Parl approves bill to settle 41-year-old border issue with Bangladesh

Parl approves bill to settle 41-year-old border issue with Bangladesh

Settling the country's 41-year-old border issue with Bangladesh, Parliament today unanimously passed a historic bill to operationalise the Land Boundary Agreement that provides for exchange of territories.

The Lower House, showing rare unanimity, passed the Constitution (119th Amendment) Bill to allow the operationalisation of the 1974 India-Bangladesh Land Boundary agreement.

All the 331 members present in the House voted for the bill which became the 100th Constitutional amendment passed by Parliament.

Soon after the passage, Prime Minister Narendra Modi walked up to the Opposition benches to thank leaders including Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and Mallikarjun Kharge, BJD's B Mahtab, TMC's Sudip Bandopadhyay and AIADMK leader P Venugopal.

Earlier, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said it was beneficial for both the countries and that there will a "notional" loss of territory without borders getting contracted.

India will get 510 acres while Bangladesh will get 10,000 acres. "But these are notional figures as these areas are deep inside territories of the two countries. Our borders are not getting contracted," she said, while responding to members' questions whether India will lose some territory.

Swaraj said the measure, apart from demarcating the boundaries, would also help checking illegal immigration.

"A solution to the problem of illegal immigration is inherent in this legislation. With the land border now being decided (with the passage of the bill), the portions where there is no fencing will also get fenced," she said.

Swaraj said the only issue which remained to be settled with Bangladesh was that of river water-sharing, primarily relating to Teesta river. "The way in which we are now settling the land boundary issue, we will try to settle this issue also."

The maritime boundary between India and Bangladesh has also been settled last year with the award by the international tribunal.

Refuting allegations about India's alleged 'big brotherly' attitude, the External Affairs Minister said "one is 'big brother' which symbolises arrogance. But there is also the 'elder brother' who is caring. Ours is a caring attitude. India will maintain the attitude of the 'elder brother' with our neighbours."

She also announced a package of Rs 3,008 crore to West Bengal for rehabilitation Indian nationals who will come from Bangladesh, with their numbers estimated to go up to 30,000.

Of this amount, Rs 775 crore is for expenses on fixed infrastructure and the remaining amount would be for variable expenses, depending upon how many people are to be rehabilitated by the state government.

Swaraj, in her speech, also referred to the Indira Gandhi-Mujibur Rahman Land Boundary Agreement of 1974 and the historic protocol signed between former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Bangladesh President Sheikh Hasina in September 2011 paving the way for elimination of Bangladeshi and Indian territorial enclaves.

Observing that she has been "transparent" in stating that her party BJP was earlier opposed to the bill, the Minister said it was primarily because of concerns that Assam's interests would be adveresely affected.

However, she said Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, who had earlier expressed some reservations on similar lines, wrote to the Prime Minister and her, urging the Centre to include the clauses relating to the state. 

The bill being a Constitution Amendment, would need support of two-third majority and 50 per cent of the members has to be present in the House. After that, 19 state assemblies will have to ratify the Bill.

Outlining the benefits of the Bill, Swaraj said undemarcated boundaries would now get demarcated, occupied territory will now have proper boundaries and enclave living people will get certainty.

The bill aims at giving effect to the acquiring of territories by India and transfer of territories to Bangladesh through retaining of adverse possession and exchange of enclaves in pursuance of the agreement of 1974.

The territories in Assam, West Bengal, Tripura and Meghalaya come under the ambit of the bill.

Initiating the debate on the Bill, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury (Cong) took a dig at Swaraj saying the state of Assam itself wanted to be part of the pact and had written to the Centre to this effect in 2011.

"You wanted to keep Assam out because of the impending state election," he said, adding that the government is doing flip-flop on important issues.

The people of West Bengal feel strongly about their neighbours in Bangladesh, he said. On a lighter vein he added "We may divorce our wives, but cannot divorce our neighbours".

Extending full support to the bill, Sugata Bose (Trinamool) said the operationalisation of the agreement would end the misery of the people living in enclaves and facilitate movement of law abiding citizens across the borders.

The amendments will protect the interest of state, nation and people, Bose said while recalling the days when he witnessed the formation of the Bangladesh as a student.
This constitutional amendment bill will be a tribute to great poet Rabindranath Tagore, he said, adding both the countries have national anthems composed by him.

K N Ramachandran (AIADMK) asked the government to address the issue of rehabilitation of the people and demanded that disputes between India and Sri Lanka should also be resolved in a similar fashion. 

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