The deal will materialise only if Bengal CM provides land in Cooch Behar district to rehabilitate residents of the Indian enclaves in Bangladesh

New Delhi : Ratification of the 1974 Land Boundary Agreement with Dhaka that was re-signed three years ago as a protocol by the then PM Manmohan Singh remains uncertain despite the Modi government’s resolve to push the required Constitutional amendment unless West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee provides land in Cooch Behar district to rehabilitate the residents of the Indian enclaves in Bangladesh.

The agreement seeks to resolve the dispute over 162 enclaves or small ‘islands’ embedded deep inside the territories of India and Bangladesh and largely ungoverned by either side. As many as 111 of them with a population of 37,334 belong to India but lie deep in Bangladesh while Bangladesh has 51 of them inside India with a population of 14,215 at the last count in July 2011.

The agreement will give the enclave residents a choice – they can remain where they are and switch their citizenship, or they can come over to their mother country. India’s problem is that the people living in both types of enclaves would prefer to become the Indian citizens.

The Home Ministry’s assessment is that most of the residents of the Indian enclaves are expected to seek resettlement in India after the swap, while their opposite numbers in Bangladeshi enclaves will largely prefer staying back in India and gain Indian citizenship.

All the Bangladeshi enclaves are in Bengal in Cooch Behar district and all the Indians returning from enclaves in Bangladesh will have to be resettled in West Bengal, making the state the principal stakeholder in the exchange. Mamata Banerjee’s opposition to any enclave swap had been the main obstacle blocking the pact’s ratification so far but she recently gave the go-ahead on condition that the Centre cough up money for the entire rehabilitation package.

Her government, however, is yet to endorse the suggested package, which the Centre must now work out with her before moving to have the pact ratified. The package will cover housing under the Indira Awaas Yojana and a one-time cash assistance, but it hangs afire until the West Bengal Government allots land for their settlement.

Union home secretary Anil Goswami has convened a meeting on December 11 to discuss the rehabilitation package and then present it to the Parliamentary standing committee, which is examining the Constitution (119th Amendment) Bill to ratify the agreement, as introduced in the Rajya Sabha on December 18 last year.

Yet another hitch in the pact’s ratification comes from the lack of consensus in Assam which is also a key player in the exchange of the enclaves in adverse possessions, though there are no issues by Tripura, Meghalaya and Mizoram which are the other players involved in the exchange to create any problem.

Assam stands to lose some territory and hence a divided polity in the state unlike some gain to other states in the 2011 protocol that envisages India to receive 2,777.038 acres of land and hand over 2,267.682 acres. The Assam BJP found itself in an embarrassed position from Modi’s declaration to ratify the pact during his Assam trip last week.

(To receive our E-paper on whatsapp daily, please click here. We permit sharing of the paper's PDF on WhatsApp and other social media platforms.)

Free Press Journal