India keeps Muhuri dispute hanging

Shahidul Islam Chowdhury | Published: 00:11, Oct 14,2019


India continues to keep hanging the disputes about settling the boundary along the midstream of the Muhuri River despite repeated requests from Bangladesh.

Prime minister Sheikh Hasina last raised the matter with her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi while having a ‘restricted meeting’ with him on October 5 at Hyderabad House in New Delhi during her official visit to that country.

The Bangladesh side did not get any specific response on the issue and there was no mention about it either in the joint statement on the visit made public in the afternoon on the day. 

‘We have still something to say about Muhurir Char which I have raised with the Indian prime minister,’ Sheikh Hasina said at a press conference on October 9 at her official residence Ganabhaban in the capital hinting that the disputes on settling the middle stream of the Muhuri River remained unresolved.

She, however, hoped that the matter would be resolved without any difficult. 

Hasina had also earlier raised the issue twice during her bilateral talks with Modi in Dhaka in 2015 and in New Delhi in 2017.

At the ministerial level, the issue of settling the Muhuri midstream dispute was last mentioned at the meeting of the home ministers of the two countries in August in New Delhi, with only receiving an ‘assurance’ from the Indian minister.

The disputes on Muhurir Char came up after surveyors from both sides attempted to set the midstream of the Muhuri River.

The attempt was made after a protocol was signed by the two countries on settling the entire land boundary and subsequent ratification of the instruments by the two countries in September 2011 during the Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh’s term.  

The two countries have settled all outstanding issues on boundaries excepting Muhurir Char under the 1974 Land Boundary Agreement and the 2011 protocol that came into effect with the exchange of the ratification instruments between the two sides.

The two sides demarcated the disputed Muhurir Char using wooden pillars about 200 yards away from Belonia land port in Feni.

The issue, however, could not be settled till date as the Indian authorities have been pushing for a fresh survey since 2016.

India demands that Bangladesh should accept the midstream of the meandering border river as it existed in 2011 for the resolution of the dispute while Bangladesh wants the issue to be settled according to the 1977-78 survey, done in line with the 1974 LBA.

The argument for Bangladesh’s stance is that the Muhuri River after the 1977-78 survey changed its course inside Bangladesh, devouring a huge area in Feni due to a solid embankment and spurs built on the Indian side, according to officials.

The midstream of the river constitutes the international boundary under a definition accepted by the two sides.

The border guidelines worked out by the two countries prohibit construction of such embankments and spurs that could change the course of bordering rivers.

The two sides have so far signed 1,174 strip maps of the land boundary.

Due to the fresh disputes over the two-kilometre-long boundary along the Muhuri, the strip map for it could not be signed by the two sides on July 30, 2016 last as scheduled.

The boundary on the Muhurir Char, after the two countries agree on, ‘shall be the fixed boundary. The two governments should raise embankments on their respective sides with a view to stabilising the river in its present course as stipulated in the 1974 Agreement. The Parties agree to fencing on ‘zero line’ in this area,’ according to the 2011 protocol.

The border guards of the two countries were engaged in at least eight incidents of exchanging fire over the disputes on Muhurir Char, according to the government officials. 

Border-wise, Bangladesh is India’s biggest neighbour, sharing 4,156 kilometres of land boundary.

The two countries exchanged the LBA ratification instruments in Dhaka in presence of PM Sheikh Hasina and Indian premier Narendra Modi to operationalise the 1974 LBA for exchange of 162 enclaves, transfer of adversely-possessed areas and demarcation of 6.5 kilometres of unmarked border lands.

Bangladesh officially handed over 51 enclaves to India and took over 111 ones on August 1 under the LBA.

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