DINHATA (INDO-BANGLADESH BORDER):At the stroke of midnight on Friday, several thousand people had a new tryst with destiny as they embraced Indian citizenship when the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) signed between India and Bangladesh during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Dhaka in June was enforced.
Under the deal, which was signed in the presence of Modi and his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina, India transferred 111 enclaves with a total area of 17,160 acres to Bangladesh, while the neighbouring country handed over 51 enclaves with an area of 7,110 acres to India. This was said to be the largest exchange of enclaves in the world.
Diptiman Sengupta, Assistant Secretary of Bharat Bangladesh Enclave Exchange Coordination Committee, said, “More than 3,800 people living in Bangladesh enclaves in India assembled at Madhya Masaldanga, the world’s largest bunch of enclaves at Dinhata, on the evening of July 31.
“The backdrop of the programme, in memory of the late President A P J Abdul Kalam, was his favourite quote from his autobiography: ‘Dream is not that which you see while sleeping, it is something that does not let you sleep’.
“All the 14,215 people staying in Bangladeshi enclaves in India have opted for Indian citizenship, instead of returning to their parent country. They celebrated their new found status,” he said.
However, among the 37,369 Indians living in enclaves within Bangladesh, the response was extremely poor, with only 979 people opting for Indian citizenship. While many were apprehensive about leaving their age-old homes and migrating to India practically like refugees and only with their movable properties, some hoped to obtain a good rehabilitation package from the Awami League Government in Bangladesh.
However, some Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh local leaders active in Indian enclaves were trying to reap benefits by forcibly occupying their land and properties or forcing them to sell them at a throwaway price. But, the Bangladesh Government foiled their attempts.
Diptiman said, “There certainly was a fear of being uprooted again after the country’s partition in 1947. But, the extremely poor Indians could realise the conspiracy of these opportunists and preferred to become Bangladeshi citizens. They had earlier opted for Indian citizenship, but then changed their stand.”
As such, a total of 15,194 people would have to be rehabilitated for which the Central government had offered a package of `3,600 crore to the Mamata Banerjee-led government in West Bengal. The package was worked out as the ruling TMC had expected a majority of the Indian citizens to cross over and strengthen its base in the border district of Cooch Behar by offering them a good rehabilitation package. It was initially estimated that around 37,000 people would have to be rehabilitated, but in reality, as the process came to an end on Friday, it was far less.
For the past 68 years, the people in Indian and Bangladeshi enclaves have been living practically as non-state subjects without any documents as citizens and deprived of amenities such as roads, hospitals, schools.