RADCLIFFE AWARD, under which the dividing line between the West (Pakistan) Punjab and the East (Indian) Punjab was drawn, is so called after the name of the Chairman of the Punjab Boundary Commission, Sir Cyril Radcliffe, an eminent British jurist especially invited to fix the boundaries between the newly created States, India and Pakistan. The Commission was also charged with the delimiting of the boundaries of the provinces of Bengal and Punjab.
British Prime Minister speaking in Parliament on the appointment of Lord Mountbatten as the new Viceroy and Governor General of India, had announced: “His Majesty`s Government wish to make it clear that it is their definite intention to take the necessary steps to effect the transference of power into responsible Indian hands by a date not later than June 1948… His Majesty`s Government will have to consider to whom the powers of the Central Government in British India should be handed over, on the due date, whether as a whole to some form of Central Government for India or in some areas to the existing Provincial Governments or in such other way as may seem most reasonable and in the best interests of the Indian people.
” The statement gave a definite momentum to the march of history, and Lord Mountbatten immediately on taking over in India on 24 March 1947, set feverishly to working out the transfer procedure. It was said that “unlike his predecessors, he had demanded, and had been given, a free hand in settling the Indian question without reference to the Home Government.” Though his brief was to work for a unitary India, a quick survey of the Indian scene convinced him first that partition was inevitable, and, secondly, that partitioning of the country required also partitioning of those provinces where the two communities were evenly balanced.
The question of the Punjab was further complicated because the Sikhs there complained, and justifiably so, that “the Muslim League seeks to deny to them in the Punjab the position which it claims in the rest of India.” The difficulty was that the Sikhs were so few and so dispersed that they could not claim majority in any clearly defined territory. The partition plan prepared by Lord Mountbatten and announced by him on 3 June 1947 provided for partition of Punjab and Bengal even if the legislators of the minority groups there decided against joining the new constituent assembly (i.e., of Pakistan) . In that event, boundary commissions were to be set up to delimit the split parts.
In the case of the Punjab, a “notional partition” based on district wise demographic description was also given according to which Pakistan was to have, tentatively, the entire Rawalpindi and Multan divisions and Lahore division minus Amritsar district. Ambala and Jalandhar divisions plus Amritsar district were to remain with India. As expected the province had to be partitioned and the Punjab Boundary Commission was constituted on 30 June 1947. Its members were four High Court Judges two Muslim, one Hindu and one Sikh. Sir Cyril Radcliffe was named the chairman.
The Commission was handed the following terms of reference: The Boundary Commission is instructed to demarcate the boundaries of the two parts of the Punjab on the basis of ascertaining the contiguous majority areas of Muslims and non Muslims. In doing so, it will also take into account “other factors.” The Commission was desired to arrive at a decision as soon as possible, before the 15th of August. The “other factors” were not explicitly defined, but they were understood to refer to certain claims of the Sikhs based on revenue paid, military services, development of virgin lands, religious places, etc.
The public sittings of the Punjab Boundary Commission took place at Lahore from 21 to 31 July 1947. As Sir Cyril Radcliffe stated in his report: “In view of the fact that I was acting also as Chairman of the Bengal Boundary Commission, whose proceedings were taking place simultaneously with the proceedings of the Punjab Boundary Commission, I did not attend the public sittings in person, but made arrangements to study daily the record of the proceedings and of all material submitted for our consideration.
” After the close of the public sittings, the Commission adjourned to Shimla where the Chairman also joined and held discussions in the hope of being able to present “an agreed decision as to the demarcation of the boundaries.” But the divergence of opinion among the members was too wide for that. Each member submitted a separate and a different report. While Justice Mehr Chand Mahajan wanted to include the entire Lahore and Montgomery districts plus Sheikh upura and Nankana Sahib in East Punjab, and Justice Teja Singh wanted the boundary to lie along the River Chenab, the Muslim members Justices Din Muhammad and Muhammad Munir claimed the entire Doaba and parts of Ludhiana and Firozpur districts for West Punjab.
In the last meeting of the Commission held in Services Club, Shimla, Sir Cyril Radcliffe said: “Gentlemen, you have disagreed and, therefore, the duty falls on me to give the award which I will do later on.” In para 6 of the Award, Sir Cyril wrote “… In these circumstances, my colleagues, at the close of our discussions, assented to the conclusion, that I must proceed to give my own decision.
