Constitutional amendment for land swap in national interest: Panel
A parliamentary panel on Monday said a constitutional amendment bill to enable land swap between India and Bangladesh was "in overall national interest" and would pave the way for broader ties, and that delays in its passage "have needlessly contributed to the perpetuation of a huge humanitarian crisis".
New Delhi: A parliamentary panel on Monday said a constitutional amendment bill to enable land swap between India and Bangladesh was "in overall national interest" and would pave the way for broader ties, and that delays in its passage "have needlessly contributed to the perpetuation of a huge humanitarian crisis".
The Standing Committee on External Affairs, headed by Congress parliamentarian Shashi Tharoor, presented its report to both houses of parliament Monday.
It urged the government to take urgent steps for presenting the Constitution (119th Amendment) Bill, 2013, in parliament without delay.
The bill is aimed at ratifying the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) of 1974 to exchange enclaves and people on either side of the border with Bangladesh.
It said it was "sure that the difficulties of the people living in the enclaves of both the countries would come to an end after the Act is passed by parliament".
The panel said it was convinced by the external affairs ministry that all the concerned state governments - of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and West Bengal - were consulted at various stages for reaching a settlement on the boundary dispute with Bangladesh.
However, it added that "closer consultations at the highest political level between the central government and state governments would have been desirable".
It suggested to the central government to effectively coordinate with the states on all matters and "resolve the lacuna (if any) related to actual implementation of the accord on the ground".
Close coordination with the states would "be indispensable when the actual territory is exchanged and the demographic situation might be affected" and would go a long way in ensuring smooth implementation of the LBA, it said.
It said that the exchange of enclaves "is a logical step in bringing these areas within the ambit of governance".
It suggested that a blueprint be kept ready for the development of these areas after due consultations with the concerned state governments, so that developmental work can be initiated immediately after the bill is made an act and the LBA is ratified.
India will exchange 111 enclaves measuring 17,160 acres with Bangladesh and receive 51 enclaves covering 7,110 acres. Around 51,000 people reside in these enclaves.
It said the issue of providing suitable rehabilitation and compensation to those who will be returning from Indian enclaves in Bangladesh to West Bengal should be addressed immediately by the government and that it should arrive at a consensus with West Bengal on the matter.
The committee suggested the government institute a suitable monitoring mechanism for coordinating with the West Bengal government over rehabilitation issues.
It said a status report on rehabilitation of the returning Indian citizens should be presented to parliament/committee within six months after the agreement comes into force.
Once the LBA comes into force, a "modest demographic change" in both countries is expected to take place, it added.
"Not only would some Indian citizens return to the mainland from the previously held enclaves, but a number of currently Bangladeshi nationals would also be given Indian citizenship after the area is ceded to India."
The committee suggested that the "security dimensions of this influx of population should be considered seriously by the government".
It said the "law and order machinery in the affected area should be suitably augmented in consultation with the state government of West Bengal and an appropriate method should be arrived at in order to check the bonafides of the Bangladeshi residents who shall be extended Indian citizenship upon incorporation of the territory".
The committee said a number of Indian nationals living in the Indian enclaves in Bangladesh territory would lose their claim to Indian citizenship, which could lead to "some displacement of population".
The panel said it was "the bounden duty" of both governments to "minimise the humanitarian costs of this Accord" and suggested that both sides should discuss the steps to be taken to ensure adequate safeguards for the Indian nationals who would be staying back "so that they are not discriminated against in any way after having acquired Bangladeshi citizenship".