5 years after land border agreement, former enclave dwellers in dire straits

Five years ago on July 31, 2015, the historic land boundary agreement (LBA) between India and Bangladesh paved the way for the resolution of the seven-decades-long problem of enclaves between the two countries. About 14,854 residents living in 51 Bangladesh enclaves deep in the territory of India became Indian nationals, and another 922 persons came from Indian enclaves in Bangladesh to Coochbehar district five years ago.

Five years after the agreement, a section of erstwhile enclave dwellers feel that they have received far less support from the State than what they were promised. Last week, the residents of these areas held protests alleging lack of proper documents, rehabilitation and gaps in the promises made and what was delivered.

“We have got voter identification cards and Aadhar cards but these are not enough to prove citizenship. Most of the people in the enclaves are dependent on land. Even after five year we are yet to get land documents. We can neither sell or land or get any loan,” Noor Nobi, a resident of Batrigach Fragment, an erstwhile enclave, told The Hindu.

Atwar Mian, another resident from the area, who participated in the protests last Friday, said the people believed that there would be some compensation to the residents, but that has not happened.

Besides Batrigach, protests were held in several other regions like Paschim Bakalirchara and Purba Mashaldanga, and at the enclave settlement camp in Dinhata, where some residents hoisted “ black flags” . “Electricity and primary schools have been set up, but most of the welfare schemes of the government are yet to reach the people. The youths of these areas are yet to find any employment in the new schools and anganwadi centres set up by the State,” said Joynal Abedin, one of the prominent faces of the enclave settlement movement and a resident of Madhya Masaldanga.

For residents of the 51 enclaves, the key issues are non-availability of land documents and no rehabilitation package or jobs. But for the other section of 922 people that came to India and were given shelter in the settlement camps, the problems are much more serious.

The 922 people were sheltered in three settlement camps at Dinhata, Haldibari and Mekliganj. Joyprakash Ray, a resident of Haldibari enclave settlement, said such groups of people have no land and have been asked to leave these camps and move into apartments provided by the State government.

“There are 103 families in Haldibari enclave camp with about 500 persons. We have been asked to move to apartments provided by the State government, leaving our cattle behind,” Mr. Ray said. He claimed that since the government did not provide training to youths, most families survive by doing odd jobs or driving e-rickshaws.

Kirity Roy of Masum, a civil rights organization that has been highlighting the issue of these erstwhile enclaves, said these are the newest citizens who got rights after seven decades of a stateless existence. “These people are still far from getting complete citizenship. There is also fear as to what will happen if the National Register of Citizenship ( NRC) is implemented in the State. The people who fought decades for a citizenship feel cheated ,” said Mr. Roy.

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