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Assam Government Faces Heat Over Land Deal With Dhaka

POSTED ON 23 SEPTENBER 2011

ARUNAV GOSWAMI
SENIOR FELLOW, CENTRE FOR DEVELOPMENT AND PEACE STUDIES









Assam is in turmoil after India and Bangladesh signed a land swap agreement in Dhaka on September 6, 2011 during the visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Bangladesh. According to the agreement, India and Bangladesh would exchange lands that were in adverse possession of each other. These areas in adverse possession are spread across the states of West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura. The Chief Ministers of these states, barring West Bengal, also accompanied the Prime Minister during the trip. In the Assam sector, in Boroibari area, the boundary shall be drawn from existing Boundary Pillar No 1066/24-T to Boundary Pillar No 1067/16-T and in Pallathal area, the boundary shall be drawn from existing Boundary Pillar No. 1370/3-S to 1371/6-S to follow the outer edge of the tea garden and from Boundary Pillar No. 1372 to 1373/2-S along outer edge of the pan plantation.

This land swap agreement, however, led to angry protests in Assam, with students bodies, opposition parties and a few other organizations denouncing the agreement. The All Assam Students' Union (AASU) burnt the effigies of the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister in public places in different parts of the state and threatened to intensify the movement if the agreement is not scrapped. The Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), an opposition party in the state, also burnt the effigies of the Prime Minister and Chief Minister and decided to build up a mass movement against the land border agreement. The state unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said that September 6, 2011 was a black day in the history of Assam as a major portion of Assam's land was given away to Bangladesh. The AGP and BJP MPs protested the land swap deal in the Parliament too. Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), a non-political organization in the state, denounced the deal and decided to launch an agitation against it. The hardline faction of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), led by Paresh Barua, also opposed the agreement.

Assam Chief Minister, Tarun Gogoi, defended the land swap agreement and claimed that the deal with Dhaka has lead to a win-win situation for both Assam and Bangladesh. The Chief Minister, at a press conference on September 9, informed that under the land swap agreement, Assam got 1240 acres of land compared to Bangladesh’s share of 357.5 acres. Bangladesh was given two areas in Assam which were under adverse possession, namely Lathitila-Dumabari in Karimganj district and Boroibari in Dhubri district. The Chief Minister said that in Lathitila-Dumabari, the land belonged to India but people had left their land in 1965 and they didn’t want to go back. India got 714 acres, while 90 acres was given away to Bangladesh. The Chief Minister further argued that Boroibari in Dhubri district was never part of India, as the land was in possession of Bangladesh though on map it was India’s territory. The 193 acres was settled with Bangladesh but Assam government refused to concede to the demand for handing over 455 acres of Pallathal Tea Estate. Dhaka wanted the entire garden but was given only 74.5 acres.

On September 14, Assam government spokesman and Health Minister, Himanta Biswa Sarma said that the pact had settled the vexed border row with Bangladesh once and for all. The minister also revealed that an all-party delegation including media persons would soon visit the border areas so that everybody could have a correct assessment of the changes made with regard to the demarcation following the land-swap deal. Sarma further said that the state Assembly in its next session would devote a day to discuss the land pact with Bangladesh and its aftermath.

The clarification from the side of the state government, however, has not been able to stop the barrage of protests in the state. The AGP, AASU and other organizations are continuing with their agitation against the deal. Road blockades, rallies and dharnas are being organized to mark protest over the giving up of Assam’s land to Bangladesh. The protestors are saying that they would continue their agitation till the deal is revoked. The AGP has demanded a statement from Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi as to whether he had received authorization from any segment of the state's society like the State Assembly, the common people, the intellectuals or the political and non-political organisations that authorized him to approve the land exchange deal. As the Assam Assembly was in session during August, the Chief Minister had the chance to discuss the deal in advance on the floor of the house. But that was not done.

The growing protests in the state have led the Assam Governor, J.B.Patnaik to convene a special session of the Assam Assembly to discuss the issue. The special session would be held on October 17. Ahead of that, the ruling alliance of the Congress and the Bodoland People’s front (BPF) has decided to hold a rally in Guwahati on September 24 to mobilise public opinion on the issue of the land swap deal.

The land swap deal has not been ratified in the Parliament yet. It has to be ratified by the Parliaments of both India and Bangladesh. The protestors in Assam are demanding the deal to be revoked. Every other day, one or the other organization in the state is organizing some type of a protest activity against it. The government, both at the centre and the state, has yet not been able to convince the protestors. It would be interesting to see what the government would do to pacify them. Whether it would go along with the agreement or would agree for bringing in amendments in the deal is left to be seen. As the protesting organizations don’t want even a single acre of land of Assam to be given to Bangladesh, an easy solution does not seem to be in sight for the government.

(Click here to see the text of the PROTOCOL TO THE AGREEMENT BETWEEN THE GOVERNMENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF INDIA AND THE GOVERNMENT OF THE PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF BANGLADESH CONCERNING THE DEMARCATION OF THE LAND BOUNDARY BETWEEN INDIA AND BANGLADESH AND RELATED MATTERS)