India-Nepal Border Dispute
This Blog is written by Priya Shah from GLS Law College, Ahmedabad. Edited by Saumya Tripathi.
India shares border with different countries like Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Chine, Bhutan, and Myanmar. It shares border with Nepal from 3 sides and the Indian states that share border with India are Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Sikkim, West Bengal and Bihar. Out of all this states, Uttar Pradesh shares the longest border with Nepal. Borders between a countries is a sensitive issue, which may lead to dispute even if some minor or trivial difference is present. The border disputes can eventually grow so strong that it can even trigger war between the nations.
The Sugauly Treaty was signed in 1816 between India under British Raj and Nepal and the borders were created. After this war happened between East India Company and Nepal. This compelled Nepal to sign the treaty. Due to the signing of this treaty, Nepal lost many of its land. Then when Junga Bahadur Rana helped the British people, then the British company, being happy returned some of the western land to Nepal in 1917. After the independence of India in 1947, the border disputes between India and Nepal increased. The origin place of Mechi river, Antu hill region, the region of Ramnagar, north side of Chure mountain to southern side, jungle etc. are regarded as the disputed border areas. The debates started heating up in 1990’s when Nepal adopted democracy. “kalapani” was regarded as “safe zone” for the Indian troops during the Indo-China war.
The governments of both the countries from time to time had discussions on this. The interaction between Prime Minister G.P Koirala of Nepal and India’s Prime Minister Atal Bihari Bajpayee was significant. In July 2000, PM Koirala visited India and discussed cooperation with his counterpart. Both sides agreed to conduct field survey to affirm the demarcation of Kalapani, and set a target of completion for 2002. The then Joint Boundary Committee had also agreed to provide reports with newly created strip maps. Even as the External Affairs Ministry of India rejected proposals to withdraw the country’s troops from the region, a steadfast policy was undertaken to resolve the chapter.
Being immediate neighbors Nepal and India entered into amicable and friendly relations and thus, signed peace and friendship treaty in 1950. They decided an “open border” concept which means that there is free and unrestricted movement of people from either side. Despite the presence of border checkposts and the deployment of border security forces, movement across the physical demarcation is relatively easy, leading to better social and trade connectivity between the two countries.
Historically, India and Nepal were both parts of the colonised sectors of the British East India Company. The Anglo-Nepal war of 1814 and the subsequent treaty of peace signed in 1816 resulted in the delimitation and the delineation of the border between the two countries. While the Mahakali River formed the western boundary, the Mechi River boundary was formed along the east with ridges in the Darjeeling hills and Sikkim. With this, more than 900 pillars made of stone were erected along the India-Nepal border for better connectivity. Analysts have observed that the British had chosen to demarcate their border using these ad-hoc and unstructured pillars for a number of reasons: Nepali soldiers from the hilly terrains could easily be recruited for the British Army; markets in Nepal territory could be properly utilised for British-made goods; and raw materials from Nepal like timber and firewood could easily be transported to India.
The open border relation between India and Nepal is still going on. It is beneficial for Nepal because Nepal is a very small country and thus this relation with India provides economic generation and employment opportunities to the people.
The valley of Kalapani, with the Lipulekh Pass at the top is the Indian route to Kailash–Manasarovar which is an ancient pilgrimage place for Hindus. It is also on of the oldest trading route to Tibet for the Bhotiyas of Uttarakhand and Tinkar valley. The Kali River forms the boundary between India and Nepal in this area. The Lipulekh pass was closed after the Sino-India war. The protest dates back to 1997 when India and China agreed to open the Lipu pass again.
Both the countries have taken steps and measures to settle the disputes especially the one in Kalapani which is the biggest in dispute. The Nepal-India Joint Border Inspection Mechanism, 1981 and the Nepal-India Joint Border Management Committee, 1997 are constituted to take decisions on this matter. Further, Nepal-India joint technical level Boundary committee (JTBC) was also organised to look into this matter more seriously. JTBC worked for around 25 years and solved majority of the boundary problems, but the problem with Kalapani border was beyond their expertise they said.
Nepal claims that Lipu was the source of their river Kali and thus belongs to them. They want 5.5 KM of the border part, so they want the west border to shift 5.5 KM westwards so that they include the Lipulekh pass. While the Indians deny the claim by stating that Kalapani was a part of Pitthorgarh district. Indians also rejected the claim that Lipu was the source of Kali River, in fact it says that kali river begins only after Lipu Gad is joined with other streams. As per the Article V of the Sugauly Treaty west of the Kali river belongs to India. The treaty has no mention about the source of Kali River which has become the core of contention between the two countries. This dispute is going on since 1997 till present and is unresolved. Further, in May, 2020 India established a new road to Kailas-Mansarovar. Nepal argued and said that India cannot make a road link in its territory but the India argued that the road is made on Indian route and it is the pre-existing route that is used by the pilgrims visiting Kailas-Mansarovar route.
The Prime Minister of Nepal Mr. Oli, issued a new political map of Nepal that showed the disputed territory within its border line. Days after releasing this, the Prime Minister of Nepal showed interest in resolving the issue by bilateral talks.
POLITICS OF CHINA
Lipulekh and Kalapani is a trijunction for India, Nepal and China. They are of geostrategic and geopolitical importance as India can keep an eye against any of encroachment move by China or the movement of People’s Liberation Army towards India intending to damage India. Similarly, Kalapani has not been free from the politics meted out from the Chinese front as well. In 2018, during Doklam standoff, Wang Wenli, Deputy Director General of the Boundary and Ocean Affairs of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs remarked that “the Indian side has also many trijunctions. What if we use the same excuse and enter the Kalapani region between China, India and Nepal or even into the Kashmir region between India and Pakistan.” Further, it is geo-economic as well, as it is the shortest and direct route from North India to Kailash Mansarovar. At present, the Indian pilgrimage has to go to Kailash Mansarovar via Nepalgunj-Humla or Kathmandu-Kerung.
To solve this border encroachment problem both Nepal & India needs to sit together for a dialogue and try to come to a proper solution. This border dispute is creating a lot of security problems for the people as well. The places where the lands are encroached, the people are also getting affected. If encroachment continues at the current rate and if we continue to watch silently, millions of people will soon become aliens and our nation and nationality will be under serious threat. Eventually, it could even end of Nepal’ existence in the near future. Hence, the border issue should be solved as soon as possible. The border encroachment and the Nepalese government’s lack of concern has affected the lives of the people living by the borders. Both India and Nepal should very sincerely consider negotiation of new border management agreements by considering the current affairs and the safety and comfort of the people living in these areas should be prioritized.
 Vidya Bir Singh Kansakar, ‘Nepal-India Open Border: Prospects, Problems and Challenges’, Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu, p.6.