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India-Bangladesh Border Fence

Many parts of the world are virtually borderless, and India has opted not to fence its 1,800-km long border with Nepal and the 4,057 km border with China –— the contentious Line of Actual Control — lies unfenced too. The borders with Bhutan and Myanmar also lie open.

In the early 1980s thousands of Bangladeshis illegally moved to neighboring Indian states in search of land and employment. By 1982 the steady influx of Bangla speakers sparked a major ethnic backlash in the Indian state of Assam, leading to the slaughter of thousands of non-Assamese. In order to placate Assamese public opinion, the governments of Indira and Rajiv Gandhi promised to stem illegal immigration, and in order to do so India constructed barbed-wire fencing along the Indo-Bangladeshi border in the area.

By 2012 India was constructing a 4,000-kilometer fence to seal the India-Bangladesh international border. The fence is intended to curb infiltration, movement of militants and enhance management on the India-Bangladesh border. The border fencing by India, to prevent smuggling of humans, cattle, drugs and arms, has been a prickly issue in bilateral relations. The fence was seen as an outrage among the Bangladeshi public, and the government of Bangladesh has made repeated protests to the Indian government over the matter.

The Indian side of the Indo-Bangladesh border passes through West Bengal (2216.7 Km), Assam (263 Km), Meghalaya (443 Km), Tripura (856 Km) and Mizoram (318 Km). The entire stretch consists of plain, riverine, hilly/jungle and with hardly any natural obstacles. The area is heavily populated, and the cultivation is carried out till the last inch of the border.

The Indo-Bangladesh border is marked by a high degree of porosity and checking illegal cross border activities has been a challenging proposition. The main problem is of illegal migration from Bangladesh into India. In order to prevent illegal immigration and other anti-national activities from across the border, the Government of India had sanctioned the construction of border roads and fencing in two phases.

In the mid- and late 1980s, India's plan to erect a fence to prevent cross-border migration from Bangladesh and Bangladesh's desire that Chakma insurgents not receive Indian covert assistance and refuge in India were major irritants in bilateral relations. As agreed eighteen years earlier, in June 1992 India granted a perpetual lease to Bangladesh for the narrow, 1.5-hectare Tin Bigha corridor in the Ganga's delta that had long separated an enclave of Bangladeshis from their homeland. The two countries signed new agreements to enhance economic cooperation. Bangladesh also received Indian developmental assistance, but that aid was minor compared with the amounts India granted to Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and Maldives.

The total length of Indo-Bangladesh border to be fenced is 3286.87 Km out of which 2535.80 Km of fencing had been completed by 2008, at which time the work of construction of fencing in approximately 751 Km was under implementation. Out of this, work of construction of fencing in 296 Km in Mizoram sector, where the work started only in 2005, would be completed during the year 2007-08. Fencing had not been undertaken in remaining length on account of non-feasibility, riverine/low lying areas, population within 150 yards of the border, pending land acquisition cases. An additional length of 120 Km in Tripura, which was not originally sanctioned to be part of Phase-II, was also taken up during the year 2007-08. In addition, 3250.60 Km of border roads had also been constructed out of sanctioned length of 3663 Km as on 31st December, 2007.

Over 277 Km of floodlighting had been completed in West Bengal as a pilot project. Government decided to undertake floodlighting in 2840 Km along the entire length of Indo-Bangladesh border, in the stretches where the fencing had been erected, at an estimate cost of Rs.1327.00 crore. The floodlighting workso commenced during the year 2007-08 and would be completed by the year 2011-12. The Government of India decided to replace the entire 861 Km of fence constructed under Phase-I in West Bengal, Assam and Meghalaya, as most of this fence has been damaged due to adverse climatic conditions, repeated submergence etc. The replacement work has already commenced in the States of Assam and West Bengal. Some 193.70 Km of fencing had been replaced by 2008.

