After Pakistan and China, it’s now the turn of Bangladesh to turn the border heat on India.
Barely 24 hours after the Border Security Force prevented Bangladeshi raiders from extracting sand and stone from Meghalaya, Assam revenue minister Bhumidhar Barman dropped a bomb on Saturday. He said Bangladesh has been occupying 499.79 acres of land in the southern and western part of the State since 1948.
Dhaka is yet to respond to India’s request to return the land, though the issue was taken up in the joint boundary meeting between the two countries a week back.
“Of the total Indian land in possession of Bangladesh, 310.73 acres belong to two tea estates in southern Assam’s Karimganj district,” said Barman. Bangladesh – then East Pakistan – has been holding on to 11.73 acres of Pramodnagar Tea Estate since 1948 and 299 acres of Pallatan Tea Estate since 1965.
Besides, Bangladesh has also been occupying 189.06 acres of the Boroibari area of Mankachar sub-division in western Assam’s Dhubri district since 1948.
“We will take up the issue again at the next meeting to resolve boundary disputes,” Barman said. The issue was to be resolved under the 1974 Indira-Mujib Accord subject to rectification by the parliaments of both the countries.
While the Assam government wants Bangladesh to return the land to two estates, it has made a blueprint to repossess the surplus land of many of over 800 tea estates further inland. This land will be distributed to plantation workers – Adivasis aka “tea tribe” – at 1.05 kathas per family. A katha in Assam is one-fifth of a bigha.
The sop for plantation workers is, however, less magnanimous than that for the Congress’ other major vote bank – migrant Muslims. They stand to own land in ‘char’ areas or sandbars at 8 bighas per family. “The land allotment survey is on in the char areas,” Barman said.
A network of 121 rivers has ensured over 4250 sandbars across Assam. As per official estimates, 2251 of these are char villages covering 360,927 hectares, 2,490,097 inhabitants with 68 per cent BPLs. Over 90 per cent of the sandbar settlers are migrant Muslims.
The government also has a gift for small tea growers, each of whom by definition cultivates less than 100 bighas of land. Each of such growers will be given possession certificates for 30 bighas on condition that they cannot sell or transfer their land.