The midnight of 1st August,2015 witnessed the beginning of implementation of Land Boundary Agreement (1974) signed between India and Bangladesh to swap 162 adversely-held enclaves, which claims to resolve the most complex border dispute between the two countries.
Enclaves are small pockets of land in each other’s territory. There are very few enclaves in the world. The most famous one is Vatican City, located inside Italy’s capital, Rome. Another example is Kingdom of Lesotho, is located inside South Africa.
There is no historical record as to how exactly did such border situation arised between India and Bangladesh. But according to folklore, these enclaves are a result of series of chess matches between King of Cooch Behar and Maharaja of Rangpur, where they used to gamble villages. Due to constant trouble with Pakistan, these issues were never looked until 1971.
However in 1974, Mujibur Rehman and Indira Gandhi signed an agreement to exchange the respective enclaves. Under this agreement, India provided a Bangladesh access to a narrow strip of land which included Dahagram and Angarpota enclaves in India. This narrow strip of land is called ‘Teen Bigha Corridor’. While Bangladesh was quick to ratify the agreement in its national parliament, India could never get it passed.
The Land Boundary Agreement was recently ratified on 6 June, 2015 during Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi’s historic visit to Bangladesh, ending a four decade old deadlock. Under the agreement, the countries will exchange the territories, with 111 enclaves being transferred to Bangladesh and 51 to India.
These include a few counter-enclaves, which are enclaves within enclaves, as well as a counter-counter enclave — a parcel of Indian territory surrounded by Bangladeshi territory, itself surrounded by Indian territory! Dahala Khagrabari, the world’s only third-order enclave is a piece of India within Bangladesh, within India, within Bangladesh. It is less than 7,000 square metres (0.70 ha; 1.7 acres), in area and was the site of a jute field. 28 smaller enclaves exist within the overall complex.
According to a survey carried out in 2011, as many as 37,369 people reside in Indian enclaves in Bangladesh ,while there are 14,856 who reside in Bangladeshi enclaves in India.
While the majority of people living in Indian enclaves in Bangladesh opted for Bangladeshi citizenship, around 1000 of them opted to keep Indian nationalities which would mean they will be resettled in West Bengal. Though, in India, all the Bangladeshis living in the 51 Bangladeshi enclaves decided to opt for an Indian citizenship.
This historic land swap deal brought joys and celebrations to the thousands of people who had long been stateless for 68 years. It was not just a moment of new found freedom. It was also about achieving their rights for better services and infrastructure from their respective governments.