” Thus the final decision, dated 12 August 1947, was literally the Radcliffe`s and not the Punjab Boundary Commission`s Award, although it was legally the latter. The Award addressed to His Excellency the Governor General opens as under: I have the honour to present the decision and award of the Punjab Boundary Commission which, by virtue of Section 4 of the Indian Independence Act, 1947, is represented by my decision as Chairman of that Commission. The demarcation of the boundary line was described in detail in the schedule which formed Annexure A to the Award.
The line was also drawn on a map attached to the Award as Annexure B. Following is a brief summary of the detailed description of the boundary given in Annexure A to the Award: The boundary line commences on the north at the point where the west branch of the Basantar river enters the Punjab Province from the State of Kashmir. It follows the western boundary of Pathankot tahsil to the point where Pathankot, Shakargarh and Gurdaspur tahsils meet. Thence it follows the boundary between Shakargarh and Gurdaspur tahsils, between Batala and Naroval tahsils, between Ajnala and Naroval tahsils, and between Ajnala and Shahdara tahsils to the point on the River Ravi where the districts of Lahore and Amritsar meet.
There the boundary turns southwards and follows the line dividing Lahore and Amritsar districts up to the point where tahsils of Lahore, Kasur and Tarn Taran meet. From here the boundaryline was so drawn that four police station circles of tahsil Kasur in the Lahore district were given to the East Punjab in order “to mitigate the consequences of the severence” of the irrigation system of the Upper Bart Doab Canal. From the point where the tahsil boundaries of Kasur and Firozpur meet, the boundary turns again and follows the dividing line between the districts of Lahore and Firozpur and further down between the districts of Montgomery and Firozpur up to the point where this boundary meets the border of Bahawalpur state.
In effect Gurdaspur district less Shakargarh tahsil, the entire Amritsar district plus four thdnds of Kasur tahsil of Lahore district and the entire Firozpur district remained with India. While Madhopur headworks remained with India, the headworks at Sulemanki were expressly allotted to Pakistan and a joint control was suggested for Hussainivala headworks from where Dipalpur Canal serving Pakistan area takes off. The Radcliffe Award pleased no one except, perhaps, Lord Mountbatten, who must have heaved a sigh of relief at having reached the end of his labours. He had already, on 22 July 1947, “taken assurances from the representatives of India and Pakistan that they would accept the Award of the Commission whatever it might be.
” Sir Cyril Radcliffe had himself foreseen the possibility of the criticism of his Award. “I am conscious”, he wrote, “that there are legitimate criticisms to be made of it, as there are, I think, of any other line that might be chosen… I am conscious, too, that the Award cannot go far towards satisfying sentiments and aspirations deeply held on either side.”
The Sikhs lamented the consignment of almost half of their community into bondage, the loss of their holy places and their lands in the canal colonies which they had made habitable and fertile with their sweat and blood. Their other grievance was that the “other factors” mentioned in the terms of reference of the Commission had proved to be only a sop to inveigle them to accept the plan. Lord Mountbatten had been aware of their predicament but had pleaded his helplessness. In a press conference on 4June 1947, the day following that of the announcement of his plan for partition, he had said, “I found that it was mainly at the request of the Sikh community that the Congress had put forward the resolution on the partition of the Punjab.
I was not aware of all the details, and, when I sent for the map and studied the distribution of the Sikh population, I was astounded to find that the plan which they had produced divided this community into two almost equal parts. I have spent a great deal of time seeing whether there was any solution which would keep the Sikh community more together. I am not a miracle worker and I have not found that solution.” This dissatisfaction and the deluge of communal hatred let loose since the Pakistan Resolution of the Muslim League in 1940 resulted in uprooting of humanity on both sides of the Radcliffe Line at a scale unparalleled in world history.
1. Kirpal Singh, The Partition of the Punjab. Patiala, 1972
2. Johnson, Alien Campbell, Mission with Mountbatten. London,1951
3. Menon, V.P., Transfer of Power in India. Calcutta, 1957
4. Brecher, Michael, Nehru, A Political Biography. London,1959.
5. Harbans Singh, The Heritage of the Sikhs. Delhi, 1983
6. Gurmit Singh, History of Sikh Struggles. Delhi, 1989-92 M.G.S.