After years of political wrangling, the Pashchimbanga (West Bengal) Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee, has softened her position on the crucial exchange of enclaves under the historic Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) between Bangladesh and India.
The Trinamool Congress leader Mamata on Monday during her visit to Siliguri in North Bengal of the Indian State said that her government had nothing against the proposed move to foster better mobility between people residing in enclaves on both sides of the border.
During the immediate-past Congress government tenure Trinamool Congress, the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and Bharatia Janata Party (BJP) blocked the passage of a bill in Rajya Sabha of Indian parliament that was required to ratify the LBA signed by Bangabandhu Sheik Mujibur Rahman and Indira Gandhi, 40 years ago in 1974.
Mamata, who then opposed the ratification of LBA, said that the West Bengal government could agree to the exchange of enclaves between the two countries, provided there were no problems from the other side.
Meanwhile, a senior official of the South Asia Desk at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Dhaka declined to comment on the issue. He, however, said that Bangladesh needs to ascertain what Mamata meant by saying if "there were no problems from the other side. "The official is said the Foreign Office needs to understand what she wanted to mean by 'other side'.
There are 111 Indian enclaves inside Bangladesh and 51 Bangladeshi enclaves in Indian state of West Bengal, locally known as 'chitmahals'.
The Indian enclaves covering over 17,158 acres of land are all in four districts of Kurigram, Lalmonirhat, Nilphamari and Panchagarh having a population of 37,369. Bangladesh enclaves are all located in Cooch Bihar district of West Bengal, covering 7,110 acres of land and having a population of 14,215.
The Narendra Modi government has already said that it would agree unconditionally to the exchange of enclaves between the two countries.
In September 2011, Prime Ministers Dr Manmohan Singh of India and Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh signed an accord on border demarcation and exchange of adversely held enclaves.
"We are holding talks on the proposal and have no problem to foster better exchange among people living in enclaves in our two countries," Mamata Banerjee told Indian reporters.
To facilitate unfettered access of residents of 162 enclaves between India and Bangladesh is an imperative for freedom of movement on both the sides. Residents of these enclaves are virtually stateless, said Prof Imtiaz Ahmed, an expert in international relations and professor of IR at Dhaka University.
The historic Indira-Mujib LBA signed in 1974 was meant for resolving disputes over exchange of enclaves. Bangladesh's Parliament ratified the treaty, but India's Parliament did not, said the professor.
Article 1(12) and Article 3 of the LBA envisage that Bangladeshi enclaves in India and Indian enclaves in Bangladesh should be exchanged expeditiously and the people in the enclaves offered a choice of citizenship.
Earlier Mamata argued that the exchange of enclaves would deprive West Bengal. India will get only about 7,000 acres, and will lose nearly 17,000 acres. She insisted that national interest cannot overrule regional interest.
Once the legal status is established the people in the enclaves can have the citizenship rights and respective governments can provide all government benefits that these people have long been deprived of.