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Rajya Sabha ratifies Land Boundary Agreement

By KALYAN BAROOAH

NEW DELHI, May 6 � The Rajya Sabha today unanimously ratified the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) � now christened the Constitution 100th Amendment Bill � with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj ruling out any possibility of re-negotiating the deal with Dhaka.

In what was repeatedly described as a �historic day�, the ruling combine and the Opposition got together and ratified the Bill in about three hours� time, even as the government admitted that the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and Assam unit of BJP had serious reservations about the pact.

At the end of the debate, the Bill was passed by 180 votes in favour and none against it. At least 21 MPs participated in the debate. The Bill is now likely to be introduced in the Lok Sabha later this week for passage.

Bangladesh is a friendly country and with the ratification of the LBA, relations with it will reach the level of 1971. The border dispute would be settled. It will send a big signal to the world that India wants cordial relations with its neighbours.

Piloting the Bill this afternoon, the External Affairs Minister conceded that because of opposition from Assam and indications by the State Chief Minister that they were not happy with the LBA, there was a re-think on its part.

The thinking in the government was that the Bill could be passed minus Assam and India could later re-negotiate with Bangladesh. A Cabinet note was cleared to de-link Assam, she said.

But she added that when she held consultations with Opposition leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma and chairman of the Standing Committee Shashi Tharoor, they conveyed to her that the protocol that was signed originally be brought by including Assam.

Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi also wrote a letter to the Prime Minister and the External Affairs Minister calling for inclusion of Assam. The Opposition parties wanted the government to drop the amended Bill and bring the original LBA, she said.

But later replying to Bhubaneswar Kalita, one of the two MPs from Assam who spoke on the Bill, the External Affairs Minister clarified that the Bill passed by the Rajya Sabha now cannot be re-negotiated with Bangladesh. �There will be no re-negotiations,� she stressed.

Kalita, while participating in the debate, commented that some people in Assam were unhappy about the land swap deal. He wondered whether it could be re-negotiated.

Swaraj, who gave a detailed background of the land boundary problem with Bangladesh, said though the Trinamool Congress, BJP and AGP had protested against the pact in 2011, Trinamool chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee came on board after the Centre agreed to pay over Rs 3,089 crore needed for resettlement and rehabilitation of the people who would come to India. Of the total amount, Rs 2,234 crore as the variable component, would be spent in Cooch Behar alone for building infrastructure.

But the External Affairs Minister said that the estimates of people who are likely to shift to India because of the exchange of enclaves and areas under adverse possession, vary from 3,500 to 35,000. �The government is not sure how many people would finally come,� she said.

Although Swaraj did not go into the details of how much land Assam would lose or gain, she divulged that 510 acres of land would come to India in Meghalaya and Tripura, while 10,000 acres would go to Bangladesh.

She further said that the focus of the government was to improve connectivity with North-east via Bangladesh through road, rail and sea.

Earlier, participating in the discussion, Mani Shanker Aiyar said India should seize the opportunity and press Bangladesh to facilitate trade transit facility to improve connectivity with the North-east. The ministry should undertake an exercise to improve transit facility between North-east and mainland India, he said, underscoring the need to avail of the opportunity.

Taking part in the discussion, Biswajeet Daimary said the Bill raised concerns in Assam, which had been witnessing agitations over the issue. The government had not responded to the sentiments of the people of Assam. He mentioned the problems faced by the people of the State, like illegal infiltration of people from Bangladesh.

�We hope that the border is demarcated and the problem of illegal infiltration would be resolved,� Daimary, who supported the Bill, said.

The debate, which saw one MP break into a Bengali song, was smooth and Opposition leader Ghulam Nabi Azad congratulated the government over the cordial atmosphere. Former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, who was instrumental in signing of the LBA in 2011, was also present in the House.

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Rajya Sabha ratifies Land Boundary Agreement

NEW DELHI, May 6 � The Rajya Sabha today unanimously ratified the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) � now christened the Constitution 100th Amendment Bill � with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj ruling out any possibility of re-negotiating the deal with Dhaka.

In what was repeatedly described as a �historic day�, the ruling combine and the Opposition got together and ratified the Bill in about three hours� time, even as the government admitted that the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and Assam unit of BJP had serious reservations about the pact.

At the end of the debate, the Bill was passed by 180 votes in favour and none against it. At least 21 MPs participated in the debate. The Bill is now likely to be introduced in the Lok Sabha later this week for passage.

Bangladesh is a friendly country and with the ratification of the LBA, relations with it will reach the level of 1971. The border dispute would be settled. It will send a big signal to the world that India wants cordial relations with its neighbours.

Piloting the Bill this afternoon, the External Affairs Minister conceded that because of opposition from Assam and indications by the State Chief Minister that they were not happy with the LBA, there was a re-think on its part.

The thinking in the government was that the Bill could be passed minus Assam and India could later re-negotiate with Bangladesh. A Cabinet note was cleared to de-link Assam, she said.

But she added that when she held consultations with Opposition leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma and chairman of the Standing Committee Shashi Tharoor, they conveyed to her that the protocol that was signed originally be brought by including Assam.

Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi also wrote a letter to the Prime Minister and the External Affairs Minister calling for inclusion of Assam. The Opposition parties wanted the government to drop the amended Bill and bring the original LBA, she said.

But later replying to Bhubaneswar Kalita, one of the two MPs from Assam who spoke on the Bill, the External Affairs Minister clarified that the Bill passed by the Rajya Sabha now cannot be re-negotiated with Bangladesh. �There will be no re-negotiations,� she stressed.

Kalita, while participating in the debate, commented that some people in Assam were unhappy about the land swap deal. He wondered whether it could be re-negotiated.

Swaraj, who gave a detailed background of the land boundary problem with Bangladesh, said though the Trinamool Congress, BJP and AGP had protested against the pact in 2011, Trinamool chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee came on board after the Centre agreed to pay over Rs 3,089 crore needed for resettlement and rehabilitation of the people who would come to India. Of the total amount, Rs 2,234 crore as the variable component, would be spent in Cooch Behar alone for building infrastructure.

But the External Affairs Minister said that the estimates of people who are likely to shift to India because of the exchange of enclaves and areas under adverse possession, vary from 3,500 to 35,000. �The government is not sure how many people would finally come,� she said.

Although Swaraj did not go into the details of how much land Assam would lose or gain, she divulged that 510 acres of land would come to India in Meghalaya and Tripura, while 10,000 acres would go to Bangladesh.

She further said that the focus of the government was to improve connectivity with North-east via Bangladesh through road, rail and sea.

Earlier, participating in the discussion, Mani Shanker Aiyar said India should seize the opportunity and press Bangladesh to facilitate trade transit facility to improve connectivity with the North-east. The ministry should undertake an exercise to improve transit facility between North-east and mainland India, he said, underscoring the need to avail of the opportunity.

Taking part in the discussion, Biswajeet Daimary said the Bill raised concerns in Assam, which had been witnessing agitations over the issue. The government had not responded to the sentiments of the people of Assam. He mentioned the problems faced by the people of the State, like illegal infiltration of people from Bangladesh.

�We hope that the border is demarcated and the problem of illegal infiltration would be resolved,� Daimary, who supported the Bill, said.

The debate, which saw one MP break into a Bengali song, was smooth and Opposition leader Ghulam Nabi Azad congratulated the government over the cordial atmosphere. Former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, who was instrumental in signing of the LBA in 2011, was also present in the House.