Other States

Post lockdown, enclave families stare at starvation in Cooch Behar

File photo of a section of the enclave settlement camp in Dinhata in West Bengal’s Cooch Behar.

File photo of a section of the enclave settlement camp in Dinhata in West Bengal’s Cooch Behar.   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Over 200 families became Indian citizens in 2015 but subsist on meagre handouts

More than 900 people, who became Indians five years ago through an exchange of enclaves with Bangladesh, fear lockdown-induced starvation at their settlements in northern West Bengal’s Cooch Behar district.

India and Bangladesh had exchanged 162 enclaves — patches of land of one country surrounded by the territory of the other — on August 1, 2015, to end one of the world’s most complex border disputes.

According to the land-swap agreement, 111 Indian enclaves measuring 17,160 acres became Bangladesh territory while 51 Bangladesh enclaves measuring 7,110 acres became part of India’s Cooch Behar district. This made 14,864 residents of the Bangladeshi enclaves Indian citizens while 921 residents of Indian enclaves trapped in Bangladesh migrated to India in November 2015.

Also read: Report on ‘enclaves’ highlights gaps in promise and delivery

The 921 consisting of 201 families were sent to three settlements — Haldibari, Mekhliganj and Dinhata.

Loss of jobs

“The Indian government has been providing us 30 kg rice, 5 kg lentil, 5 litres each of mustard oil and kerosene, 1.5 kg salt and 1 kg powder milk every month. This was insufficient, forcing us to take up work as daily-wagers. Without any work since the lockdown began, we are staring at starvation,” said Osman Ghani of Dinhata, the largest of the settlements.

Also read: Erstwhile enclave residents refuse to move into Bengal govt. flats

Lakkhi Bala Mahanta of the same settlement said they desperately needed help to survive.

“Unlike farmers who can subsist on what they grow, the landless people of these settlements depended on odd jobs in the urban centres nearby. Very few poor people in West Bengal or beyond are receiving adequate essentials, but the local authorities should take care of these people who became citizens because of a unique arrangement between two countries,” Diptiman Sengupta of Citizens' Rights Coordination Committee told The Hindu from Jalpaiguri.

Mr. Sengupta was among the activists whose efforts led to the land-swap agreement.

Also read: Bengal House clears Bill to give land rights to enclave dwellers

The district officials, however, said there was sufficient stock of food supplies and officials at the block and subdivision level were in constant touch with the inhabitants of the settlements.

“Rice and kerosene have already been provided. Remaining dry food items will be supplied within two days. There is a misapprehension, probably because of the general lockdown restrictions,” a district official said, declining to be quoted.

All public distribution system [ration] shops have been asked to display a list of food items given to all categories of ration card-holders, he added.

The families living in the settlements said they were issued ration cards more than three years ago, but have been denied access to fair price shops as they get free supplies.

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Printable version | May 28, 2020 7:10:45 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/post-lockdown-enclave-families-stare-at-starvation-in-cooch-behar/article31250510.ece

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