04 August, 2015

Enclave exchange: India, Bangladesh to make history at midnight

 Children wave the Indian flag to celebrate the exchange of enclaves between India and Bangladesh. The exchange of 162 enclaves is taking place on July 31, 2015, marking the start of implementation of their landmark land boundary agreement.

Standing on the threshold of history each one of the 4,000 odd residents of Mashaldanga enclave in Cooch Behar district of West Bengal is thrilled, excited and full of hope.

In less than 12 hours – at the stroke of midnight on Friday – they are going to have a homeland after a 'stateless' existence of 68 years.
They are among the 14,856 people living in 51 Bangladeshi enclaves inside Indian territory and all of whom will get a homeland. In fact, none of them have opted for the citizenship of Bangladesh. On the other side of the border, 979 of the 37,369 living in 111 Indian enclaves inside Bangladesh have applied for Indian citizenship so far.
The tiny pockets of land that exist as enclaves in each other's territories will merge into the respective countries too, following the historic landmark land boundary agreement signed and ratified earlier this year.
However, on the Indian side of the border the celebrations are tempered with some apprehensions too.
The uneasiness is about their prospective new neighbours – residents of Indian enclaves in Bangladesh who have applied for Indian citizenship and want to relocate to India. They apprehend criminals from Bangladesh will sneak into India, taking advantage of the enclave and population exchange.
"We have definite information that at least 16 persons, among the 979 who have applied for relocating to India, have criminal cases against them in Bangladesh. Four of the applicants are hardcore Jamaat-e-Islami members," Diptiman Sengupta, chief coordinator of Bharat-Bangladesh Enclave Exchange Coordination Committee, told HT while supervising the final preparations for Friday's nightlong celebration.
The villagers, and even politicians, however, alleged that everything is not fair about the numbers being quoted.

"Many games are being played in Bangladesh to manipulate the list of people who intend to cross over to India with an Indian citizenship," said Alamgir Hossain, 18, who studied at Harakumari High School at Nazirhat gram panchayat of Dinhata II block with help of fake resident-ship certificates.

"Of the 270 persons, who want to come to India from the Indian enclave of Dasiar Char in Bangladesh, many have known links with various smuggling rackets," his friend Joynal Abedin told HT.

The likes of Hossain and Abedin are happy that they would not need fake certificates any more to study in Indian schools, and that the villagers would finally be entitled to all government schemes in India.
But the story of the people living in Indian enclaves in Bangladesh is not as simple.

Villagers at Mashal Danga said that only those who do not have land or property in Bangladesh have opted to come to India, while many who own property there are staying back, as they are facing difficulties in getting the right prices. Local land sharks are forcing them to sell off the properties at meagre prices.

Congress Rajya Sabha MP Pradip Bhattacharya, who is the chairperson of the parliamentary standing committee on home affairs, too, smells foul play. He received several complaints that people who wanted to relocate to India are being intimidated by local goons.

"I have taken up the issue with the Union home secretary, who has brought it to the notice of the ministry of external affairs. If anyone living in Indian enclaves in Bangladesh is facing problem in relocating to India, he or she should contact the district administration in Cooch Behar or may contact me directly. I'll forward the complaint," he told HT.

While this complication will only be resolved with time – the process of relocation is to end by June 20, 2016 – the Friday mood in Bangladeshi enclaves in India was mostly of celebration. The locality is all decked up to welcome the guests for the official ceremony at Madhya Mashaldanga.
Woman in Madhya Mashaldanga Enclave (Chitmahal), Coochbehar are excited and full of hope.

Local children and youth were seen running across vast fields with the Indian national flag – something they have longed to make their own. They have been hoisting the Tricolour every January 26 and August 15 as part of their campaign for getting Indian citizenship.

On Friday night, they will hoist it for the first time, 'rightfully'.

"This is nothing less than our own 'Independence Day'," said 26-year-old Altaf Biswas. They hope 'merger' with India will also help fill vital infrastructure gaps. They expect their village to get electricity connections and would no longer have to 'trespass' into India to charge their mobile phones. They would also get someone to address their grievances.

For those who will come to India from Bangladesh, the resettlement programme is going to take some time to materialise. And the uneasiness remains. 

While Sengupta said they would take up the issue of Bangladeshi criminals' attempt to enter India with the Cooch Behar district administration, sub-divisional officer of Dinhata, Krishnabha Bose, told HT that authorities in India would act on the basis of the list of applicants prepared by the Bangladesh government.

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