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'Border deal will control infiltration from Bangladesh'

By Indrani Roy
June 05, 2015 21:53 IST
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'People residing in the enclaves have led completely isolated lives. They are stateless, have no official identity proof.'

'It is significant that Modi, Banerjee, Sarkar and Gogoi, despite having different political ideologies, are walking in tandem for the cause of the people residing in the enclaves.'

Activist Diptiman Sengupta on how the India-Bangladesh Land Border Agreement is a win-win for all.

He has been there and seen it all. Diptiman Sengupta assistant secretary, Bharat Bangladesh Enclave Exchange Coordination Committee, is happy that his years of struggle is about to bear fruit.

History was created when the Rajya Sabha recently passed a bill to operationalise the Land Boundary Agreement with Bangladesh that provides for exchange of territories to settle the 41-year border issue, in pursuance of the agreement of 1974.

There are 111 Indian enclaves with about 37,000 people in Bangladesh and 51 Bangladeshi enclaves with 14,000 people in India.

With Prime Minister Narendra Modi embarking on a two-day visit to Bangladesh from Saturday, June 6, the process of acquiring of territories by India and transfer of territories to Bangladesh is slated to take off.

The land swap is mostly seen as a procedural matter. For, most of the people within the enclaves in India and Bangladesh would prefer to stay where they are located and their cross-border movement as a result of the agreement is expected to be minimal.

Sengupta, below, left, tells Indrani Roy/ what impact the Land Boundary Agreement will have on India and Bangladesh and how it will benefit the people of both these countries.

Sengupta left a cushy and well-paying job in Nokia to uphold the cause of the enclave dewellers in 2008.

You must be happy that the Land Boundary Agreement between India and Bangladesh is about to be signed.

I am overjoyed. It is indeed great news for people living in the enclaves.

People residing in the enclaves have led completely isolated lives. They are stateless, have no official identity proof. They are deprived of the basic amenities of life, can't get jobs, can't avail of healthcare, can't send their children to school. It is a pathetic situation.

For the Land Boundary Agreement, I am grateful to the media, governments, bureaucrats and all those who stood by these people. I am indebted to Excise Commissioner Smaraki Mahapatra for helping us immensely in every aspect of the enclave movement. Without her, the Land Boundary Agreement would never have been possible.

As one of the prominent leaders of the enclave movement for years, what is your expectation from Modi's trip?

We expect Modi to take appropriate steps so that the India-Bangladesh borders are secured and the problem of illegal immigration is dealt with. The central government has its hands full tackling the Kashmir issue.

Therefore, it has to take effective measures so that India-Bangladesh border issues don't go out of hand post the LBA.

Also, there is no denying the fact that if the government takes appropriate steps to protect the borders, there will be less trouble and less expenditure for the defence sector.

Modi has an advantage over Manmohan Singh. He does not need an approval from members of his coalition. He can take quick decisions and can implement them fast.

Does West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's presence in Bangladesh add any special significance to Modi's trip?

Of course! The LBA is a global event.

I think it's really wise of Mamata Banerjee to be present in Bangladesh for the same.

Moreover, the presence of Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar and Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi will lend even greater significance to the pact.

It is significant that Modi, Banerjee, Sarkar and Gogoi, despite having different political ideologies, are walking in tandem for the cause of the people residing in the enclaves.

It will send out a very strong signal to other countries, especially China, which is embroiled in a dispute with India over the Brahmaputra water issue.

What steps should the India and Bangladesh governments take post agreement?

Working with the people of the enclaves all these years, I realised that they themselves can arrange for food and shelter, but they look up to the government for facilities like health, education and entertainment.

Post the LBA, the governments of both countries need to ensure that the people of the enclaves get these.

They have been deprived of a good life for long and now that there is an opportunity for them to get it, the government should not be lax.

Are you happy with the launch of the Dhaka-Agartala bus service? Will it help the economies of India and Bangladesh?

Of course! The prime areas of economic cooperation and investment between India and Bangladesh are land, energy, water, infrastructure and connectivity.

Industry in Bangladesh will gain from connectivity and infrastructure investments. The same is true of India's North-Eastern states.

The cost of trade between India and Bangladesh has remained extraordinarily high, with forced transhipment of goods at the border and absence of coastal shipping.

