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International Boundaries Research Unit

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Historic protocol paves the way for elimination of Bangladeshi and Indian territorial enclaves

(8 September 2011)

The enclaves along the Bangladesh-India boundary in the Cooch Behar region have been a rare territorial anomaly since the partition of India in 1947, and subsequent independence of both states. Varying in size from less than an acre to several square kilometres, these parcels of Bangladesh territory in India and vice versa have caused administrative problems for both states. The populations within the enclaves, reported to be 34,000 in the 111 enclaves within Bangladeshi territory and 17,000 in the enclaves within India, have faced severe challenges, being left physically and administratively isolated from the services of their respective national states.

On 6 September 2011, during a two-day visit by Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh to Bangladesh, the two governments signed a boundary protocol that will pave the way for the elimination of the 162 territorial enclaves. In delimiting the final outstanding sections of their continuous land boundary, the Bangladesh and India have agreed to exchange their respective enclaves without any claims to additional compensation. Both states had committed to this exchange in a 1974 land boundary agreement, but had unable to implement the arrangement until now. This latest protocol follows recently completed survey work that mapped the full length of the continuous boundary. Based on this recent mapping, the final sections were described in more detail within the recent protocol which will direct demarcation work that is due to follow.

It is unclear what provisions have been made for the inhabitants of the enclaves. Article 3 of the 1974 Land Boundary Agreement indicates that residents of the enclaves will be given the option of remaining in situ and becoming citizens of state to which their enclave is transferred. It is likely that this article remains in effect, but there is no provision in the 1974 agreement or the latest protocol for compensating or resettling those residents of the enclaves who choose to move across the single boundary into their national state.

The land boundary protocol was just one of several important agreements signed by the two governments during Prime Minister Singh’s visit covering a range of bilateral issues. The two sides had hoped to reach an agreement on the sharing of transboundary waters in the Teesta and Feni rivers, but objections from India’s provincial government of West Bengal could not be overcome through last-minute discussions.

'Manmohan Singh, Sheikh Hasina put Teesta behind, fix boundary' Indrani Bagchi, The Economic Times, 8 September 2011; 'Joint Statement on the Occasion of the Visit of His Excellency Dr Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India to Bangladesh' Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh, 7 September 2011; 'Teesta issue: will work with Mamata, will take W.Bengal's interests into account, says PM' Smita Prakash, Asian News International, 7 September 2011; 'Transit sinks in Teesta waters: Dhaka, Delhi shelve major deals, sign minor ones as Mamata's U-turn on river sharing changes course of talks' The Daily Star (Bangladesh), 7 September 2011; 'Gogoi enclave cheer' The Telegraph (Bangladesh), 7 September 2011; 'India and Bangladesh bury border dispute' Al Jazeera English, 6 September 2011; 'Stateless misery on India-Bangladesh border' Anbarasan Ethirajan, BBC News, 5 September 2011; Bangladesh-India, 'Land Boundary Agreement of 16 May 1974'.

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