said at a joint news briefing with his Bangladesh counterpart Sahara Khatun in Dhaka.

Chidambaram added that several of the enclaves even had no residents apparently indicating that the enclave problems could easily be resolved as the two neighbours were expected to reach a decision on exchange of enclaves during Singh’s Dhaka visit.
Officials said 3,000 acres of Bangladesh land are inside India while India has around 3,500 acres of land inside Bangladesh.

Chidambaram had said the issues of land in adverse possession were also “nearly resolved” as the problems with them as well as the undemarcated 6.5 km of the border were expected to be fully settled during Singh’s visit.

Joint teams of Bangladesh and Indian officials on July 18 concluded the crucial joint census to count population in 162 enclaves on both sides of the porous border after days of comprehensive exercise.

Bangladesh and India share over 4,000 km of common porous border, of which 6.5 km were still un-demarcated while the two countries have 162 such enclaves, 111 of them being Indian ones inside Bangladesh and the rest 51 being Bangladeshi ones inside India.

Chidambaram said 34,000 people currently lived in 111 Indian enclaves inside Bangladesh while the rest 17,000 were residents of the 51 enclaves.
According to an earlier unofficial estimate the population of the Indian enclaves was around 100,400 while the the Bangladeshi enclaves inside India contain 44,000 people.

Bridging the gulf