Managing The Enclaves And Exclaves ~ h khasnobis
AN enclave is a territory of one country but surrounded by that of another. An “exclave” is a part of a territory geographically separated from the main part because of the surrounding alien territory. An exclave is legally and politically attached to the main territory. In the context of India and Bangladesh, the enclaves in India are exclaves of Bangladesh and conversely the enclaves in Bangladesh are the exclaves of India. Enclaves and exclaves are, therefore, two distinct concepts. In today&’s world, true enclaves fit both definitions because those territories of a sovereign country cannot be reached without entering another sovereign country. All enclaves in India and Bangladesh are true enclaves.
However, there are exceptions. If a territory has boundaries with more than one state, it will be an exclave but not an enclave. Wikipedia cites Kaliningrad Oblast, an exclave of Russia but not an enclave because it is surrounded by two states ~ Lithuania and Poland. A country surrounded by another but having access to the sea is also not considered an enclave because the sea is an open corridor. The principality of Monaco is not an enclave although it borders only France. It also boasts a coastline and, therefore, is not completely surrounded by another country. Records reveal that the enclaves now existing are to be found in Asia with a handful in Africa and Europe. There are no nation-level enclaves in Australia and America.
At the other end, there are enclaves completely surrounded by another country but are sovereign independent states and, therefore, not exclaves. There are three such sovereign countries in the world. San Marino, a central Italian peninsula near the Adriatic Sea is surrounded by Italy. Its area is 62 sq km with a population of 30,000. Lesotho, formerly Basutoland, is an enclave surrounded by South Africa with an area of 30,000 sq km and a population of two million. Vatican is an independent papal state within the commune of Rome. Its area is 110 acres with a population of 1200. Its sovereignty was recognized in the Lateran Treaty of 1929.
Enclaves may be created for many historical, political or geographical reasons. Changes in the course of rivers sometimes create vast tracts of fertile land resulting in its forcible occupation by the people of one country or the other that become enclaves. Persons living in enclaves virtually become stateless. Agreements have to be reached by both countries over mail address, power supply, passage rights, education, health, and birth and death registrations. Their absence amounts to denial of basic human rights. The affected countries have eliminated enclaves by redrawing their borders or through administrative measures.
The origin of enclaves, also known as chitmohols, on both sides of the India- Bangladesh border is obscure. According to Wikipedia, these little territories were the result of a confusing treaty between the kingdom of Cooch Behar and the Mughal Empire in 1713. These enclaves were also used as stakes in card or chess between the two regional kings of Cooch Behar and Rangpur. There appears to be some veracity in the statement as most of the enclaves on the two sides are located in these places. After Partition in 1947, Rangpur was joined to East Pakistan and Cooch Behar was merged with India. Some experts concluded that the enclaves were the outcome of a hurriedly-delineated border between India and East Pakistan by the Radcliffe Commission without a detailed demographic map of the entire region. The Commission relied more on the submissions of princely states and rich landlords, who used to pay taxes out of their vast landholdings to the British administration. The border delineation by the Radcliffe Commission has been described as a makeshift arrangement only for the transfer of power.
A mutual frontier, based on the wishes of the people, should have been worked out later, but this was never attempted. As a result, severe difficulties were encountered while interpreting the Radcliffe award. The border remained a political construction, far divorced from people&’s wishes. The colonial legacy continued.
The desire to de-enclave most of the enclaves was contained in a 1958 agreement for an exchange between India and Pakistan. The matter became a legal issue in India. With the agreement not ratified, the negotiations had to resume after the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971. In 1974, the India and Bangladesh governments signed a Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) for the settlement of boundary issues, including the exchange of enclaves. Bangladesh quickly ratified the agreement, but in India there was considerable political sensitivity. Talks between the two countries on the issue resumed in 2001, but remained inconclusive.
The citizenship of the people hangs in the balance. Residents of the enclaves are allowed to go to their respective countries only on production of identity card after seeking permission from the border guards. That causes much resentment.
The largest Bangladesh exclave, Dahagram-Angarpota, lies within West Bengal. It is separated from the contiguous area of Bangladesh at its closest point by less than 200 meters. It has an area of 26 sq km with a resident population of about 10,000. The Tin Bigha corridor, the 180 by 90 meter strip of Indian territory separating the Dahagram-Angarpota composite exclave from other Bangladesh territory was leased to Bangladesh in 1958 for 999 years for access to the enclave. It is available for use by the residents during specified hours of the day. India has fallen back on its commitment to build a flyover that would have enabled Bangladesh nationals round-the-clock access to the enclave. Tin Bigha has pitched demands for more corridors. Such demands cannot be met as enclaves are geographically spread over vast areas and at a distance from the international boundary. Dasiar Chhara is the largest stand-alone Indian exclave that lies 3 km inside Bangladesh and has an area of 7 sq km.
In September 2011, the governments of India and Bangladesh signed a protocol announcing their intention to swap 162 enclaves giving residents a choice of nationality. The government of India has drafted a Constitution (Amendment) Bill for implementing the LBA and the Protocol to LBA. This has not been introduced in Parliament so far. The Bill requires two-thirds majority to become an Act. Initially, the BJP central leadership gave full support to the Bill in the interest of good neighbourly relations and for settlement of enclave-related problems. Later the party hesitated as India would have to relinquish 17000 acres of land to Bangladesh in return for 7000 acres only. India stands to lose in the land boundary agreement. The question of exchange was never related to the land area. Even now, it is not. The exchange of enclaves is a mutual arrangement between two countries to ensure that citizens of one country do not get locked up in the other&’s geographical boundary but get free access in their own country. The exchange of enclaves will give the dwellers better quality of life and citizenship. This exchange is not related to any trade related transaction. It is not a shopping related issue. In the interest of successful foreign relations in South Asia, India should take the lead in resolving enclave-exclave related problems as has been done by almost all countries in the world.
It is on record that the West Bengal government is also apprehensive about the exchange and swapping of enclaves, fearing a refugee influx in the state. NGOs that are active on both sides of the enclaves have reported that not many dwellers would be willing to migrate. Their studies reveal that people generally love their roots. Nostalgia, attraction for land, respects for forefathers and familiarity with known environment tie them to their ancestry and native place. They will no longer be attracted by greener pastures. Considering that West Bengal had already passed through the trauma of partition, the Central government should consider a liberal package for the state for the settlement and rehabilitation of enclave residents.
Purely on humanitarian grounds and in the interests of 50,000 people on both sides of the border, the Constitution Amendment Bill should be processed with utmost priority. Bangladesh goes for its national election by December 2013 at the latest and India in early 2014. It is high time for all political parties sit together in a spirit of cooperation and help the government to ratify the Bill into law. Bangladesh will get an additional 10,000 acres. That is a small sacrifice considering the enormity and complexity of the problem that defies any administrative solution.
The writer is a retired officer of the Defence Ministry and a former consultant to TERI, New Delhi