1947 BOUNDARY COMMISSION AWARDS
Copyright infringement is not intended
Context: It was on August 17, 1947, two days after Independence, that the award of the Boundary Commissions for the partition of Punjab and Bengal was announced. The award caused much anguish to the people of the two provinces and also to the governments of India and Pakistan. Documents accessed from National Archives of India reveal that the then Law minister of India, B R Ambedkar, and Minister of Industry and Supply, Syama Prasad Mukherjee, proposed to take the matter of the Chittagong Hill Tracts to the UN (the UNO).
What were the two Boundary Commissions?
- In June 1947, Sir Cyril John Radcliffe, a British lawyer, was made the Chairman of two boundary commissions of Punjab and Bengal and given the task to draw up the new borders of India and Pakistan. He was given a period of five weeks to complete this task and arrived in India in July 1947.
- The boundary commissions of Punjab and Bengal also included two nominees each of the Indian National Congressand Muslim League respectively.
- The Punjab commission had Justice Mehr Chand Mahajan, Justice Teja Singh, Justice Din Mohammad and Justice Muhammad Munir as members.
- The Bengal commission comprised Justice CC Biswas, Justice BK Mukherjee, Justice Abu Saleh Akram and Justice SA Rehman.
- The Boundary Commissions award was made public on August 17, 1947.
What discussion took place with regard to the awards?
- The minutes of the meeting show that Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru protested against the award of Chittagong hill Tracts to Pakistan (East Pakistan, now Bangladesh).
- He said that he had never considered that the allocation of Chittagong Hill Tracts to East Bengal was possible under the terms of reference of the boundary commission.
- He said he and his Congress colleagues had given assurances to the petty chiefs from the hill tracts that there was no question of the territory being included in Pakistan and that the area has 97 per cent population of Buddhists and Hindus.
- “Sir Cyril Radcliffe had no business touching them,” Nehru is quoted as saying.
- Lord Mountbatten defended the award saying that the Chittagong district had close economic ties with the hill tracts and that the port required proper supervision of the Karnaphuli river which runs through the hill tracts.
- He made a suggestion of compromise by re-adjustment of territory which was rejected by Nehru and the Liaquat Ali Khan.
- Fazl-ur-Rahman said that the hill tracts could not exist if they separated the district and that the ‘contiguity’ clause of the terms of reference of boundary commissions permitted their allocation to East Bengal. He also objected to the inclusion of Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri districts in India
- Nehru said that he considered that the award of boundary commission in the Punjab was likely to have a bad effect among the Sikhs, who presented a particularly difficult problem.
- Sardar Baldev Singh said that the reaction to the award would be very unfavourable on the Sikh mind.
- Liaquat Ali Khan said it would have a similar unfavourable reaction among the Muslims. “He emphasised that he, as Prime Minister of Pakistan, considered it his duty to stand up for the rights of the Sikhs in West Punjab as much as the Indian leaders stood up for their rights in East Punjab. He emphasised that complete religious freedom will be allowed,” the minutes note.
- Sardar Patel’s view was that the only solution to the Punjab award was a transfer of population on a large scale.
- Mountbatten said that he had spoken to Jinnah about Nankana Sahib.
On Bengal award, what was BR Ambedkar and SP Mukherjee’s note?
- The joint note of the two ministers pointed out that the decision of the award in some vital respects is “unjust and unfair” and against the fundamental policy of the partition and also the terms of reference.
- The note also pointed out that Radcliffe had not given any reasons to support the award which he gave. “Nowhere has he set out the principles on which he has based his decisions.
- It can therefore be urged that the decision by Sir Cyril Radcliffe without reference to principles by which he was guided can be treated as a nullity.
- We propose to take up the matter with the Pakistan Dominion immediately.
- We shall make an attempt to open negotiations with that government and see if any amicable re-settlement is possible. If not, we reserve to ourselves the right to treat this as an inter dominion dispute and refer it to the UNO , claiming the inclusion of the areas outlined above into West Bengal,” the note concludes.