26 June 1992
Tin Bigha corridor leased to Bangladesh
The Tin Bigha corridor, a strip of land in India on the border with Bangladesh was leased to Bangladesh on 26 June 1992 so that it could access the Dahagram–Angarpota Bangladeshi enclaves within Indian Territory.
- There were about 200 Indian and Bangladeshi enclaves in both countries along the border with West Bengal. Enclaves are fragments of a country completely surrounded by another country. India had 102 enclaves in Bangladesh while the latter had 71 enclaves in India.
- The people in the enclaves were totally surrounded by people of a foreign country and didn’t have access to the mainland of their mother country. To make matters even more complicated, both countries had enclaves within enclaves, also called counter-enclaves. India had 3 counter-enclaves and Bangladesh 25. And it didn’t end here. There were counter-counter enclaves. Both nations had one counter-counter enclave each.
- A lot of these enclaves were under the control of the kingdom of Cooch Behar which ruled over the area. This princely state remained independent till 1949 and only then did it merge with the Indian Union. A hasty job by the man who drew up the partition lines, Sir Cyril Radcliffe meant that these enclaves remained a problem after independence.
- In 1958, Jawaharlal Nehru and the Pakistani PM Feroze Khan Noon had an agreement with respect to the disputed region as the region was then East Pakistan.
- After the creation of Bangladesh in 1971, Indira Gandhi and Sheikh Mujibur Rehman signed a pact in 1974 to resolve the enclave problem.
- As per this agreement, Bangladesh retained Dahagram and Angarpota, its two biggest enclaves in India and India retained South Berubari.
- Both the enclaves were within each other’s territory and access to the mainland was a problem for the residents of the enclaves.
- The residents lived in a perpetual state of limbo. With limited development in the regions, access to education and medical facilities is a problem. Some people in the Indian enclaves in Bangladesh sent their children to Bangladeshi schools since they were accessible. However, these children faced the problem of employment in their own mainland since India will not recognise Bangladeshi degrees. They also faced the problem of arranging marriages.
- Another bigger problem was that of crime. A murder taking place in an Indian enclave was largely unnoticed since the authorities did not have access to the region and the Bangladeshi police did not have jurisdiction there either. This had also led to the problem of smugglers and dacoits taking haven in these enclaves, which gave rise to serious crime problems.
- The Tin Bigha corridor was to be handed over to Bangladesh in 1974 itself after the deal between Gandhi and Mujibur Rehman. While Bangladesh handed over South Berubari right away, the Tin Bigha could not be handed over to Bangladesh because it needed a constitutional amendment. This delayed the process and only in 1992 the area was leased to Bangladesh.
- When the area was opened up that year, the people of the enclave were able to move through the corridor and access their mainland for 6 hours per day. In July 1996, it was opened up for 12 hours a day. Despite this, the people were still captives in the sense that timely access to basic facilities was still a problem.
- Finally, on October 19th, 2011, the corridor was opened for 24 hours bringing relief and joy to the people of the Bangladeshi enclaves.
- However, there were protests within India. In 1992, when the corridor was opened up for the first time, there were huge protests from the people residing in the surrounding areas. Two people were also killed. The protesters held that if the strip was leased and the exchange of the Indian enclaves was not done, the perpetual lease would be a deterrent for the full exchange of the enclaves.
- In May 2015, the historic Constitution (119th Amendment) Bill was passed by Parliament which allows the exchange of enclaves by India and Bangladesh. While this meant that there would be a loss of territory for India, the boundaries would not be altered. Also, the long-standing problem of people living in a stateless situation would come to an end.
See previous ‘This Day in History’ here.