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Bangladesh; India: Decades-Long Border Dispute Resolved Through Implementation of Land Swap Agreement

(Aug. 11, 2015) Bangladesh and India have resolved a decades-old border issue through a land swap agreement that started with a physical exchange of enclaves on July 31, 2015, to continue in phases between that date and June 30, 2016. (Bangladesh, India in Historic Land Swap After Nearly 4 Decades, HINDUSTAN TIMES, (July 31, 2015); Implementation of India-Bangladesh Land Boundary Agreement to Start Tomorrow, NDTV (July 30, 2015), http://www.ndtv.com/india-news/implementation-of-india-bangladesh-land-boundary-agreement-to-start-tomorrow-1202215.)

Background

After the partition of India in 1947, the issue of the boundary demarcation between India and Pakistan went to the Supreme Court of India for resolution. The Court ruled that a constitutional amendment was required to transfer the land. (Manish, Land Boundary Agreements and the Constitution – I: The Bangladesh Land Swap, INDIAN CONSTITUTIONAL LAW AND PHILOSOPHY (May 15, 2015, 4:37 p.m.).) The ninth amendment to the Indian Constitution, on the border demarcation of the territory of Pakistan, was based on the 1959 advisory opinion of the Supreme Court of India. (The Constitution (Ninth Amendment) Act, 1960 (Jan. 11, 1960), INDIA CODE.)

After Bangladesh gained independence from Pakistan in 1971, India and Bangladesh engaged in resolving the land demarcation issue between the two countries. On March 19, 1972, in Dhaka, the Prime Ministers of Bangladesh and India, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Indira Gandhi, respectively, signed on behalf of their respective governments a Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Peace for a term of 25 years, renewable by mutual agreement. This pact was the first step towards resolving the border dispute. In 1974, the Prime Ministers of the two nations signed the Land Boundary Agreement. (INDIA & BANGLADESH LAND BOUNDARY AGREEMENT, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India website (May 16, 1974).)

Implementation of Land Boundary Agreement

Implementation of the 1974 agreement was adversely affected by the 1975 assassination of the Bangladeshi President, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. After numerous meetings between the leaders of India and Bangladesh, finally, after four decades, on June 6, 2015, India and Bangladesh decided to implement the 1974 Land Boundary Agreement. (Bangladesh, India in Historic Land Swap After Nearly 4 Decades, supra.)

India amended its Constitution on May 25, 2015, to facilitate implementation of the agreement. The act on the 100th Amendment to the Indian Constitution states that it is “[a]n Act further to amend the Constitution of India to give effect to the acquiring of territories by India and transfer of certain territories to Bangladesh in pursuance of the agreement and its protocol entered into between the Governments of India and Bangladesh.” (The Constitution (One Hundredth Amendment) Act, 2015, THE GAZETTE OF INDIA, EXTRAORDINARY, No. 27 (May 29, 2015), http://www.indiacode.nic.in/acts-in-pdf/2015/CONST100.pdf.)

Under the agreement, each country will assume sovereignty over all enclaves in its territory. Residents can choose to live in India or Bangladesh and will be granted citizenship accordingly. India will hand over 51 enclaves, comprising 7,110 acres, to Bangladesh and will receive 111 enclaves totaling 17,160 acres from Bangladesh. The total number of people affected by this agreement is about 51, 000. (Bangladesh, India in Historic Land Swap After Nearly 4 Decades, supra.)