If West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee's softened stand on the exchange of 162 enclaves between India and Bangladesh is any indication, the 56-year effort between the neighbours to facilitate unfettered access and movement of these enclave dwellers on both sides is likely to bear fruit soon.
Banerjee on Monday said that the Bengal government could agree to the exchange of enclaves between the two countries, provided there were no problems from the other side.
Enclaves, known locally as chhit mahals, are small, scattered tracts of land belonging to one country, but surrounded by another. While India is home to 111 enclaves, Bangladesh has 51. Residents of these enclaves are people virtually without a country.
The Narendra Modi government has already said that it would agree unconditionally to the exchange of enclaves between the two countries.
Banerjee, who arrived in Siliguri in north Bengal on Monday to chair an administrative meeting for the districts of Cooch Behar, Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling, said that her government had nothing against the proposed move to foster better mobility between people residing in enclaves on both sides of the border.
"We are holding talks on the proposal and have no problem to fostering better exchange among people living in enclaves in our two countries," Banerjee told reporters on Monday.
The 111 Indian enclaves are spread over 17,158 acres of land and has a population of 37,369. They are spread across four districts in Bangladesh- Kurigram, Lalmonirhat, Nilphamari and Panchagarh.
Another 51 Bangladesh enclaves, all located in Cooch Behar district of West Bengal, are spread over of 7,110 acres of land and have a population of 14,215. The Indian officialdom says people in these enclaves are Bangladeshis. But, Bangladesh does not claim them, either. They have the protection neither of the police nor the judiciary in either of the two countries. The Border Security Force too has no access to the Bangladeshi enclaves.
In the past, several attempts were made by India and Bangladesh to foster better exchange among dwellers on both sides of the border.
The Nehru-Noor treaty of 1958 (when Bangladesh was known as East Pakistan) and Indira-Mujib treaty (1974) were inked with the view to resolving the problem. But, the contentious issue could not be resolved due to the opposition by various political parties and the then Bengal government.
Banerjee's statement on Monday is being seen as a positive development. The Bengal chief minister had earlier opposed to the exchange move, arguing that while Bengal will get only about 7,000 acres, it will have to concede nearly 17,000 acres.
There is a talk that Bangladesh wanted to retain Dahagram-Angorpota, the biggest Bangladeshi enclave.
Unlike in other enclaves, life in Dahagram-Angorpota in Coochbehar district is somewhat easy. India has allowed a 178-meter-long corridor for the people of Dahagram-Angorpota to reach the other side of the border from June 20, 1992.