By Saumitra Mohan*
Since 1971, the malformed borders between India and Pakistan became a curse for the people living in the enclaves between India and Bangladesh. Even though the enclave residents did not leave their homes and hearths, they lost their countries. They lived in territories legally belonging to India, but never qualified as Indian citizens. They were not stateless people in terms of international law of territorial sovereignty, but had no access to the laws or services of the land to which they technically belonged. With the 1974 India-Bangladesh Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) finally coming into force on 01 August 2015, the historical hardship for the people living in the 51 Bangladeshi and 111 Indian enclaves were expected to come to an end.
Both India and Bangladesh had agreed to their exposure visit to India as part of their preparations for permanent settlement in India as has also been allowed for those who have opted for Bangladeshi citizenship. All these citizens are being issued travel passes to visit anywhere in India to finalise their settlement plan. As per the agreement, the Indian government will bear all the costs of transportation when they eventually arrive in November 2015 from different Indian enclaves that have now been incorporated into Bangladesh.
The local administration has been directed to provide the new Indian nationals with food and shelter. During their interactions with the Indian officials, these dwellers have pleaded for taking up the land sale matter with the Bangladeshi government in order to get the right prices for their lands.
Having waited over six decades for the actualisation of their citizenship rights, these enclave residents still have to grapple with several existential problems before finally settling down in India. Foremost among them is finding reasonable prices for their farms and homestead lands. Most of these problems arising out of the enclave exchange between the two countries were discussed in detail during interactions between the delegations of Bangladesh and India at Siliguri, India, in January 2015, as well as in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in July, 2015. The Government of India is said to have earmarked Rs 3000 crores for the liabilities and responsibilities arising out of the exchange of enclaves, including carrying out various development works in these enclaves.
These developmental works and activities will be almost like laying out a virgin country, for no government agency has ever existed in any of these enclaves. Schools, colleges, hospitals, police stations, roads – everything will have to be created for the welfare of the people residing in them. As per the notification issued by the state government, a land survey has been conducted in the erstwhile enclave areas to officially demarcate and delineate their geographical statuses vis-à-vis the bordering Indian areas. Small patches of accrued land will be integrated into the existing mouzas – the smallest cartographical entity on India’s map. In case of large stretches, e.g. a big enclave, a new mouza will be created. This will be followed by their incorporation into the extant panchayat system. Police stations and post offices too will have to be allocated to the new areas. In some cases, new police stations and/or post offices will have to be set up.
Another tricky area is the redistribution of land among the individual owners as per their entitlement as figured out during the joint survey carried out for this purpose. The basic principle of land allocation, namely ‘possession backed by documents’ or ‘documents backed by possession’ may prove tricky, especially if one person’s claim is contested by another. Hence, a big challenge pertains to the identity verification of the incoming Indian citizens. In many cases, the residents do not have any legal papers supporting their claims or proving their identity. Therefore, the processing of identities will be an onerous task that will require careful handling because it has serious implications for national security.
The entire rehabilitation effort is a humongous task that is going to be long-drawn and complicated, requiring intricate planning and execution. The Indian government shall also need to factor the concerns of the incoming young citizens whose educational interests would warrant safeguarding. The local administrations would have to ensure the continuation of their education in India as per their eligibility and requirements.
Both India and Bangladesh must continue to show more of the pragmatism that made the exchange of enclaves ultimately possible despite the 41 year processing period it took to actualise. Successfully completing the task of enclave exchange has much to do with the changes in Indo-Bangladesh ties over the years. One hopes that the relationship between the two countries shall only grow stronger on the strength of the recent warmth that is emerging in the wake of the resolution of the enclave exchange issue. The flagging of a new bus service between the two countries is only one of the many positive breakthroughs waiting to be made as a result of the new-found bonhomie between the two neighbours.
District Magistrate and Collector, Burdwan, West Bengal, India
The views expressed here are personal and don’t reflect that of the Government.