The proposed land-swap deal with Bangladesh is meant to remove certain anomalies along the border and the protest against it by the Asom Gana Parishad, the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Trinamool Congress and others is unjustified.

The proposed land-swap deal with Bangladesh is meant to remove certain anomalies along the border and the protest against it by the Asom Gana Parishad, the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Trinamool Congress and others is unjustified. A protocol was signed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his counterpart, Sheikh Hasina, in Dhaka in September 2011 to enable the exchange of 111 Indian enclaves in Bangladesh with a population of 37,334 and 51 Bangladeshi enclaves on Indian territory with a population of 14,215. India is in adverse possession of 1,165.49 acres of Bangladesh land, while Bangladesh holds 1,880.81 acres on the Indian side. This win-win formula would involve redrawing boundaries to maintain the status quo in areas of adverse possession and result in a fixed demarcated boundary in all un-demarcated segments. Since the Gauhati High Court ruled in June 2012 that this could be implemented only by means of a constitutional amendment, the Union government has brought forward a bill that is before Parliament. Political parties should support the legislation whole-heartedly. The passing of the Bill will enable the government to resolve disputes at 25 points in West Bengal, Tripura, Meghalaya and Assam.

The government’s detractors want it to give priority to staunching migration along the border, ignoring the fact that the regularisation of the line is a precondition to effective monitoring of movement across the 4,156-km border. Mamata Banerjee’s reservations evidently stem from the fact that enclaves in West Bengal’s Cooch Behar area would go to Bangladesh, possibly impinging on her constituency. The AGP’s concerns match its own electoral arithmetic. The BJP, for which the bogey of “illegal immigration” is stock-in-trade, worries — without basis —about the prospect of India “parting with territories.” Short-term calculations ought not to impel political parties into taking such positions, especially on matters relating to ties with India’s neighbours. Hopefully, the voices of resistance that were being heard on the Bangladesh side over the deal would also subside. Both governments should ensure that mechanisms are put in place to give ordinary people a fair deal and minimise relocation traumas. Terrain challenges are involved, and fencing along the border — a highly inefficient way of deterring migrants — has added a further complication. Farmers whose farms have been sliced by the fence need to be helped out. For them, the inability to visit freely land that they own, or cultivate and harvest crops in time, is a disadvantage. The Border Security Force and Border Guards Bangladesh need to be sensitised to their plight.

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