Over the past few months, amicable relations between India and Nepal have flared up owing to the new political map that was released by Nepal. Tensions first soured after the Indian government inaugurated a new Himalayan link road which runs through a region which has been disputed between both countries for long. Ever since, both countries have come to stake their claims over these territories, as a result of which friendly ties between the two countries have gone for a toss. In this article, I wish to unfurl the turn of events as a result of which the dispute came into being.
Keywords: India-Nepal Border Dispute, Kalapani-Lipulekh-LimpiyadhuraDispute, Susta Dispute, Kailash-Mansarovar Link Road, Treaty of Sugauli.
Lately, tensions between India and Nepal have escalated after Nepal unveiled its new political map on 20 May, 2020. The genesis of the whole dispute can be traced back to the Treaty of Sugauli, which was signed between East India Company and Gorkha Kingdom of Nepal on December 2, 1815. On the basis of this treaty was decided the point of demarcation between East India Company and Nepal.
Since 1962, Indian troops have managed to establish their formidable presence in the disputed territories. Nepal never raised a demand for these territories until the release of its new map, which claimed Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura to be a part of Nepal despite the fact that they have been appearing on Indian maps for decades. India responded by stating that Nepal’s new map was riddled with artificial enlargement of territories, devoid of any historical facts or evidence.
Kalapani is a valley located in Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand. It is advantageous to India since it is located at an altitude of over 20,000 feet and serves as an observation post, thereby keeping off enemies from that region.Flowing through the Kalapani region is the Kali River which determines the western border of Nepal. The river has changed its course over the past few decades as a result of which it has become difficult to locate the exact point of demarcation between the two countries.
In 1998, Nepal claimed that the region was part of Darchula district of Nepal. Since then, the region has been the bone of contention between the two countries.
Lipulekh Pass Dispute:
Lipulekh pass is located atop the Kalapani at a tri-junction between India, China and Nepal. The route through Lipulekh pass was mainly used for pilgrimage purposes but was consequently closed after the Indo-Chinese War, 1962.However, recent inauguration of the Darchula-Lipulekh pass link road has paved way for reopening of the route.
Lipulekh pass is strategically important to India since it is located near the heart of the country and can come to India’s rescue in case of an armed conflict from China.
Following the Indo-Chinese War, India with the permission of Nepal deployed its troops in the region so as to check Chinese aggression. Indian troops continue to control the Lipulekh pass to this day and have not budged from the area despite repeated requests from Nepal to withdraw.
Lying along the Indo-Nepal border is a village called Susta. The Treaty of Sugauli marked River Gandak as the boundary between India and Nepal.The left bank of the river fell within Indian territory, whereas the right bank of the river was under the control of Nepal.
At the time when Treaty of Sugauli was signed, Susta lay on the right bank of River Gandak, as a result of which the village fell within Nepal. However, over the years, the river changed its course as a result of which Susta falls on the left bank of the river, which is under India’s control. As such, Susta continues to be a point of dispute between India and Nepal.
In International Law, principles of avulsion and accretion are applicable in determining the border when a boundary river changes course:
(i) Principle of avulsion – If change in course of river is rapid, then the boundary does not change.
(ii) Principle of accretion – If change in course of river is gradual, then the boundary changes accordingly.
Ruckus About the New Link Road:
The dispute reached its nascent stage when Nepal’s PM – Mr. Oli, objected to the publication of Indian maps in November 2019. Following the abrogation of Article 370, India had revised its political map wherein Kalapani was shown to be a part of Indian territory. Nepal responded by stating that Kalapani lies within the Nepalese boundary.
Tensions between the two countries further simmered after India, with a view to provide for a shorter route for pilgrims of Kailash-Mansarovar Yatra, inaugurated a link road on 8 May 2020, without consulting Nepal.
This was strongly objected by Nepal stating that India’s unilateral act was contrary to the 2014 agreement reached between the respective Prime Ministers of both countries which sought to resolve the dispute through mutual negotiations.
While Nepal remarked that the road cuts through Lipulekh which falls within its territory, India’s MEA replied that the road goes through Pithoragarh district which lies completely within India’s territory. It was further stated that the link road follows the pre-existing route used by pilgrims of the Yatra.
What Nepal Claims?
- Former director-general of the Department of Survey of Nepal, claims that maps from 1850 and 1856, prepared by the Survey of India with the participation of Nepali authorities, clearly state that the Kali river originates from Limpiyadhura, 16 km northwest of Kalapani, thereby proving that Kalapani belongs to Nepal.
- After the Treaty of Sugauli was signed, Nepal had to give up western areas of the River Kali, which was then ceded to the Britishers.
- Kalapani region was offered to India by Nepal only to use it temporarily to check Chinese aggression. Therefore, India’s refusal to withdraw its troops amounts to encroachment upon the borderlands of Nepal.
What India Claims?
- Kali river originates in springs well below the Lipulekh pass, and the Sugauli Treaty does not demarcate the area north of these streams.
- Administrative and revenue records of 19th century show that Kalapani was on the Indian side, and counted as part of Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand.
- India insists that a map drawn up by the British government in 1875 be considered, whichshows the origin of River Kali to the east of Kalapani. Therefore, Kalapani belongs to India.
Efforts to Resolve Dispute:
- 1981 –Joint Technical Level Boundary Committee (JTC) established to delineate the boundary.
- 1994 – JTC sets up the Joint Working Group (JWG) to examine facts regarding the issue and to suggest measures to resolve the dispute.
- 2000 – The then Indian PM, Atal Bihari Vajpayee,decides to conduct field surveys at the border; Later called off after India refused to remove its troops from the trijunction.
- 2007 – JTC delineates 98% of the boundaries on 182 strip maps, except for Kalapani and Susta; Presented to both countries for ratification; Nepal refuses to sign.
- 2014 – Respective Foreign Secretaries of both countries unable to find a feasible date for meeting. No significant breakthroughs as of now.
Nepal has alleged that India routinely dismissed requests from the Nepal Ambassador for a meet with the Foreign Secretary. It has also alleged that India’s MEA remarked that Kalapani issue could wait until the coronavirus pandemic was first dealt with. This was however in contrast with India’s participation in bilateral meetings through videoconferencing.
It goes without saying that the ongoing border dispute has caused a serious strain in Indo-Nepal relations. The dispute has currently reached a stalemate which is quite worrisome to India’s foreign policy.
Considering the fact that India has had cordial ties with Nepal in the past, it should not be an arduous task for both countries to settle for a viable solution.Threatening its diplomatic relations with Nepal is something which India cannot afford to overlook, especially at a time when the entire globe is sinking into the scourge of a pandemic, and where India is confronted with a military standoff with China.
Therefore, both countries, in order to keep their amicable ties back on track, should opt for a mutual dialogue, rely on the power of persuasion and work on approving the strip maps, settling the Kalapani-Susta dispute and demarcating the entire Indo-Nepal border.The only way forward is for India to quickly resume talks with Nepal, and bring into play the goodwill it has amassed over the decades and give due recognition to Nepal’s concerns, which when addressed through engaged diplomacy, can perpetuate peace and tranquillity, and yet again reflect itself as a responsible power.
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