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BJP, AGP object to land-swap

- Khurshid briefs Assam MPs on agreement with Bangla

New Delhi, Dec. 11: The Centre is facing hiccups with the BJP and the AGP in Assam evolving a consensus over ratification of the land boundary agreement with Bangladesh.

External affairs minister Salman Khurshid briefed Assam MPs this morning in a bid to build a consensus on the agreement and prevent “any misunderstanding” in Bangladesh. Four MPs from the Congress, including Lalit Mohan Shuklabaidya, Paban Singh Ghatowar and Naznin Faruque, four from the BJP — Rajen Gohain, Bijoya Chakravarty, Ramen Deka and Kabindra Purkayastha, an AGP MP, Kumar Deepak Das, and BPF MP Biswajit Daimary met Khurshid.

With the four Opposition MPs airing their stand, a nervous government also made a presentation in the evening for BJP MPs in the presence of leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj.

The government is intent on attempting a constitutional amendment bill to ratify the agreement with Dhaka. However, it needs to convince the states concerned so that the bill gets the required two-thirds majority in both Houses of Parliament. The amendment is required because the agreement involves exchange of enclaves and redrawing of boundaries.

“We have opposed the land boundary agreement. The land for which BSF jawans sacrificed their lives cannot be given away to Bangladesh,” said Kumar Deepak Das, AGP MP in Rajya Sabha who attended the meeting. Boroibari, where 16 BSF personnel were killed in a clash with Bangladesh Rifles in 2001, will go to Bangladesh according to the agreement.

The government argument is that incidents like this necessitate an early settlement.

Ratification of the 2011 Protocol, signed by the foreign ministers of India and Bangladesh in the presence of Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Sheikh Hasina on September 6, 2011, will be a historic step in resolving a long-pending boundary issue between the two countries.

About 665 acres of land belonging to Assam is in adverse possession of Bangladesh.

If the agreement is implemented, Assam will get about 486 acres but technically its map would be altered to become a little smaller.

Totally, India will receive 2,777.038 acres from Bangladesh and will transfer 2267.682 acres to the neighbouring country.

Arguments from Congress MPs like Lalit Mohan Shuklabaidya from Karimganj went unheeded. Shuklabaidya argued that in effect Assam was gaining land which it never had on the ground.

But the Opposition MPs were stuck on some points. “Why should areas like Dimabari and Latitila go to Bangladesh and why is the government giving up land while it is not doing anything to stop illegal migration from Bangladesh,” Das said.

The agreement also includes exchange of enclaves in which India will transfer 111 enclaves (17,160.63 acres) to Bangladesh. Bangladesh will transfer 51 enclaves spread over 7,110.2 acres to India.

“It may seem like a loss but as the enclaves are deep inside the territory of both the countries and there is no physical access to them from either country, in reality the exchange is only a notional exchange,” the MPs are understood to have been told by the ministry of external affairs today.

After the evening meeting, the BJP appeared to have softened a bit but left the issue undecided for today. BJP MP Bijoya Chakravarty said her party has asserted that India is giving up more land to Bangladesh and there should be one more discussion on the matter.

“In the greater interest of the country we may respond, but there should be more discussion on the matter. Today it was not decided,” she told The Telegraph.