Govt plans to ratify boundary deal with Bangladesh

Bill to be introduced in Parliament

The government has circulated a draft bill to amend the Constitution in order to ratify the contentious 1974 India-Bangladesh Land Boundary Agreement and the protocol added to it in 2011.

The Constitution (119th Amendment) Bill, 2013 is expected to be introduced in Rajya Sabha after the Budget Session recommences following the recess.

The bill proposes to amend the First Schedule of the Constitution “for the purpose of giving effect to the acquiring of territories by India and transfer of territories to Bangladesh”.

The Constitution’s First Schedule lists the States of India and defines their territories.
The 4096.7-km-long land boundary between India and Bangladesh runs through Assam, West Bengal, Meghalaya and Tripura. The draft bill has a statement from External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, who claimed that the additional protocol signed and added to the Land Boundary Agreement in 2011 was “prepared with support and concurrence” of the governments of the four states.

To get the bill passed by Parliament, the government would need the support of a majority of the total membership of each House and of a majority of not less than two-thirds of the members present and voting.

Though the DMK’s exit from the UPA put the Congress-led alliance on thin ice, the government is understood to be counting on the BJP’s help to get the bill passed by both Houses of Parliament. The principal opposition party indicated its willingness to review its stand on the issue, but has not yet committed its support.

The BJP had earlier joined the clamour against the deal in Assam. But it appeared to be softening its stand on the issue, after Khurshid arranged a briefing for the opposition party’s senior MPs and tried to impress upon them the rationale behind the government’s move to end the decades-long boundary dispute with Bangladesh.

Prafulla Mahanta, former Assam chief minister and president of Asom Gana Parishad, recently met the BJP heavyweight and Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley, and insisted that the principal opposition party should not help the government get the bill passed by Parliament without a consensus. Though the Congress-led government in Assam supported the additional protocol to the India-Bangladesh Land Boundary Agreement, the AGP has been leading the protest against it. The AGP alleged that the ratification of the 2011 protocol would make Assam lose more land than it would gain.

Jaitley is understood to have assured Mahanta that the BJP would insist on an all-party-meet to evolve consensus on the draft Bill.

Though Mamata Banerjee’s government in West Bengal had given its nod to the Union government to go ahead the deal, her party Trinamool Congress later informally aired its reservation over it. Khurshid arranged briefing for the TMC MPs too, but the regional party too is yet to articulate its final stand on the issue.

Mamata’s reservation over the proposed deal between India and Bangladesh for sharing of water of common river Teesta forced New Delhi to put it on the backburner, much to the disappointment of Dhaka.

The West Bengal chief minister, however, recently allowed her party MP Mukul Roy to accompany President Pranab Mukherjee to Dhaka, thus signalling her willingness to mend old ties with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

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