In a rare display of bonhomie and unanimity, the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday cleared the Constitution Amendment Bill to enable the ratification of the Land Boundary Agreement with Bangladesh.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj won the day for the government by reaching out to the Opposition. She credited the erstwhile UPA government with introducing the Bill and assured members that the government will rehabilitate those who wish to relocate to India from the enclaves in Bangladesh.
Even as discord between the Opposition and the government marked the day in the Lok Sabha, the Bill was passed with historic unanimity in the Upper House with 180 members giving their nod to the issue hanging fire since 1974.
The Opposition was lavish in its praise of Ms. Swaraj for her “honest” admission in presenting a Bill that was introduced by the UPA and opposed then by the Bharatiya Janata Party, Trinamool Congress and the Asom Gana Parishad. Leader of the Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad said if the government was to follow Ms. Swaraj's example, there would be no acrimony in the passage of Bills and conduct of business.
Earlier, Ms. Swaraj admitted that the BJP was opposed to the Bill introduced in Parliament by the UPA in December 2013 because it felt that it had not taken into account Assam’s views.
She said the Trinamool, which has now extended support to the Bill, was also concerned about the impact of the agreement on West Bengal. Clarifying the BJP’s initial decision to go ahead with the agreement, leaving Assam out of the discussions, she said her party sensed opposition from the statements made by Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi. She said the decision was reversed after she received a letter from Mr. Gogoi to include Assam and following discussions with CPI(M)’s Sitaram Yechury, Congress’ Ghulam Nabi Azad, Shashi Tharoor and Anand Sharma among others.
Ms. Swaraj said during her stay in Bangladesh, which was her first visit abroad after assuming office, she had discussed the issue with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who wanted the Protocol of 2011, which she had signed with Dr. Manmohan Singh, to be taken forward. Expressing happiness that Dr. Singh was present during the passage of the Bill, Ms. Swaraj said: Kaam to unhone kiya, hum to pura kar rahe hain (Work was done by him, we are only completing it).”
On the issue of rehabilitation of the people in the enclaves on the Indian side, Ms. Swaraj said the Centre has met West Bengal’s demand for a Rs.3008.89-crore package, which can be used for as many as 35,000 people.
The Minister said even though an audit showed only 3,500 people had shown interest in migrating to India from Bangladesh, the government was making provisions for 35,000.
Brushing aside concerns of large land parcels being lost to Bangladesh, she said of the total 730 acres that are with Bangladesh as per the Protocol of 2011, India will get 268 acres in Assam.