The LBA will put an end to this. As a friendly gesture, India now can cut the non-tariff barriers, and can promote Bangladesh's industrialisation.

Regional connectivity is sure to take bilateral trade and commerce to new dimensions.

The 71-kilometre Baharampur-Bheramara transmission grid now carries 500MW of electricity to Bangladesh. The supply is expected to double post the LBA.

Moreover, India in the future can get an abundant supply of compressed natural gas from Bangladesh. That will go a long way in curbing pollution.

The rail and road connectivity between Assam, West Bengal, Tripura and Bangladesh will enable India to use Chittagong and Mongla port for international trading.

Similarly, Bangladesh must also get a scope to use Indian ports if and when required.

Illegal immigration has been a persistent problem for the West Bengal government. Do you think once the Land Boundary Agreement takes place, this problem can be solved?

As an activist I have learnt that the economy is the root cause of illegal immigration.

The Bangladesh economy at present is fraught with uncertainties -- political upheavals and strikes marring growth. Therefore, it is natural that people cross over to India for better prospects.

I do feel that the LBA will improve the trade and business of Bangladesh and will create employment.

The problem of infiltration will not get eradicated as a result of the agreement, but will definitely be controlled.

The move to include Assam in the land swap deal was taken after Tarun Gogoi charged Modi with practising 'double standards for narrow political gain' by proposing to exclude the state from the deal. Do you think this agreement will help Assam?

It was extremely important to bring Assam under the LBA. Has anyone ever thought how India will be impacted if China launches a bus service via Assam and Arunachal some day? What if the Brahmaputra river dries up as a result?

Assam is the gateway of the North-Eastern territories and it would have been a huge political mistake to keep it out of the purview of the agreement.

How different will this agreement be from the Indira Gandhi-Sheikh Mujibur Rehman Land Boundary agreement in 1974?

It is almost the same. There is hardly any discernible difference.

Bangladesh's parliament ratified the agreement after 1974, but India did not. When the United Progressive Alliance-II attempted to move the Constitutional amendment bill in Parliament, it was strongly opposed by regional parties like the Trinamool Congress and Asom Gana Parishad. Do you think the AGP and TMC have now agreed to support the pact keeping the 2016 election in mind?

The election of 2016 definitely has been an important point of consideration for both parties while consenting for the LBA.

But we should not complain, considering the pact is set to improve the living conditions of thousands of people residing in the enclaves.

As far as Mamata Banerjee is concerned, she is sure to get huge political mileage as a result of this agreement.

India is expected to lose 40 square kilometres under the agreement.

India should not think too much about this.

For, in lieu of this 40 square kilometres of land, India is ensured of better security along the borders, which in turn would counter illegal immigration, insurgency and cross-border terrorism.

Moreover, the LBA is likely to improve trade and business between the two counties, will generate revenue and add funds to the exchequer.

How will this agreement help the two countries to counter terrorism?

If post the LBA, governments of both the countries secure the borders well, it will help countering terrorism.

Moreover, I believe that the root cause of terrorism is economy and lack of employment.

If the LBA betters the economy of India and Bangladesh, there will be less turmoil in both countries.

What role will you and your colleagues play post the LBA?

The constitution of the Bharat Bangladesh Enclave Exchange Coordination Committee states that it will cease to exist 30 days after the LBA is signed.

Ever since the Rajya Sabha gave its nod, we initiated the phasing out process.

For the next few weeks, our task will be to make the people of the enclaves aware of their rights and duties.

We will also need to ensure that no power-hungry factions take advantage of the LBA at the cost of the interests of the common people.

Once these things are taken care of, we will be very happy to move out.

Do you plan to carry your movement to other parts of the country?

As we all know, Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh is at present the biggest tinderbox in relations between India and China.

It has hit the headlines for being the focus of China's most delicate land-border dispute.

We need to understand the issue thoroughly and do a comprehensive research if we intend to delve into the dispute.

Moreover, we also must understand the border issues that exist between Bangladesh and China.

For that, we need to talk to the people of Bangladesh, we need to understand the public pulse.

We must not forget that China has a huge market in Bangladesh.

And we should be cautious so that our activities in Tawang as and when they take place does not affect the Bangladeshi economy in any way.

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