Transit of Indian goods begins

Dhaka: Nine Indian trucks on Wednesday crossed into Bangladesh`s north-eastern borders marking the formal launch of a regularised transit of goods to Agartala, even as Premier Sheikh Hasina visited her country`s enclave via the Tinbigha corridor in West Bengal. Hasina said the two neighbours were expected to soon begin exchange of cross-border enclaves and exclaves to end an over 60 year impasse.

Officials and reports said nine trucks loaded with heavy machinery crossed Bangladesh`s north-eastern borders marking the formal launch of regularised transit of Indian goods to Agartala through Akhaura Land port after completing required customs formalities. "This marks the start of the regular activities of our Akhaura Land Port" as the consignments carried the machinery to India`s Palatana power project in Tripura under an earlier agreement, a custom office spokesman told PTI.

The development came as Hasina made her maiden visit to Bangladesh`s Angarpota-Dahagram using India`s Tinbigha corridor since New Delhi allowed 24 hours unfettered access to Bangladeshi nationals to the enclave during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh`s Dhaka tour last month. "Bangladesh and India will soon start exchanging enclaves and exclaves" in line with the deal signed between the two countries during Indian premier`s Dhaka visit, she told a rally of the enclave residents.

Indian Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and State Minister for Home Affairs Jitin Prasada welcomed her at the corridor that connects mainland Bangladesh with the enclave. "I am here to ensure all kinds of facilities for the enclave people," she said.

The corridor gate, which had always been shut after 6pm despite the 1974 treaty between India and Bangladesh, was thrown open at 6pm on September 8 following signing of a protocol during Singh`s Dhaka visit.

Hasina thanked Indian government and her counterpart for having provided the facility of 24-hour access to the people of Dahagram and Angarporta. Upon arrival at the corridor, Azad presented a memento to Hasina, who was given an honour guard by the Indian border guards BSF. Earlier, access to the mainland was provided from 0600 hours to 1800 hours, with emergency access to residents during the night.

Meanwhile, an Indian High Commission in a statement in Dhaka said "as part of India`s efforts to address the inconveniences faced by residents of Enclaves, the Government of India is happy to facilitate the flow of services 24 X 7". "The Tin Bigha Area (however) will continue to be manned efficiently by Indian personnel, as per the agreement between the two countries," it said.

The two neighbours signed a deal last month exchanging 162 enclaves that is to remove a protracted cross-border issue pending since 1947 partition. The enclaves, where pockets of one country`s territory are surrounded by the other, appeared as "islands of land" appeared as a major cross border issue after the 1947 partition of the Indian sub-continent. The ownership arrangements, however, were made centuries ago as the then local kings exchanged pieces of lands of their estates winning or losing gambling.

The population in 162 enclaves on Bangladesh-India frontiers was found to be 51,000 in a joint survey two months ago as 3,000 acres of Bangladesh land are inside India while India has around 3,500 acres of land inside Bangladesh .

Bangladesh and India share over 4,000 kilometres of common porous borders, of which 6.5 kilometres were still un-demarcated while the two countries have 162 such enclaves, 111 of them being Indian ones inside Bangladesh and the rest 51 being Bangladeshi ones inside India. Officials earlier said 3,000 acres of Bangladesh "adversely possessed lands" or exclaves were inside India while India has around 3,500 acres of land inside Bangladesh.

The enclave residents, who are virtually stateless refugees, need to cross international border every day for cultivation and they need to follow the official formalities as well as clearance from the paramilitary Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) or formerly BDR, and India`s Border Security Force (BSF) frontier guards.