By bappaditya paul
Even as West Bengal education minister Partha Chatterjee last week pointed fingers at Central security agencies over Bangladeshi infiltration, nearly 235 km stretch of the Bangladesh border in Bengal remains unfenced as the state government has been dragging its feet on acquiring the required land. This apart, work on a number of proposed border outposts of the Border Security Force (BSF) has been held up for sometime now over non-availability of land and so is the task of constructing border patrol roads.
According to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs’ (MHA) latest status report on border management, till 31 March this year, a 234.85 stretch of the Bangladesh border in Bengal could not be fenced due to “population residing within 150 yards of the border, pending land acquisition cases and protests by the border population.”
This is the longest unprotected stretch among five states that share India’s 4,096.70 km long international border with Bangladesh. Apart from the 2,216.70 km of this that runs through Bengal, Assam shares 263 km, Meghalaya 443 km, Tripura 856 km and Mizoram shares 318 km. The unfenced border in Assam now stands at about 4.8 km; in Meghalaya 115.57 km; in Tripura 65.54 km and in Mizoram it is 115.79 km. As regards border patrol road, of the 4,407.11 sanctioned length in the five states, 153 km remains incomplete in Bengal, 29 km in Assam, 151 km in Meghalaya, 190 km in Tripura and 187 km in Mizoram.
The Centre had in 2005 identified a 1,528 km stretch of Bangladesh border in Bengal that was to be protected from infiltration and smuggling by erecting barbed fences; out of this, sanction for fencing was made for 1,471 km in two phases.
While the Centre is directly implementing the task through its various agencies; the state’s role is to acquire the required land or removing encroachments as a major stretch of the borderland are under cultivation.
It is during the second phase work that the Central agencies began facing land hurdle. People living in border areas in several districts such as Jalpaiguri, Cooch Behar, North and South Dinajpur, Malda, Murshidabad, Nadia and North 24 Parganas began to resist the move as the fencing were to come up on their paddy fields or homestead land. The Centre has thus been compelled to extend the fencing deadline time and again. Even after this, till now it has succeeded fencing only 729.15 km out of 964 km stretch sanctioned in phase-II. For the past two years, the fencing work has been progressing at a snail’s pace with barely 71 km being covered since the 2011-12.
The BSF, which man the Bangladesh border says that they have raised the matter with Bengal government several times but failed to convince them to expedite the facilitation of land for fencing, patrol roads and border outposts. “The latest meeting was held in August-September,” said a BSF officer not willing to be named.
A very senior official in the Bengal home department confirmed the veracity of the meeting but partially disagreed on what had transpired. “The meeting chaired by our chief secretary discussed land acquisition problem for some proposed border outposts, the proposal for which was submitted to us very late. As far as fencing is concerned, I don’t think they apprised us of any difficulty,” the officer said.“Furthermore, one knows that the UPA government had passed a new land acquisition law but the present dispensation at Centre is yet to frame the corresponding rules. Hence, the country now does not have any functional land acquisition law; thus there is no question of Bengal government acquiring land now,” he added, requesting anonymity.
(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 17 October 2014.)