Bangladesh, India in historic land swop: What you need to know

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (left) shakes hand with Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajid (right) on June 6, 2015.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (left) shakes hand with Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajid (right) on June 6, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

Bangladesh and India swopped tiny islands of land on Friday (July 31). Both countries will assume sovereignty over 162 enclaves in its territory along the 4,000km border .

The historic agreement means that some 50,000 people living in those enclaves will be able to choose their nationality after almost 70 years, marking the start of the land boundary agreement (LBA).

Here are some things you need to know about the enclaves and land swop:

1. What are enclaves?

Enclaves are essentially islands of foreign territory inside each country. There are 111 Indian enclaves in Bangladesh and 51 Bangladeshi enclaves in India, with 37,330 and 14,200 dwellers respectively.

2. Legend of the enclaves

Dating back to the 17th century, legend has it that the enclaves were formed when two princes used chunks of land as wagers during a series of chess games.

However, according to the Australian geographer Brendan Whyte, the enclaves were created after peace treaties between the local ruler and the Mughal Empire.

3. Stateless residents

Cut off from the mainland, enclave residents are effectively stateless, and are unable to travel or work legally as they do not have identification cards.

They live in squalid conditions with no electricity, water supply, schools or hospitals.

With the land swop, residents will be granted citizenship of the country they choose.

AFP reported that nearly 1,000 people on the Bangladesh side opted to keep their Indian nationalities, while all of the Bangladeshis living in the 51 Bangladesh enclaves decided to switch nationalities.

4. Land swop first introduced in 1974

A deal for the land swop was first agreed upon in 1974 by the then leaders of the two countries - Indira Gandhi of India and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman of Bangladesh. However, it was not implemented following the assassination of Sheikh Mujib in 1975.

It was ratified only by India's parliament, with the final agreement signed in June.

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi compared the agreement to the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, which marks "a watershed moment" in India's ties with Bangladesh.

5. What will happen to the "islands"?

The enclaves will disappear from the map, according to a report from Bangladesh's newspaper New Age.

Citing the country's government gazette notification, the Indian enclaves in Bangladesh measuring "areas of  17160.63 acres and 2267.682 acres of Indian land adversely possessed by Bangladesh in six spots will be the integral part of Bangladesh".

The Bangladesh enclaves in India "with areas of 7710.02 acres and 2777.038 acres of Bangladesh land adversely possessed by India in 12 spots will be excluded from the Bangladesh territory".

Sources: AFP, BBC, The Economist,, Reuters, Times of India, The Economic Times, New Age, NDTV