Bill sought to ratify boundary pact

It will enable swapping of enclaves; end 67-year-old dispute

A day after Prime Minister Narendra Mod >i confirmed that his government will go ahead with the land boundary agreement with Bangladesh, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs tabled its report, recommending a Constitution amendment Bill to enable the swapping of enclaves and end a 67-year-old dispute between the two countries.

Tabling the report in Parliament on Monday, the Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs, Shashi Tharoor, said the report had been “unanimously” passed by members who included those of the BJP and the Trinamool Congress, both of which had earlier opposed swapping of the enclaves.

“The ball is now in the government’s court,” Mr. Tharoor told The Hindu. “What must be remembered is we are not ceding any land that is under Indian control at present. It is simply the correction of a legal anomaly by a paper-swap.”

The swap will involve handing over 17,000 acres of land to Bangladesh in return for 7,000 acres in 111 enclaves in West Bengal, Assam, Tripura and Meghalaya, and was first decided under the 1974 Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) between India and Bangladesh, but never ratified by Parliament. It will require an amendment to the Constitution (the 119th amendment) ratified by both Houses of Parliament with a two-thirds majority.

The standing committee’s report notes that “a number of Indian nationals living in Indian enclaves in Bangladesh territory are going to be adversely affected as they would lose their claim to Indian citizenship,” and directs the governments of India and Bangladesh to ensure there is no “discrimination” against them. The number of people to be involved in the whole swap is approximately 52,000, of which about 15,000 are on the Indian side of the border.

The LBA was part of the promises made by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during his visit to Dhaka in 2011. However, the UPA government was unable to bring the Bill to Parliament, partly because of opposition from the BJP over Assam enclaves and the Trinamool over West Bengal enclaves.

However, as part of the new NDA government’s “neighbourhood outreach,” External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj promised the Bangladesh government that the BJP would reverse its stand and push for both the LBA as well as the Teesta river water settlement. While the Congress said it would support the move, it criticised the government over its earlier opposition. “Why did they call us anti-national when we proposed the same agreement,” spokesperson Ajay Maken asked at a briefing on Monday.

In Assam on Sunday, Mr. Modi gave an indication that the Bill to clear the LBA would finally be tabled in Parliament soon. Addressing BJP workers in Guwahati, he said: “I assure you that there will be no compromise on Assam’s security. Land swapping will be done for a permanent solution to the problem of infiltration.”

(With additional reporting by Anita Joshua)

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Printable version | Jul 12, 2020 1:19:42 PM |

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