Parliament passes Bangladesh land accord bill

New Delhi


 The Indian parliament on Thursday unanimously passed the bill for operationalising the Land Boundary Agreement with Bangladesh, 41 years after the accord was signed.

Moving the Constitution (One Hundred and Nineteenth Amendment) Bill, 2013, for passage, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj urged the members to pass it unanimously in the Lok Sabha as it will send a good message to Bangladesh. She said the bill had been unanimously passed by Rajya Sabha on Wednesday.

"There was no vote against it and there was no abstention (in the Rajya Sabha). It sent a message to Bangladesh that all political parties are one on the issue. I will request that it is passed with the same spirit in the Lok Sabha as it will send a good message," she said.

Replying to the debate on the issue, Sushma Swaraj said the agreement will pave the way for fencing of unfenced portions along the border with Bangladesh and help curb illegal migration.

She said India's attitude towards its smaller neighbours was of "elder brother and not big brother".

"The big brother is arrogant while elder brother is caring", she said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi was present in the house during voting on the bill.

Sushma Swaraj said it was a "historic moment" as the bill will be the 100th amendment to the Constitution.

No member voted against the bill during its various stages of voting.

The bill, which entails exchange of enclaves between the two countries, amends the First Schedule of the Constitution to give effect to an agreement entered into by India and Bangladesh on acquiring and transfer of territories between the two countries on May 16, 1974.

Sushma Swaraj said that while the Bangladesh parliament had ratified the 1974 land boundary accord between the two countries, the Indian parliament had not done so as demarcation had not been completed on the ground.

She said then prime minister Manmohan Singh signed the protocol for transfer of territories during his visit to Bangladesh in 2011.

The minister said the constitution amendment bill was presented in the Rajya Sabha by the then United Progressive Alliance government in 2013 but the Bharatiya Janata Party, Trinamool Congress and Asom Gana Parishad had opposed it at the time.

She said that while the AGP and the BJP felt that it overlooked the interests of Assam, West Bengal was keen on a package for people who would come to the state as a result of implementation of the agreement.

Sushma Swaraj said as foreign minister she chose Bangladesh as the country for her first visit abroad, and Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had urged her to move forward with the agreement.

She said Modi told her to work towards removing hurdles in the implementation of the agreement.

Sushma Swaraj said West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee wanted a package from the central government and it had been agreed upon.

The minister said she had moved the cabinet to keep Assam out of the implementation of the agreement but the Congress was willing to support the bill only if the state was included.

Sushma Swaraj said she again moved the cabinet and the bill with the inclusion of Assam was brought to parliament.

The bill to operationalise the agreement with Bangladesh includes exchange of territories in Assam, West Bengal, Tripura and Meghalaya, and was cleared by the union cabinet at a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Modi on Tuesday.

The land swap protocol envisages transfer of 111 enclaves with a total area of 17,160.63 acres to Bangladesh, while the neighbouring country is to transfer 51 enclaves with an area of 7,110.02 acres to India. A 6.1-km undefined border stretch will be demarcated with the bill being passed.

Officials said while the bill had been moved as the (One Hundred and Nineteenth Amendment) Bill, it will be notified as the "100th Amendment Act" after approval from President Pranab Mukherjee.

"Some of the amendment bills have not been carried by both houses and hence the bill will be known as 100th Amendment Act," an official told IANS. - IANS