Assam protests India-Bangladesh land exchange

Under the deal, India would get back 111 disputed enclaves under adverse possession of Bangladesh, while 55 such enclaves would go to Bangladesh.

Guwahati: The land swap accord between India and Bangladesh has triggered angry protests in Assam with border villagers, student groups and the opposition calling it an `act of betrayal` and vowing not to let the territories be handed over to Bangladesh.

Under the deal, India would get back 111 disputed enclaves under adverse possession of Bangladesh, while 55 such enclaves would go to Bangladesh.

"The deal is nothing but an act of betrayal. We shall not allow an inch of Assam`s land to be handed over to Bangladesh," president of the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) Chandra Mohan Patowary, said on Thursday.

The accord was signed on Tuesday in Dhaka between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina. Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi was also present during the signing of the agreement.

Both countries since long were claiming certain stretches of land.

The dispute started when fencing work began about a decade ago to demarcate the boundaries.

During the process of construction of barbed wire fencing by India, Bangladesh objected to certain areas and claimed those enclaves as theirs.

The fencing work got stalled in many such sectors.

In all, about 55 such enclaves were under adverse possession by India, despite being disputed.

Likewise, 111 enclaves were under adverse possession by Bangladesh, although India claimed it was their territory.

The land agreement between the two countries, however, decided that the dispute be resolved - those disputed enclaves under possession by India would be handed over to Bangladesh and vice-versa.

The exact area of the entire enclaves could not be immediately estimated.

"What is the point of carrying the disputes for decades that has resulted in strained relations between the countries? So, it is better to resolve once and for all. There is also no question of who is gaining or who is losing by way of this land swap pact," Tarun Gogoi said.

But no one is willing to buy the Chief Minister`s reasoning.

"Tarun Gogoi is the weakest chief minister in the whole of India and his act of surrendering Assam`s territory is enough to substantiate our claims.”

"See how Mamata Banerjee stood firm and refused to part with even a drop of the Teesta water and see how Tarun Gogoi meekly surrendered before Dhaka," said Sammujjal Bhattacharya, advisor of the All Assam Students` Union (AASU).

Banerjee did not visit Dhaka protesting the Teesta water sharing agreement draft.

The AGP, AASU, and several other political parties and pressure groups are planning separate protests to prevent the land swap agreement from being implemented.

Effigies of the Chief Minister and the Prime Minister were burnt, while statewide demonstrations were being organised to drum up public support against the move.

"We shall lobby in Parliament to ensure the land pact is not implemented," senior local Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Siddharth Bhattacharya said.

Border villagers in at least two enclaves in the western Dhubri and southern Karimganj districts were equally peeved with the pact.

"We are prepared to shed blood but at no cost shall we allow our land to be handed over to Bangladesh," said Arindam Das, a villager in one of the disputed enclaves in Karimganj district.

India and Bangladesh have 2,979 km of land border and 1,116 km of riverine boundaries. The Indian states of West Bengal, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Assam and Tripura share the 4,095-km border with Bangladesh.


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