Dhaka, June 6 (IANS) In a historic step, India and Bangladesh on Saturday moved to swap land enclaves in each other’s territory as they ratified the more than 40-year-old Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) at a ceremony witnessed by Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Sheikh Hasina.
Ahead of the ratification ceremony, Modi, Hasina and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee flagged off the Kolkata-Dhaka-Agartala and Dhaka-Shillong-Guwahati bus services here.
Banerjee also attended the event to operationalise the land swap, one of the outstanding agreements that Bangladesh had been pushing India to conclude for years.
Modi tweeted: “History is made as the Instruments of Ratification of the LBA are exchanged.”
The signing ceremony and exchange of documents was done by Indian Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar and his Bangladeshi counterpart M. Shahidul Haque.
The agreement envisages transfer of 111 enclaves with a total area of 17,160.63 acres to Bangladesh. Dhaka is to transfer 51 enclaves spread over 7,110.02 acres to India. A 6.1-km undefined border stretch will be demarcated.
The Indian parliament last month unanimously passed a constitutional amendment bill to allow operationalisation of the 1974 India-Bangladesh deal and its protocol inked in 2011.
The LBA was inked on May 16, 1974 by then Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi and Bangladesh leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
As it involved the transfer of territory, which required a constitutional amendment, the process took time in india.
A protocol on LBA was signed in September 6, 2011. The four Indian border states involved in the exchange of territories are Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and West Bengal.
The Indian enclaves inside Bangladesh include 12 in Kurigram, 59 in Lalmonirhat, four in Nilphamari and 36 in Panchagarh. Fiftyone Bangladeshi enclaves are located in Cooch Behar district of West Bengal.
The Indian enclaves are home to nearly 37,000 people while Bangladeshi enclaves have about 14,000 people.
According to the agreement, people of the enclaves can choose citizenship of either country.
The un-demarcated land boundary of 6.1 km is in three sectors – in Bangladesh’s Nilphamari and India’s West Bengal, Muhuri river in Bangladesh’s Feni and Belonia in India’s Tripura, and Lathitila-Dumabari in Bangladesh’s Moulvibazar and India’s Assam.
The settlement of LBA comes as both countries have settled their maritime boundary.
On July 7, 2014, the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration delineated the maritime boundary, the Exclusive Economic Zone and the continental shelf within and beyond 200 nautical miles.
Ahead of Saturday’s ceremony, the leaders flagged off the bus services. Modi, Hasina and Banerjee boarded the buses and greeted the passengers.
“Connecting lands, binding hearts. PM narendramodi and PM Sheikh Hasina flag off buses to Guwahati and Agartala,” external affairs ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup tweeted.
Modi reached Bangladesh earlier in the day on a two-day visit. He was received, in a break from protocol, by Hasina.
Modi paid homage at the National Martyrs’ Memorial, 35 km from Dhaka.
“Memorial gives impression of rising from the ashes like a phoenix. It symbolises courage and determination of people,” he tweeted.
Modi also visited the Bangabandhu Memorial Museum to pay tribute to Bangladesh founder Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
Jaishankar had on Friday said that ratification of the LBA would help improve the security situation, deal with trafficking, drug smuggling, and smuggling of counterfeit notes.
A demarcated border would also bring clarify and discipline and also help boost connectivity, the foreign secretary said.
With settlement of the boundary, both countries can move towards building infrastructure, especially in the northeast, to boost trade and sub-regional connectivity.
Veena Sikri, former envoy to Dhaka, said it will have a hugely positive effect on ties.
A source said of the 14,000 people in the Bangladeshi enclaves, very few have chosen to relocate to India.
Those deciding to remain where they are will be provided local documents and those deciding to move to India will get travel passes.