Bangladesh-India border dispute resolution uncertain

India now seeks to change demarcation principle for River Muhuri  

Shahidul Islam Chowdhury | Published: 23:35, Dec 21,2020 | Updated: 23:45, Dec 21,2020


A full settlement of the Bangladesh-India border disputes has become uncertain with India seeking a major deviation from the principle of demarcation in violation of the Land Boundary Agreement and the subsequent protocols signed by the two countries.

India has come up with a new proposal to demarcate the boundary ‘along the river bank’ of the River Muhuri in violation of the principle of fixing the riverine borders ‘along the midstream’ of the common rivers mentioned in the LBA signed in 1974, land and home ministry officials said.

The proposals for changing the principle of demarcation of the border has put the implementation of the LBA to uncertainty, officials said, adding Bangladesh has initially declined to agree with the idea as the country will lose several acres of land.     

‘Bangladesh has not agreed with the new proposal for fixing international boundary between the two countries on the river bank of the Muhuri as we cannot go beyond the protocol,’ Department of Land Records and Survey director general Md Taslimul Islam told New Age on Monday.  

‘We are still pursuing the original line complying with the LBA 1974 and the protocol signed in 2011,’ he said, adding that the department ‘is unable to go beyond the 2011 protocol unless a new protocol is inked between the two sides with concurrence from the highest political authorities.’

The LBA 1974 was signed adopting mostly the border lines demarcated in the Radcliffe Award 1947 declared for India and then undivided Pakistan, officials said.

Prime minister Sheikh Hasina was against the ‘reopening’ of the negotiations on the River Muhuri in her ‘restricted meeting’ with Indian counterpart Narendra Modi in New Delhi on October 5, 2019. Bangladesh did not get any specific response on the issue in the subsequent talks and there was no mention of it either in the joint statement on the visit made public in the afternoon of October 5, 2019.  

‘We still have 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, 2019, at her official residence Ganabhaban in the capital, hinting that the disputes regarding the middle stream of the Muhuri remained unresolved.

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

Earlier, Hasina raised the issue twice during her bilateral talks with Modi — in Dhaka in 2015 and in New Delhi in 2017.

There was also no mention of the River Muhuri border demarcation issues in the joint statement issued on the summit-level talks held virtually between the two prime ministers on December 17 this year. 

The two sides also agreed on December 17 to hold an early meeting of the Joint Boundary Conference to prepare a new set of strip maps along the stretch of the  Icchamati, Kalindi, Raimongol and the Hariabhanga rivers to finalise the boundaries as fixed.

Both the countries also agreed to carry out necessary work to convert the international boundary along the River Kuhsiyara into a fixed boundary.

The disputes over Muhurir Char came to the surface after surveyors from both sides attempted to set the midstream of the Muhuri 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 most of the outstanding issues on boundaries 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 surveyors from the two sides ‘demarcated’ the disputed Muhurir Char using wooden pillars about 200 yards away from the Belonia land port in Feni.

The issue, however, remains unresolved till date as the Indian authorities have been pushing for a fresh survey since 2016.

 In 2016, India demanded that Bangladesh should accept the midstream of the meandering border river as it existed in 2011 as 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 River Muhuri, after the 1977-78 survey, changed its course inside Bangladesh, devouring a huge area in Feni due to the 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 the construction of embankments and spurs that could change the course of the bordering rivers.

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 of Muhurir Char, agreed upon by the two countries, ‘shall be the fixed boundary’, according to the 2011 protocol.

The two governments should raise embankments on their respective sides to stabilise the river in its present course in line with the 1974 Agreement. The protocol mentions that the parties agreed to fencing on ‘zero line’ in this area.

The border guards of the two countries exchanged fire on at least eight occasions over Muhurir Char, according to government officials.

Bangladesh shares 4,156 kilometres of land boundary with India.

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

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

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