05/08/2015, 00.00
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After 41 years, India and Bangladesh settle land dispute

by Nozrul Islam
The Indian parliament has unanimously approved an amendment that implements the 1974 India-Bangladesh boundary agreement. Residents of the affected communities will be able to return to their country of origin or obtain the citizenship in their host country. The event is celebrated as a "milestone" in bilateral relations.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) - After 41 years, India and Bangladesh have reached an historic agreement that settles once and for all their boundary problem and the issue of sovereignty over their enclaves.

Yesterday, the Indian Parliament ratified an amendment to the Constitution, implementing the India-Bangladesh boundary agreement of 1974.

In a rare show of unanimity, all 331 members present in the Lok Sabha (House of Representatives or Lower House) voted in favour of the bill.

In Dhaka, the decision is seen as a victory for Bangladesh against "big brother", and the beginning of a rapprochement between the two nations.

Bangladesh and India share a 4,096-kilometre-long international border. On a stretch of a few kilometres, more than 150 enclaves – about 50 Bangladeshi enclaves in India, and 100 Indian ones in Bangladesh – are home to about 50,000 people.

This is a small number of people compared to the total population of the two countries – 162 million for Bangladesh, and 1.2 billion for India – but they have remained an odd historical legacy of the 1947 partition.

However, for these communities the situation has been one of injustice that deprived them of their political, economic and social rights.

The proposed solution enables each side to acquire the enclaves within its borders, along with other disputed territories. People living in the enclaves would have the right to move to their country of reference or become nationals of their 'new' country after the exchange.

Right after the bill's passage, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina and described the bill's passage as a "historic milestone" in bilateral ties between the two countries.

Modi is not very popular in Bangladesh, where 89 per cent of the population is Muslim, because he is considered anti-Islamic. However, Bangladesh officials praised India’s leaders for the mission accomplished.

Actually, the 119th amendment was the work of the government of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, under the Congress Party, which is now in opposition.

India’s current External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj from the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party-led government acknowledged his role.

"Manmohan Singh is the one who started the whole thing. I have merely completed the task," she said.

She pointed out that the bill is the same – to the last comma and full stop – as the one presented by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) in Parliament in December 2013.

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