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How a game of chess between King of Cooch Behar and Maharaja of Rangpur created India-Bangladesh border issue

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By Harshmeet Singh

India’s historic land swap deal with Bangladesh was perhaps one of the very few instances where the current Government gave due credit to its predecessor. During the recent discussions about the constitutional amendment bill in the Rajya Sabha, Sushma Swaraj, the External Affairs Minister said, “I have said this before and I’m saying it again that this work was started by Manmohan Singh and we are only completing it.”

After hectic consultations and short lived blame game, the Government decided to include the Bangladeshi territories lying in Assam in the agreement as well. While the experts are terming this constitutional amendment as a ‘success’, majority of the common public is still clueless as to what this agreement exactly holds.

What exactly is the issue here?

Unlike most other nations, India and Bangladesh share a complex border. Fortunately, this ‘complexity’ isn’t due to any disagreement on where the actual border lies. It is the placement of these ‘well-accepted’ borders that gives birth to these complexities.

There are a number of enclaves on in the northern part of the border shared by India and Bangladesh. Enclaves are small pieces of land surrounded from all sides by a foreign country. The most famous enclave in the world is the Vatican City, which is located inside Italy’s capital, Rome. Another example is the Kingdom of Lesotho, which is located inside South Africa.

There are 106 Indian enclaves inside Bangladesh. The largest among them is Dasiar Chhara which has an area of 6.65 square km. Bangladesh, on the other hand, has 92 enclaves in India, with the largest one being 25.95 square km. And that is not all! There are many counter enclaves and counter-counter enclaves as well. On the Indian side, these enclaves are located in the states of Assam, West Bengal, Meghalaya and Tripura.

How did it all mess up?

There is no proven historical record about the exact happenings that led to this border situation. It is said that these enclaves came into being as a result of exchanges during chess matches between King of Cooch Behar and Maharaja of Rangpur. The final shape of the enclaves was a part of a treaty between the Mughal Kingdom and the King of Cooch Behar in 1713. During partition, Cooch Behar came to India whereas Rangpur went to erstwhile East Pakistan. Due to constant trouble with Pakistan, these issues were never looked into till 1971.

The history of negotiations

The land swap deal came on the table for the first time in 1974 when Mujibur Rehman and Indira Gandhi signed an agreement to exchange the respective enclaves. Under this agreement, India provided a narrow strip of land to Bangladesh to provide access to its Dahagram and Angarpota enclaves in India. This narrow strip of land is called ‘Teen Bigha Corridor’. While Bangladesh was quick to ratify the agreement in its national parliament, India could never get it passed.

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In 2011, Manmohan Singh signed a ‘border demarcation’ and ‘enclaves exchange’ agreement with Sheikh Hasina. The UPA 2 Government tried to push forward the 1974 agreement in the Parliament and get it ratified, but it was vehemently opposed by the BJP. The move also saw sharp opposition from other parties including Trinamool Congress and Asom Gana Parishad. The BJP, in fact, in 2011, said that such exchange would be a ‘national loss’ to the country! Even this time, there were multiple hiccups in the passage of the bill, with the NDA Government keeping Assam out of the agreement till the very last moment.

What does it mean for the people living in those enclaves?

According to a joint census in July 2010, there were 37,269 Indian citizens in Indian enclaves and 14,215 Bangladeshi citizens in its enclaves in India. Residents of these enclaves live in despicable conditions. With no connection with their own Government, basic amenities such as electricity and healthcare are a distant possibility for them. They can’t cross over to their own nation since it would mean that they are entering foreign land without permissions.

The land swap agreement is expected to change the lives of over 50,000 people for the better. All those residing in the Bangladeshi enclaves in India shall be granted Indian citizenship in accordance with the section-7 of the ‘Indian Citizenship Act, 1955’. This act provides Indian citizenship to the population residing in territories incorporated in India. The same section was applied when Sikkim was incorporated into India in 1975.

With both countries promising a favourable treatment to the residents of each other’s enclaves, much migration across the border isn’t expected once the agreement is implemented on the ground. This agreement would also help in keeping a check on infiltration and illegal entry of narcotics and other banned commodities across the border. Although India would lose about 40 kilometres square land in the deal, the final resolution to the long lingering issue is worth the cost.