With a towering razor-wire fence and heavily armed Indian Border Security Forces (BSF) guards who kill around 200 people every year, the fence along the India-Bangladesh border is ominous and sometimes dangerous. The fence, which snakes through paddy fields about 150 yards inside India’s notoriously porous border with Bangladesh, has torn apart the lives of tens of thousands of people, cutting them off from family, friends, jobs and schools.

Bangladeshi official say the Indian plan to build more fencing will not stop illegal cattle trading. Major Mahmudul Hasan of the Bangladesh Rifles said "Most of the killings are related to illegal cattle trading. If it was legal to trade cattle the killings will stop." He said the fencing would not reduce the deaths because cattle traders simply cut through it. In majority Hindu India, cows are considered sacred and beef is not eaten but in Muslim Bangladesh, beef is a staple and the price is much higher.

Work under phase-I of the Indo-Bangla fencing project started in 1989 and fencing was done in 854 km against the approved target of 857 km. The phase-II involved 2429 km of the total 4,096 km long border. By early 2007 the fence spanned about half of the 4,100-km India-Bangladesh border. Since construction of the barrier began in 2003, tens of thousands of people in at least 200 villages were in geographical limbo - living in India, but on the wrong side of the border fence and thus with easier access to Bangladesh. They live inside a corridor the width of an airport runway, between the Bangladeshi border and the new fence.

Phase-III was in Assam's Dhubri district. Around 364 km of the fencing that was constructed as part of phase-I of the project was replaced so far as the old fencing had become outdated and damaged at several portions. About 861 km of fencing constructed under Phase-I was replaced by March 31, 2010. By late 2010 India had fenced 3,300km of the border beyond the 150 yard zone within its own territory in line with the boundary agreement. India decided to floodlight the entire border fence.

Bangladesh shares a 4,098 km border with India. The people of north-east India are closer to Bangladesh than to those in the Indian mainland-irrespective of their geography, history, culture and language. The economic isolation of over 200 million people encourages illicit trade, fuels terrorism and increases tensions along the border. Yet they could have been natural trading partners, exploiting the comparative advantages of their respective regions.

Tripura, a knobble of land protruding south into Bangladesh, is home to native tribals and Bengalis. Attacks on Bengalis in northern Tripura have caused displacement - there are thought now to be 50,000 to 100,000 IDPs. Another major cause of displacement was the building by India of a fence along the border with Bangladesh, during which tens of thousands of people were evicted from their homes.

The Chhit-Mahals or enclaves are outlying and detached tracks of land situated inside Rangpur district of Bangladesh. Similarly, there are Bangladeshi Chhit-Mahals located inside Cooch Behar district. There are 111 Indian Chhit-Mahals located in Bangladesh having 17158.13 acres of land with an approximate population of 1,50,000 where as there are 51 Bangladeshi Chhit-Mahals located inside the Indian Territory having 7110.02 acres of land. The given details of enclaves were jointly compared and reconciled with records held by India and Bangladesh during the Indo-Bangladesh Boundary Conference held at Kolkata from 9th to 12th October, 1996 as well as during filed inspection at Jalpaiguri (West Bengal) - Pachagarh (Bangladesh Sector) from 21st to 24th November, 1996.

There is no other intriguing fact about these Chhit-Mahals but at certain places there are enclaves within enclaves. In certain cases the parent enclave belongs to Cooch Behar district (India) and the enclaves located inside belongs to Bangladesh. A land border agreement was signed by India and Bangladesh on 16th May, 1974 which provides, among other things, for exchange of enclaves between the two countries at a future date. However, the said agreement is yet to be ratified by the two Governments before it comes into operation. It is very difficult to segregate the Chhit dwellers as there are no clearly demarcated boundaries. Although there is no concrete historical evidence behind the origin of these Chhits, it is believed that the kings of both sides ceded these pieces of land to each other during games of Chess.

