The India-Bangladesh Land Boundary Agreement
A fortnight back, Indians across the world would have felt proud of their armed forces who daringly tracked the terrorists who had killed our soldiers and hunted them deep inside Myanmar. Preceding this event the whole nation saw yet another victorious thump by the Government of India.
Taking a leaf out of book of late Indian Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi and Founder of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, the Prime Minister of India Shri Narendra Modi and the Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina signed the historic and much awaited Land Boundary Agreement.
It all began with the red carpet reception that was extended to the Indian Prime Minister in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka. It even happened that breaking all the protocols, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina herself received the Indian Prime Minister at the Dhaka airport.
Once in Bangladesh the Prime Minister started his visit by paying homage to the martyrs of the 1971 War of Liberation and also by visiting the Bangabandhu Memorial Museum dedicated to Bangladesh’s founder Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
The Prime Minister's visit to Bangladesh was of a very high strategic importance and it turned out to be a very successful engagement for both India and Bangladesh. To quote the success and importance of this tour in numbers, the two countries signed a total 22 agreements out of which the most important was the signing of the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) which had been a major roadblock in India-Bangladesh relations.
Earlier this month, Parliament of India had passed a historic constitution amendment bill seeking to settle India's 41-year- old border issue with Bangladesh. The bill paved way for operationalization of the 1974 India-Bangladesh Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) that provides for exchange of 161 enclaves between the two neighbours. With this agreement in place, India now has control of 510 acres of land while Bangladesh will have control of 10,000 acres of land at the India-Bangladesh border thereby settling the border dispute. Though the exchange is termed by some critics as being unbalanced the strategic and demographic importance that the exchanged areas attach to the two countries is enormous.
The agreement will lead to straightening and hence simplification of 4,000 km long border between the neighbours, ensuring opportunity to live a dignified life with an award of undisputed citizenship for over 50,000 people living in over 200 enclaves close to the border.
The 22 agreements inked by India and Bangladesh cover a very wide spectrum encompassing multiple areas and issues ranging from curbing of human trafficking, prevention of smuggling and circulation of fake currency, setting up an Indian Economic Zone in Bangladesh, flagging-off of two key bus services including the Kolkata-Dhaka-Agartala route that will benefit the commuters by reducing travel time by nearly one-third and the other being the Dhaka-Shillong-Guwahati route both enhancing connectivity between mainland India with North East India, signing of coastal shipping agreement to facilitate sailing of small vessels from India to various ports in Bangladesh which now go through Singapore thereby reducing the distance, time and fuel expenditure tremendously. India also extended a Line of Credit of US$ 2 billion to Bangladesh during this exchange. Renewal of the Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade were also among the agreements reached. Two of the leading corporate houses in India also were awarded the contract to erect two power plants of 3000 and 1600 megawatts each.
All these agreements have conveyed a very specific message across to the Bangladeshi leadership, especially the Sheikh Hasina government. These agreements have underlined and highlighted the importance India now attaches to Bangladesh in its foreign policy under a new government. Moreover it also assures Bangladesh of a respectful treatment during its strengthening of relationship with its neighbouring giant.
The tour and the signing of these agreements is not just a victory on the foreign policy front for the government but it also shows its understanding over the domestic issues. Here I am talking of the Land Boundary Agreement again. The Agreement would not have been possible had the states neighbouring Bangladesh, especially West Bengal and Assam had not been on the board with the Central Government. Further, by keeping the Teesta Water issue on the sidelines of this visit both the countries have shown great maturity and resolve towards relationship building as a whole. And this is the point which is now turning an eyesore for China.
The final day of his visit, the Indian Prime Minister commenced it by visiting the Dhakeshwari Temple in Dhaka. This sent a strong gesture of support of the Indian Hindu community in Bangladesh. During the tour the Prime Minister also hailed Sheikh Hasina for her zero tolerance towards terrorism. Finally the visit ended with the address of the Prime Minister to a select Indian diaspora. The importance of the outcomes of this tour attached to both India and Bangladesh is evident from the statement of the Indian Prime Minister who termed this event of signing of the Land Boundary Agreement as, “No less significant than the fall of the Berlin Wall”.
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