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Indian enclaves in Bangladesh demand connecting corridors

Raktima Bose


Residents lack access to facilities despite identity proofs

Calls for corridors, or merging of enclaves with ‘host'


Kolkata: Around 500 residents of several Indian enclaves on Bangladeshi soil gathered along the Indo-Bangladesh international border near Mathabhanga in West Bengal's Cooch Behar district on Wednesday, demanding corridors connecting the enclaves with the mainland.

Known as “chhitmahals”, there are officially 111 Indian enclaves in Bangladesh and 55 Bangladeshi enclaves on the Indian soil currently — the largest group of enclaves in the world.

Administrative officials admitted that in spite of holding identity proofs of the respective countries, the thousands who live in these enclaves have practically no access to the facilities offered by either country.

“The enclaves on both sides are located from between 500 metres to about 5 km away from the international border and are like islands on a foreign soil. Neither do the residents have access to the markets, schools or offices in the respective countries nor can the administration of either country visit the enclaves. Illiteracy, malnutrition and crime figures are high in these enclaves,” Samriki Mahapatra, District Magistrate of Cooch Behar district, told The Hindu.

Border Security Force (BSF) sources said that the agitators were stopped by Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) personnel while they were trying to move towards the Indian side, shouting slogans.

Ms. Mahapatra said that the residents of the enclaves on both sides have long been demanding of the respective countries' governments to either allow merging of the enclaves with the ‘host' countries or carve out ‘corridors' for the residents to access their respective countries.

“Such protests and demonstrations are not new and have been taking place from time-to-time since long as this issue has its roots in the days of the Mughal Empire as a result of a treaty between the Raja of Cooch Behar and the Mughals,” she pointed out.

Following the formation of Bangladesh in 1971 from East Pakistan, Indian and Bangladeshi governments signed an agreement in 1974 demarcating the land boundary between the countries, according to which the enclaves were to be exchanged expeditiously.

The matter also came up during the recent Director-General-level talks between the BSF and BDR at Dhaka.

Kalyan Banerjee, Superintendent of Police of Cooch Behar district, said that maintaining law and order in the enclaves was a matter of grave concern since the Indian police cannot enter the Bangladeshi enclaves and vice versa.

Referring to reports of robbery at the Panchagarh enclave within Bangladesh last week, Mr. Banerjee said that neither the BSF nor the Indian police could do anything to investigate the case.

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