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India, Bangladesh deal will bring prosperity: Sangma

 Shillong, Sep 9 (IANS): Meghalaya has lost 41 acres of land as India and Bangladesh have demarcated their boundaries but the overall agreement will only bring "goodwill and prosperity" to both countries, said Meghalaya Chief Minister Mukul Sangma on Friday.

Sangma was part of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's entourage to Bangladesh Sep 6-7. The two countries signed a framework agreement on cooperation for development and a protocol on demarcating their land boundary. "We would be gaining around 240 acres of land under adverse possession of Bangladesh, but would be losing around 41 acres of our land to Bangladesh," Sangma told IANS.

The new India and Bangladesh land accord will safeguard the interests of Meghalaya, said Sangma. "Instead of irritant and disputed border, we now expect to have a border which will enable us to have goodwill and prosperity and border of conflict should be converted into border of mutual trust," the chief minister said.

About 55 such enclaves in all were under adverse possession by India despite Bangladesh claiming them. Likewise, 111 territories were under adverse possession by Bangladesh, although India claimed it was their territory.

The land agreement between the two countries, however, decided that the dispute be resolved - those disputed enclaves under possession by India would be handed over to Bangladesh and vice versa. These adverse possession areas were created when the erstwhile East Pakistan and India demarcated the international boundary in the mid-1960s. There are 11 such areas in Meghalaya.

While Bangladesh cites documents of 1937, the Indian side relies on land records of 1914 to support its claims. The exact area of the entire enclaves cannot be immediately estimated.

The border issue has been an "irritant", Sangma said adding, the northeastern states despite being surrounded by international borders have "no meaningful trade and commerce". "Therefore, it has become very important to ensure that there is a conducive atmosphere created along the border and relations are built up for furthering our engagement of trade and commerce," Sangma told IANS.

Sangma who held several meetings with various top Bangladeshi leaders including Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, wanted tourism between India and its neighbours to improve.

"Look at Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand which lure lakhs of international tourists each year earning billions from this upcoming industry. India, Bangladesh and Bhutan together could become one of the world's biggest tourist circuit if these countries coordinated properly," he said. "The northeastern part of India is a 'virgin area' with a lot of resources. We can explore the opportunities together for future generation," the chief minister added.

However, the border villagers from Pyrdiwah and Lyngkhat areas which are adversely held in Meghalaya's East Khasi Hills have expressed unhappiness with the swapping of land.

According to a recent joint border survey, out of the current 220 acres, Pyrdiwah will be allowed to hold only 193 acres.

"We are waiting for the minutes of the actual agreement to know whether India really agreed to the proposal of the joint border survey," said Peter Rynjah, secretary of the Federation of Ri War Mihngi Local Dorbars, a body representative of 132 villages in the border areas.

Of the 4,098 km long border shared between India and Bangladesh, Meghalaya shares a 443 km border with Bangladesh, part of which is porous, hilly, unfenced and is prone to frequent infiltration.

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