Since these Chhit-Mahals are located in India as well as Bangladesh, the access to these places is being controlled by the respective country, although the sovereignty over the territory lies with the respective country. Due to the problem of their geographical location, people in these areas are unable to enjoy their basic, political, economic, social and cultural rights as being enjoyed by the other ordinary citizens of the respective countries. The in-accessibility to these areas as well as the free movement to the respective main land have made their life absolutely miserable. The people residing in these Chhit-Mahals are unable to have basic human rights being enjoyed by the people in their respective countries. They do not have access to health or basic education facilities, electricity, clean drinking water and decent livelihood. The economic condition of these people is very bad and they are living in abject poverty. It has been estimated that average income of the Chhit dwellers is less than Rs.17 per day.

The people residing in these areas are unable to exercise their basic political rights. The Indian citizens who live in the Bangladeshi Chhits have never been included in the census and have almost no proof of their being Indian citizens. The same is the condition of the Bangladeshi Chhits. To sum up it can be said that the people residing in these areas are deprived of their basic human rights because of no faults of them, as well as because of the fact that there is no administrative machinery to look after their interest. The people of these Chhit-Mahals are dependent on the nearby markets, yet they are illegal aliens when they try to approach them. They can access any facility only through surreptitious means, always with a fear of getting caught. There is a state of lawlessness and in certain cases these Chhit-Mahals have reportedly become the dens of criminals and anti-social elements.

Since there is no free access to the administration of the respective countries in these Chhit-Mahals, the last solution would lie in the immediate reciprocal exchange of Indian and Bangladesh enclaves to solve the problems of the people residing in these areas. An organisation styled "Association For Citizens Rights for Indian Chhit-Mahals and Oustees" was formed sometimes ago and became active in highlighting the problems of the residents of Indian enclaves and demanding immediate reciprocal exchange of the Chhit-Mahals between India and Bangladesh. Except for Dahagram-Angarpota Chhit-Mahals to which Bangladesh has access through the Tinbigha corridor, none of the Chhits have access to their motherland.

By early 2009 India began seeking to erect such fences within 150 yards of the zero line at 46 places. At that time only 91 km border had been fenced and work was in progress on 129 km of the 577-km Bangladesh border in Assam and Meghalaya, a portion seen as the most infiltration prone. There were 11 battalions deployed along the international border in Assam and Meghalaya.

On August 4, 2009, the Minister of State in the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, Mullappally Ramachandran, provided data on the fencing work along the India-Bangladesh border in a written reply to a question in the Lok Sabha (Lower House of Parliament). Government has sanctioned fencing over 3436 km. along Indo-Bangladesh border in phased projects. Up to March 2009, a total of 2650 km. of fencing has been erected. The single row type of fencing erected under Phase - I project is being replaced by the composite multiple row type concertina fencing with the improved design and higher specifications. About 861 km of fencing has been sanctioned for replacement, out of which 367 km has already been replaced up to March 2009. The quality of construction is ensured by the mechanism of Third Party Inspection. There are many non-feasible and problematic stretches like riverine, low-lying and water-logged areas, hilly terrains, villages and population till International border (zero-line) and 150 yards problem with Bangladesh. These issues have to be resolved before fencing. There are institutional mechanisms to address these problems. Technical options are also being explored to cover the riverine and other difficult areas. All out efforts are being made to complete the sanctioned fencing works.

Dhaka agreed in principle to allow border fencing within 150 yards from the zero line between India and Bangladesh, provided it is necessitated by “humanitarian concerns and geographical realities”. The in-principle agreement was reached during the home secretary-level talks held in December 2009 to allow fencing closer to the zero line on certain patches. “Given that there are patches on the border where population extends right up to the zero line, the last home secretary-level talks had decided that fencing can come closer to the border on human considerations and due to geographical realities. This has already been approved at the home ministry level,” BSF director-general Raman Srivastava said.

According to Bangladesh’s border guard chief, Maj Gen Rafiqul Islam: “As we have agreed to the Indian proposal, India is also reciprocating by allowing Bangladesh to construct a bridge in Laxmipur, expansion of a wall in Hili, construction of approach roads in Moulvibazar and Bhomra, and several other initiatives. ... Our mutual agreement has created a very positive environment. Both countries are now willing to resolve long standing minor issues.”