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  • Urvashi

    Extremely enlightening. Brilliant piece!

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Diesel Exhaust Converted Into Ink by Indian Innovators To Battle Air Pollution

Supervised by young engineers, workers at the start-up company Chakr Innovation in New Delhi cut and weld sheets of metal to make devices that will capture black plumes of smoke from diesel generators and convert it into ink.

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Supervised by young engineers, workers at the start-up company Chakr Innovation in New Delhi cut and weld sheets of metal to make devices that will capture black plumes of smoke from diesel generators and convert it into ink.

In a cabin, young engineers pore over drawings and hunch over computers as they explore more applications of the technology that they hope will aid progress in cleaning up the Indian capital’s toxic air – among the world’s dirtiest.

While the millions of cars that ply Delhi’s streets are usually blamed for the city’s deadly air pollution, another big culprit is the massive diesel generators used by industries and buildings to light up homes and offices during outages when power from the grid switches off – a frequent occurrence in summer. Installed in backyards and basements, they stay away from the public eye.

“Although vehicular emissions are the show stoppers, they are the ones which get the media attention, the silent polluters are the diesel generators,” says Arpit Dhupar, one of the three engineers who co-founded the start up.

The idea that this polluting smoke needs attention struck Dhupar three years ago as he sipped a glass of sugarcane juice at a roadside vendor and saw a wall blackened with the fumes of a diesel generator he was using.

It jolted him into joining with two others who co-founded the start-up to find a solution. Dhupar had experienced first hand the deadly impact of this pollution as he developed respiratory problems growing up in Delhi.

An Indian girls holds a banner during a protest against air pollution in New Delhi, India, Nov. 6, 2016.
An Indian girls holds a banner during a protest against air pollution in New Delhi, India, Nov. 6, 2016.

A new business

As the city’s dirty air becomes a serious health hazard for many citizens, it has turned into both a calling and a business opportunity for entrepreneurs looking at ways to improve air quality.

According to estimates, vehicles contribute 22 percent of the deadly PM 2.5 emissions in Delhi, while the share of diesel generators is about 15 percent. These emissions settle deep into the lungs, causing a host of respiratory problems.

After over two years of research and development, Chakr has begun selling devices to tap the diesel exhaust. They have been installed in 50 places, include public sector and private companies.

The technology involves cooling the exhaust in a “heat exchanger” where the tiny soot particles come together. These are then funneled into another chamber that captures 70 to 90 percent of the particulate matter. The carbon is isolated and converted into ink.

Among their first clients was one of the city’s top law firms, Jyoti Sagar Associates, which is housed in a building in Delhi’s business hub Gurgaon.

Making a contribution to minimizing the carbon footprint is a subject that is close to Sagar’s heart – his 32-year-old daughter has long suffered from the harmful effects of Delhi’s toxic air.

Motorists drive surrounded by smog, in New Delhi, India, Nov. 8, 2017.
Motorists drive surrounded by smog, in New Delhi, India, Nov. 8, 2017.

“This appealed to us straightaway, the technology is very impactful but is beautifully simple,” says Sagar. Since it could be retrofitted, it did not disrupt the day-to-day activities at the buzzing office. “Let’s be responsible. Let’s at least not leave behind a larger footprint of carbon. And if we can afford to control it, why not, it’s good for all,” he says.

At Chakr Innovation, cups, diaries and paper bags printed with the ink made from the exhaust serve as constant reminders of the amount of carbon emissions that would have escaped into the atmosphere.

There has been a lot of focus on improving Delhi’s air by reducing vehicular pollution and making more stringent norms for manufacturers, but the same has not happened for diesel generators. Although there are efforts to penalize businesses that dirty the atmosphere, this often prompts them to find ways to get around the norms.

Also Read: Exposure to Traffic-Related Pollution Poses Threat of Asthma in Kids

Tushar Mathur who joined the start up after working for ten years in the corporate sector feels converting smoke into ink is a viable solution. “Here is a technology which is completely sustainable, a win-win between businesses and environment,” says Mathur. (VOA)