Indian Decade

A Bangladesh Border Deal?

India’s relations with Bangladesh are set to get a boost with the signing of a deal to resolve border disputes.

With a couple of days before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Bangladesh, India and Bangladesh have done something for the first time that will come in handy for resolving differences over their 4,156-kilometre-long border: they have prepared strip maps of the border following a joint survey by the two countries.

The 11,000-page strip maps (not to scale drawings of routes that include critical points along the border) will be crucial in helping the two neighbours iron out their long-standing border dispute. Indications are that the two sides are indeed going to sign the boundary agreement during Singh’s upcoming visit to Dhaka, a move that would be a major confidence-building booster for India-Bangladesh ties. The landmark agreement is set to involve the ‘exchange of 162 enclaves and 6,500 acres of adversely possessed land and 6.5 kilometres of un-demarcated borders between the two countries and 24-hour access to Bangladesh's Dahagram and Angarpota enclaves through Tin Bigha corridor,’ according to Bangladesh’s Daily Star.

Indian enclaves inside Bangladesh are situated in four districts – Panchagarh, Lalmonirhat, Kurigram and Nilphamari – while all of Bangladesh’s enclaves fall in the Cooch Behar district of West Bengal in India. Some of these enclaves were created even before British rule back in 1713. In addition, there is a 1.5 kilometre un-demarcated border at Doikhata under Nilphamari district, a 2 kilometre one at Muhurir Char in Feni and 3 a kilometre boundary at Lathitila in Moulvibazar.

Several other crucial deals likely to be signed during Singh's visit include an interim water sharing agreement over the Teesta and Feni rivers, a framework agreement on transit, a deal over the import of electricity, a joint venture on a coal-fired power plant, a memorandum of understanding on trade liberalisation under the Indo-Bangladesh Trade Agreement and discussion on the preservation of tigers in the Sundarbans.

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Meanwhile, the Bangladeshi prime minister's international affairs adviser, Gowher Rizvi, and Economic Affairs Adviser Mashiur Rahman were in New Delhi recently to hold meetings with high-level Indian officials ahead of Singh’s visit. The issue of a land boundary agreement dominated the two advisers' talks.

‘Bangladesh will get a better deal over land disputes with India than what the Land Boundary Agreement of 1974 (signed by Sheikh Mujib and Indira Gandhi) bargained’, Rizvi was quoted as saying by Bangladeshi media on returning to Dhaka on August 19.