Indian Rajya Sabha, the upper house of parliament, on Wednesday passed the much-awaited Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) with Bangladesh, and the exchange of certain enclaves of land between the two countries.
The Bill was passed with an unanimity, with 180 members giving their nod to the Bill hanging for since 1974, according to Indian media.
Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj placed the Bill before the Rajya Sabha.
The Indian Rajya Sabha cleared the Constitution amendment Bill to enable the ratification of the Land Boundary Agreement with Bangladesh, paving the way for permanent settlement of decades-old boundary disputes between the two neighbouring countries.
Sushma Swaraj credited the UPA government for introducing the Bill and assured the members that the government will rehabilitate those who wish to relocate from the enclaves in Bangladesh to India.
“If Indians in Bangladeshi enclaves want to stay there, they’ll be given Bangladeshi citizenship and if Bangladeshis living in Indian enclaves want to stay, they will be given Indian citizenship,” she said.
The Opposition was lavish in its praise for Swaraj for her “honest” admission of presenting a Bill that was introduced by the UPA and the opposed by the BJP, TMC and the AGP.
Highly placed sources said government has already talked to various parties in the Upper House, where an earlier bill in this regard is pending since December 2013.
The Bill, which the Bharatiya Janata Party, Asom Gana Parishad and Trinamool Congress had opposed when it was brought by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in 2013, amends the First Schedule of the Constitution to give effect to an agreement entered into by India and Bangladesh on the acquiring and transfer of territories between the two countries on May 16, 1974.
In 2011, then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina had signed the land swap deal known as the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA).
The constitutional amendment bill to operationalise the agreement was introduced in the Rajya Sabha in 2013 but could not be passed due to stiff opposition.
When the Narendra Modi government came to power, the Bill was again sent to the standing committee on the external affairs ministry, and a report presented in December 2014.
Earlier on Tuesday, faced with opposition from Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi and the Congress party in Parliament as well as unhappiness from the Bangladesh government, the Indian government reversed its decision on excluding Assam from the purview of its Bill on exchanging land with Bangladesh.
The Bill, a constitutional amendment (119th Constitutional Amendment act of 2013) which will allow the operationalisation of the 1974 India-Bangladesh Land Boundary agreement, was cleared by the Indian Cabinet on Tuesday, including enclaves and “adverse possessions” from West Bengal, Meghalaya, Tripura and Assam, the Director of the Press Information Bureau Frank Noronha was quoted as saying to The Hindu.
An earlier plan by the government to exclude Assam from the land swap arrangement because of fierce resistance from the BJP’s Assam unit ahead of state elections this year has now been shelved.
Once it is cleared in parliament, the bill would pave the way for the historic agreement being ratified by India at a formal signing ceremony expected to take place when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits Dhaka in June.
According the agreement, India is to receive 27,77.038 acres of land and to transfer 2,267.682 acres to Bangladesh, much of which has already been effected on the ground already.
1974 – May 16: India-Bangladesh Agreement inked, not ratified by India. India has 111 enclaves within Bangaldesh (70 square km). Bangladesh has 51 enclaves in India (28 square km). Most enclaves are in Assam, West Bengal, Meghalaya and Tripura.
2011 – September 6: Bangladesh and India signed protocol to pact.
2013 – December 18: The Constitution (119th Amendment) Bill, 2013, introduced in Rajya Sabha Bill amended the First Schedule of the Constitution that defines the area of each State, Union Territory.
2015 – April 29: Indian Cabinet clears the revised land boundary agreement delinking Assam.
The Indian central government is likely to introduce revised Bill in Parliament next week. – UNB