For the 14,215 residents of the 37 Bangladeshi enclaves in India, August 1, 2015 is a very significant day — on this day, they become Indian citizens.
Ending decades of wait, India and Bangladesh are set to start implementing their landmark Land Boundary Agreement from Saturday.
Most dwelling units in Cooch Behar’s Mashaldanga area are getting fresh paint for the ceremony to be held on Saturday to mark the historical moment. The spirits of the people are also at an all time high.
Abdur Rahman, an enclave resident, said: “At midnight, when the entire country will be sleeping, we would be too excited to do the same, as we will feel the true sense of freedom — 68 years after India became independent.”
Claiming that two generations were lost to this official limbo, he added: “It is very difficult to explain how it feels when one can walk outside the enclave without the fear of being apprehended by the BSF.”
For youths like Afarul Haque, who had to be smuggled out of Bengal so he can take up a job in Rajasthan — August 1 means the beginning of a new life. “I had to use fake documents to get admission in school, where I learnt about the fundamental rights that an Indian citizen enjoys. This included right to employment. Now, I will be able to exercise this right and not feel insecure while taking up a job,” he said.
The Assembly elections in the state next year has come as a boon for these enclave dwellers. “They will become de facto Indian citizens from August 1. Next, there will be a notification from the Centre. They have already received a proposal to include their names in gram panchayats. The delimitation commission will issue a notification to confirm this,” said a senior administrative official.
“Following this, the Election Commission will decide whether to go for an intensive revision or a normal survey to add their names in the voters’ list. Around 7,000 voters matter in any Assembly election,” he added.
Cooch Behar Sub-Divisional Officer Krishnava Ghosh said, “The administration will work as quickly as possible to provide all facilities to them.”
District Magistrate P Ulganathan, too, said the procedure of giving these enclave dwellers has begun. “They will now get addresses. Then, land will be detected in their holdings. Following this, Aadhaar card will be issued to them,” he added.
Cooch Behar Trinamool Congress president and MLA Rabindranath Ghosh said the entire process will be completed in six months.
“Work is afoot to give these people voting rights before the state polls next year. After inclusion of their names in the voters’ list and Aadhaar, their children would be admitted to schools. They would be given civic facilities like electricity and potable water,” he added.
While actual exchange of residents was supposed to begin on July 31, this has been postponed to November following complaints that some members of Indian enclaves in Bangladesh have threatened not to come to India. Now, a recce period has been introduced — from August 1 to October 31 — when members of the Indian enclaves will cross the border and take a look at the area where they would be relocated. Following this, between November 1 and 30, the physical exchange of enclave dwellers would take place.
Between July 31, 2015 and June 30, 2016, the entire process — including physical exchange of enclaves and land parcels in adverse possession along with boundary demarcation — is expected to be completed.