New Delhi: Rajya Sabha today unanimously passed a historic bill to operationalise the Land Boundary Agreement with Bangladesh that provides for exchange of territories to settle the 41-year border issue.

The Constitution 119th) Amendment Bill, which will allow the operationalisation of the 1974 India-Bangladesh Land Boundary agreement, was passed with full support from 181 members. The bill will be taken up by Lok Sabha tomorrow.

"This is an historic situation. We are going to implement the agreement after 41 years. I am happy that everyone supported the bill," said External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj while moving the bill for passage.

Talking about BJP's opposition to the measure during UPA's tenure, she said, "Earlier we had opposed it. We were told to include Assam, which has been done."

Contending that the Agreement will benefit both countries, she said the Union Home Ministry will be the nodal ministry for implementing it. "We are aware of the complexities involved in implementation of the agreement. The earlier we implement (the agreement), sooner we reap the benefits," she said.

The bill aims at giving effect to the acquiring of territories by India and tranfer of territories to Bangladesh through retaining of adverse possession and exchange of enclaves in pursuance of the agreement of 1974.

The territories in Assam, West Bengal, Tripura and Meghalaya come under the ambit of the bill.

Noting that the government will ensure Indians moving to Bangladesh would enjoy "dignified life", she said there would not be any "demographic change or exchange" and people from either side can avail citizenship if they wish.

Allaying fears of some members that the agreement may lead to shrinking of borders, Swaraj said, "This agreement will not shrink our borders. We will have an advantage of 500 acres. Though 10,000 acres will go to them, it is just notional and those enclaves are deep."

As far as Assam is concerned, India will be getting 470 acres of land from the neighbouring country, while 268 acres would go to Bangladesh, she added. The bill would require ratification of at least 50 per cent of the state legislatures before it comes into effect. It also provides that the central government may, by notification in the official gazette, appoint the date for acquisition and transfer of territories.

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

The India-Bangladesh Agreement was signed in 1974, but was not ratified as it involved transfer of territory which required a Constitutional Amendment. Hence, the Bill has been introduced.

The Bill refers to demarcated land boundaries in accordance with the Agreement of 1974 which underwent further modification through letters exchanged thereafter and a protocol on September 6, 2011.

Swaraj said this is a very important legislation that has come to Parliament 40 years after many hitches.

Explaining the reason for BJP's protest to the bill along with Ason Gan Parishad and Trinamool Congress in December 2013 when the UPA had brought it before the House, Swaraj she said AGP and BJP felt that Assam was neglected when the agreement was signed while Trinamool Congress also felt it was not consulted.

Banerjee had then also argued that while West Bengal will get only about 7,000 acres of land, it will have to give up nearly 17,000 acres of land to Bangladesh and that this cannot be accepted without taking into confidence and consent of the local people who live in the transferable areas.

She said when the NDA government came to power, the bill was referred to Standing Committee chaired by Shashi Tharoor of Congress, which gave its report on December 1, last year.

The bill could not be brought to Parliament in the Winter session as there was little time then, she said, adding she had then promised Tharoor that it would be brought in the second half of the Budget session, which she did.

Swaraj recalled that Bangladesh was the first foreign country she had visited after becoming External Affairs Minister and Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed had urged her to take forward the Land Boundary Agreement signed by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

After coming back from Bangladesh, she had consulted Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who asked her to resolve the pending issues and move forward on the issue.
She said that West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee came on board after her concerns were addressed.  

Swaraj said in Assam, BJP and AGP were already against the inclusion of the state's areas and there was also an echo of protest by Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi to it.

"I told the Prime Minister that we should bring a bill keeping Assam out of it for the time being. The Prime Minister also agreed. I also gave a note in the Cabinet in this regard. Then I talked to Opposition parties -- Mamata Banerjee, Leader of Opposition Ghulam  Nabi Azad, Deputy Leader of Congress Anand Sharma.

"Azad and Sharma, however told me that the bill should be exactly as per the protocol signed by the UPA government in 2011 and that Assam must be included in the agreement," the External Affairs Minister said.

In the meanwhile, Swaraj said, the Assam Chief Minister wrote to her and the Prime Minister to say that the bill could be brought including Assam.

"Then I again talked to the Prime Minister and told him about the sentiments of the House. The Prime Minister said that the sentiment of the Parliament is the sentiment of the people and asked me to withdraw the amendment that I have moved in the Cabinet," she said.

"I want to tell Azad and Sharma that the bill is same what had come before the House on December 18, 2013," she said.

In a jocular vein, she said there have been only four changes in the bill in which the name of External Affairs is now Sushma Swaraj in place of Salman Khurshid and the year of bill is 2015 in place of 2013.

Swaraj hoped that after the passage of the bill, India's relationship with Bangladesh will go back to the level of what existed in 1971 after the creation of the new nation.
"This will be such a big symbol. Everyone will get message that India wants have to good relationship with all neighbours," she said.

Naresh Agrawal (SP), in a tonge and cheek remark, told Swaraj that she is bringing up bills of UPA even as her party has got the mandate against the UPA.

Karan Singh (Congress) said that with this agreement, demarcation of the boundary with Bangladesh will happen, which is not the case with China and Pakistan.  

Assuring infrastructure development for better connectivity via northeast, Swaraj said the government will focus on improving rail, road and sea connectivity.

"We want entire northeast to be connected with mainland. ..the connectivity to Bangladesh will also help improve economic ties with the neighbouring country," she added.

As members cutting across the party lines supported the bill, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Venkaiah Naidu observed that it was a historic occasion with members unanimously voting for an international agreement.

Terming the passage of the bill as an "historic occasion", Deputy Chairman P J Kurien said that Chair would like to see many such occasions. "There could be more such occasions if the both sides work together," he said.

Earlier, Swaraj thanked all members including former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who was present in the House.

Congratulating the Minister for piloting the bill, Leader of Opposition Gulam Nabi Azad earlier said, "The bill was introduced in April 2013 but BJP had opposed then. Today I am happy that BJP is supporting the bill. "The change of positive hearts have undergone. She (Swaraj) herself admitted that bill was opposed earlier. We must have that much courage to say."

Azad added that Congress will lend support to the NDA government on key bills if it keeps passing them taking consensus from all sides.

"Sometimes we are not in support of some bills when they add spice to them like 'kichidi," he said.

Earlier participating in the debate, D Raja and Tiruchi Siva (DMK) urged the government to reopen negotiation with Sri Lanka government to retrieve the Katchatheevu island gifted to the neighbouring country way back in 1974.

P Bhattacharya (Cong) wanted to know if the government would provide compensation to those who have lost land and ensure protection of people while exhanging of land happens.

Bhibaneshwar Kalita (Cong) pitched for completion of border sensing, while H D Dua (Nom) said the implementation of the agreement will facilitate signing of Teesta Agreement.

Mani Shankar Aiyar (Cong) suggested the government to take the opportunity to restore economic ties with Bangladesh and improve infrastructure facilities in northeast.

Satish Chandra Misra (BSP), Ritabrata Banerjee (CPI-M), Baishab Parida (BJD), Sanjay Raut (SS), Bhubaneshwar Kalita (Cong), Biswajit Baimary and Ashok S Ganguly (Nom) among others who participated in the debate. 

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