No no-manís land: PM and Hasina mark border


After more than three decades of indecision, India and Bangladesh today signed a historic agreement on the demarcation of the entire land boundary between the two countries resolving the status of 162 adversely held enclaves.

The agreement arrived at after talks between Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Sheikh Hasina here clears the way for granting Indian citizenship to about 20,000 people living in 51 Bangladeshi enclaves (7,000 acres) in Indian territory and Bangladeshi citizenship to about 31,000 living in 111 Indian enclaves (about 17,000 acres) in Bangladesh territory.

These enclaves have been in existence since the days of the Raj ó legend has it that these were gambled away by kings ó and it was only in 1974 that a pact between Indira Gandhi and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman agreed to settle these enclaves.

But since then, people here have lived as "stateless" citizens in a veritable no-man's land denied access to healthcare and education. Enclave residents on both sides have to cross the international border every day and get clearance from paramilitary border guards of both countries to access their land for cultivation or to reach the village market or hospitals.

Most of these enclaves are in the Coochbehar and Jalpaiguri districts of West Bengal and in the Kurigram, Nilphamari, Lalmonirhaat and Pachagarh districts of Bangladesh. Their headcount was done as late as January this year.

Said an official involved in working out the agreement: "This gives recognition to ground realities. It should not be measured in terms of loss of territory by one and gain of territory by the other. Now both countries will have a clearly demarcated border and a distinct line. No one was administering these areas and there was a persistent demand from residents in these areas saying, 'Give us what we have, accept who we are and let us remain where we are.' The treaty addresses that demand from both sides."

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