Bangladeshi enclaves in Cooch Behar may become Indian through Constitution amendment
The residents of these Bangladeshi enclaves are people virtually without a country. The Indian officialdom says they are Bangladeshis. Bangladesh does not claim them, either. They have the protection neither of the police nor the judiciary in either of the two countries.india Updated: Dec 19, 2013 01:18 IST
Punya Chandra Roy (45), who has a Trinamool flag before his thatched house, is a resident of a Bangladeshi enclave in Cooch Behar district of West Bengal.
Similar is the case of Anukul Roy (34), who is a Forward Bloc supporter, however.These enclaves, called chhit mahals in local language, are small and scattered tracts of land belonging to one country but surrounded by another.
And the residents of these Bangladeshi enclaves are people virtually without a country. The Indian officialdom says they are Bangladeshis. 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.
Manik Adhikari (33) has his home adjacent to ward number 9 of the Mekhliganj municipality and is surrounded by Indian villages all around. While the municipality areas enjoy all government facilities, the Adhikari family and three others get nothing.
They have been endlessly trying to be part of India for generations because they feel they will be better-off if they become part of this nation. And in doing so, the Bangladeshi enclave-dwellers have acquired the documents to prove they are Indian.
With the Constitution amendment bill on the India-Bangladesh Land Boundary Agreement likely to be tabled in the winter session of Parliament, hopes have revived for the residents of 162 enclaves that they will be part of a nation.
Indian territory has 111 such enclaves while Bangladesh has 51 of them, all in Cooch Behar district.
The 111 Indian enclaves are spread over 17,158 acres and have a population of 37,369. The Bangladesh enclaves are spread over 7,110 acres and have 14,215 people. The population figures were arrived at as part of a headcount carried out by the two countries from July 14 to July 17, 2011.
And it is believed that many enclave-dwellers opted out of the count.
On false pretexts, thousands of Bangladeshis have acquired the Indian voter ID card and ration card. Many of them have electricity connection also on false declarations. Their sons and daughters are admitted in Indian schools by furnishing incorrect addresses.
Once the land boundary agreement was amended, the stage would be set for an exchange of these enclaves, said Diptiman Sengupta, chief coordinator of the Bharat Bangladesh Enclave Exchange Co-ordination Committee (BBEECC).
The BJP and Asom Gana Parishad have been opposing the Centre’s move on the grounds that India will lose more land than what it will get from Bangladesh.
Sengupta disagrees. “Once the enclaves are exchanged, the biggest thing that India will achieve is national security.”
He could be right. The large area of Bangladeshi enclaves has made India vulnerable from the security point of view. There are reports that members of anti-Indian militant and terrorist outfits take shelter there and have made them their hideouts.