Land swap with Bangladesh to put govt in spot

India gave 55 enclaves on the border to Bangladesh in return for 111 from it

GN Bureau | September 13, 2011



The land swap deal signed with Bangladesh during the prime minister's Dhaka trip last week may not be easy for the government to implement as it requires an amendment in the Constitution and the main opposition Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) will not be game for it.

Shrouded in secrecy, the deal is suspected to have ceded 10,000 acres of land to Bangladesh in the name of peace with the neighbour. All that was made public is that India gave 55 enclaves on the border to Bangladesh in return for 111 from it. The number of enclaves given away on platter are just half the gain, but their total area is much bigger, the critics allege.

Since most of the border land so ceded is from Assam, an agitation has already begun in the state with the opposition Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) trying to make capital out of it by putting in the dock chief minister Tarun Gogoi as party to the deal since he was part of the delegation that accompanied Manmohan Singh to Dhaka for signing various agreements. It accused Gogoi of breaching trust of the people of Assam.

Asking the government to make public full details of the deal, specifying the areas ceded, the BJP has set up a study group headed by Rajya Sabha deputy leader S S Ahluwalia to examine it by consulting the stake-holders, including MPs, MLAs, Panchayat representatives and concerned citizens and submit a comprehensive report at the earliest.

BJP vice-president Bijoy Chakraborty, secretary Muralidhar Rao and three MPs --Kabinder Purkayasth, Rajiv Pratap Rudy and Chandan Mitra-- are members of the group. Shri Sarbonand Sonval former MP and member, national executive, BJP will function as the coordinator of the group and Shri Mission Ranjan as co-coordinator.

Since the deal involves ceding of land to a foreign nation, it requires Parliament's approval with voting by the two-third MPs through a constitutional amendment. It is not for the first time that some land is ceded to Bangladesh. Back in September 1958, India had signed an agreement, ceding Berubari in West Bengal to then east Pakistan and the procedure adopted then will have to be followed this time too.

The President had referred the matter to the supreme court for its opinion on how the agreement could be implemented. A Constitution bench of eight judges held that it requires Parliament's endorsement. It ruled that "the agreement amounts to cession of a part of the territory of India in favour of Pakistan and so its implementation would naturally involve the alteration of the content and the consequent amendment of Article 1 and of the relevant part of the first schedule of the Constitution, because such implementation would necessarily lead to the diminution of the territory of the Union of India. Such an amendment can be made under Article 368."

Following the supreme court's observation, Jawaharlal Nehru got the Constitution's ninth amendment passed to implement the India-Pakistan agreement. Manmohan Singh will have to follow the same route and if he fails to get the amendment passed, the agreement with Bangladesh can become invalid.

The same procedure was followed in the acquisition of the Goa, Daman and Diu territories in 1962 through the 12th Constitution amendment and that of Sikkim in 1975 through the 36th Constitution amendment and will be required to merge into Indian territory the enclaves conceded by Bangladesh and remove from its territory the land ceded to Bangladesh.

Though the BJP held back its stand while asking the government to put the deal with Bangladesh on paper, its senior leaders say the the party was opposed to any surrender of the Indian territory from the beginning and hence no question of supporting the deal in Parliament.

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