Failure to bass Bill will leave India red-faced

The Asom Gana Parishad and the Trinamool Congress on Monday torpedoed a move to settle India’s boundary with Bangladesh. The relevant Bill was deferred in the Rajya Sabha after two failed attempts to introduce it.

As soon as External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid rose to introduce the Constitution (119th Amendment) Bill, 2013, an AGP member entered the well to oppose the initiative. He quickly found support from Trinamool MPs. This led Deputy Chairman P.J. Kurien to adjourn the House for 10 minutes. After it reassembled, Mr. Kurien’s offer to take up the Bill later was again opposed by the two parties, with some BJP members also joining them in objecting to the proposal.

With little possibility of mustering a two-thirds majority to pass the Bill, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Rajeev Shukla said it had been deferred.

With a few days left for the session to end, failure to pass the Bill will be a huge embarrassment to India as Bangladesh has already ratified the boundary settlement. The issue, officials fear, could become political in the upcoming Bangladesh parliamentary elections.

The AGP and Trinamool opposition did not take into account the fact that India will be the net gainer of land. The settlement of three border issues would help India gain over 700 acres, the officials point out.

More importantly, it would end skirmishes, firings and smuggling that have been going on, thanks to the peculiar nature of the border.

The first aspect of the Bill takes care of “enclaves”: 111 Indian enclaves and 51 Bangladeshi ones. While on paper, the exchange of enclaves may seem loss of Indian land, the scenario on the ground is quite different. These enclaves are located deep inside Bangladesh and there has hardly been any direct access to them from India since 1947. Similarly, Bangladesh has had minimal, if any, access to its enclaves located deep inside India. In effect, the exchange of enclaves denotes only a notional exchange of land.

The second aspect is about swapping of adverse possessions in which too, Bangladesh has been sensitive to Indian concerns. The third is about settling three small stretches totalling 6.1 km.

The stalling of the Bill, if it continues during the remaining days, will nullify all front-loading done by Bangladesh to meet India’s security concerns. Even before the extradition treaty was signed, Dhaka — believing that New Delhi would deliver on land boundary and the Teesta water-sharing arrangement — handed over to India militant leaders Arbinda Rajkhowa (ULFA), Ranjan Daimary (NDFB) and RK Meghan (UNLF). There were also bright prospects of its allowing transit for Indian goods from the mainland to the north-east.