Residents of 162 enclaves inside Bangladesh and India are eagerly awaiting an end to their ‘caged’ lives of nearly 65 years.
Positive moves by the neighbouring countries have signalled the swapping of the enclaves soon.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who has been sternly opposing the exchange, recently announced her changed position at a rally in Cooch Behar on Thursday.
She said she was aware of the miseries of the enclave residents and that her party, too, wanted the swapping of the enclaves.
Residents of the enclaves are practically not citizens of any country and are deprived of basic rights.
Once the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) is passed, 14,215 residents of 51 Bangladeshi enclaves inside India’s Cooch Behar and Jalpaigurhi will become Indian citizens. In the same way, 37,369 residents of 111 Indian enclaves inside Bangladesh will become Bangladeshi citizens.
‘Ayesha’, a Grade-IX student at Kurigram’s Gangarhat Girls’ High School said they did not have security and civil rights.
“I have to study with fake credentials as I was born in the enclave. We want to become Bangladeshi citizens. I hope, we’ll receive our basic rights then,” she said.
Mamata said her government would soon inform New Delhi of their decision.
India signed the LBA to facilitate the exchange of the enclaves in 2011 during former prime minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Dhaka.
But opposition by Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress, the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and Bharatia Janata Party (BJP) blocked the passage of a bill in Rajya Sabha, the upper house of Indian parliament, needed to formalise it.
Diptiman Sengupta, Indian chapter general secretary of a coordination committee for enclave swapping, said the enclave residents were very happy over Mamata’s announcement.
“Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, too, is positive on this issue. It’s a matter of time before the LBA is pushed through in parliament,” he told bdnews24.com.
He said the Indian government had set up a Rs 3.08 billion fund for the rehabilitation of enclave residents.
“I hope the swapping won’t cause any problems,” Sengupta added.Meanwhile, residents of Indian enclaves took out processions and distributed sweets at various places after Mamata’s announcement.
An elated Taslim Uddin, chairman of Putimari enclave’s Nagarik Committee, said, “All we want is to breathe our last as Bangladeshi citizens.”
Indian officials say the government is getting ready to ratify the LBA before Modi’s expected visit to Dhaka next year.
Trinamool representatives on Dec 1 agreed to a standing committee’s recommendation that the Bill be passed.
Banerjee’s government has, however, told the central government that it will have to bear the entire expenses involved in rehabilitation of those who will lose their land and livelihood when the deal is implemented. In the past, several attempts were made by India and Bangladesh to address the contentious issue.
The Nehru-Noor treaty of 1958 (when Bangladesh was known as East Pakistan) and Indira-Mujib treaty of 1974 were aimed at resolving the problem.
But, the issue could not be resolved due to the opposition by various political parties and the then Bengal government.
President of India-Bangladesh enclave exchange coordination committee’s Bangladesh chapter Moinul Haq said it was now a matter of time.
“I hope it (the bill) will be passed quickly, finally freeing the enclave residents of their caged lives,” he told bdnews24.com.