Finally the Land Border Agreement (LBA) between India and Bangladesh has come into the force with both the countries swapping tiny areas along the International border. There were overnight celebrations in the areas where the LBA came into effect with authorities of the two countries finally facilitating the swap of tiny islands of land.
The agreement, termed as a historic one, ended one of the world’s most intractable border disputes that have kept thousands in stateless limbo for nearly seven decades.
As the clock struck one minute past midnight, thousands of people who have been living without schools, clinics or power for a generation erupted in cheers in celebration at their new-found citizenship.
“We have been in dark for 68 years,” said a 20 year old, as he danced with friends in the Dashiar Chhara enclave, which belonged to India earlier but has now became the part of Bangladesh.
A total of 162 tiny enclaves, 111 in Bangladesh and 51 in India, were officially handed over to the countries surrounding them after Dhaka and New Delhi struck the historic border agreement in June this year.
According to an estimate, around 37,000 people are living in Indian enclaves in Bangladesh while 14,000 people are staying in Bangladeshi enclaves in India. For the population in these 162 enclaves, life had been nightmare all these years.
Now the enclave resident on both sides of the border will enjoy the benefits of nationality of India or Bangladesh, as the case may be, and thus access to civic services, education, health-care and other facilities provided by the two Governments to their respective nationals.
“We were Indian citizens in names but cut off from the mainland. With the transfer, we’ve now become Bangladeshi citizens and can now access all citizenship benefits,” said one resident of the enclave.
The Registrar General of India, Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics and District Magistrate, Cooch Behar and Deputy Commissioners of Lalmonirhat, Panchagarh, Kurigram and Nilphamari worked systematically and in a coordinated fashion to collect the options from the residents.
In a meticulous exercise to arrive at the finality, both India and Bangladesh officials for over a month conducted surveys asking the enclave residents to choose a nation. And with the residents settling for their new citizenship, officials from Bangladesh and India hoisted their respective national flags over their new territories on Saturday morning in formal ceremonies.
The enclaves date back to ownership arrangements made centuries ago between local princes. The parcels of land survived partition of the subcontinent in 1947 after British rule and Bangladesh’s 1971 war of independence with Pakistan.
Bangladesh endorsed a deal with India in 1974 in a bid to dissolve the pockets, but India only signed a final agreement in June when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Dhaka.
(With inputs from the PTI)