Joint Communiqué issued on the occasion of the visit to India of Her Excellency Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh on January 12, 2010 stated "Welcoming the Home Secretary level talks held in New Delhi in December 2009, the two Prime Ministers directed their respective Ministries and agencies to cooperate closely and implement all decisions taken during the talks. While recognizing the need to check cross border crimes, both Prime Ministers agreed that the respective border guarding forces exercise restraint and underscored the importance of regular meetings between the border guarding forces to curtail illegal cross border activities and prevent loss of lives. "

By mid-2010 Bangladesh and India had begun setting up fences within 150 yards of the zero line along the international border. The exercise marked a deviation from the Indo-Bangladesh Boundary Agreement 1974 that restricted any construction within 150 yards of the zero line. In addressing the needs of both countries, the move was seen by some as marking a “thawing of thorny border ties”. Bangladesh allowed India to erect fences at a dozen new places and India allowed Bangladesh to construct structures within 150 yards of the zero line at 11 points.

On 25 August 2010, Minister of State in the Ministry of Home Affairs, Shri Mullappally Ramachandran in written reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha provided data on money allotted for Border Roads. The Ministry of Home Affairs has undertaken the construction of border roads along border fencing in the States of West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram on Indo­Bangladesh border and in the State of Gujarat on Indo-Pakistan border. Construction of 27 roads for providing connectivity to Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) Border out Posts has been undertaken in the States of Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh along Indo-China border. Financial allocations for these schemes are made on the basis of physical progress and fund requirements of the construction agencies. Against the total sanctioned length of 4426 Km of border roads along Bangladesh border, construction of 3361 of roads has been completed leaving construction of balance 1065 Km of roads. By late 2010, construction of about 250 Km roads was under progress.

On 30 November 2011 Shri Mullappally Ramachandran, Minister of State of Home Affairs, reported that Govt. had sanctioned 230.03 km border fence in Assam out of which 221.56 km had been completed. Assam has 263 km of international border with Bangladesh out of which 143.9 km is land border and 119.1 km of reverine border. As per mutual understanding, no construction of fencing is generally undertaken within 150 yards of Indo-Bangladesh Border. Moreover, border fencing has been erected after due consideration of terrain constraints in the area i.e. availability of the land, presence of nullah/river, villages, etc. and concerns of local population. Further, gates are also provided through the fencing to facilitate access of villager to their lands beyond fencing. Besides, Border Guarding Force also maintains strict surveillance and vigil to ensure that no encroachment takes place.

In March 2012 Meghalaya Chief Minister Mukul Sangma Thursday regretted that the international border in India's northeastern states was not manned as efficiently as in the western states. 'The northeastern border has not been as stringently manned unlike the western sector, so we have requested the home ministry to ask the BSF (Border Security Force) to intensify their patrol on the border,' Sangma told reporters after a review meeting with Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Mullappally Ramachandran. 'We are trying to fence the international border to the best of our abilities,' Ramachandran said.

On 12 March 2013 Shri Mullappally Ramachandran, Minister of State of Home Affairs, reported that, in order to control the illegal infiltration, Government had taken steps for strengthening of the Border Security Force and equipping them with modern equipments, reduction of gaps between the border posts and intensified patrolling along Indo-Bangladesh border. The border fence along the Bangladesh border was being strengthened and a scheme for flood lighting along the border is being implemented. The issue of illegal migrants from Bangladesh is regularly taken up at various fora and steps hade been taken for coordinated patrolling, identification of vulnerable gaps, strengthening of riverine patrolling etc. Government of Bangladesh has also been urged to take effective steps to check the illegal movement of their nationals into India, especially through vulnerable and riverine areas. The strengthening of security and erection of fencing along Indo-Bangladesh border helped in curbing illegal migration from Bangladesh to India effectively.




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