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In the midst of COVID-19 pandemic, India and Nepal are having border disputes over the areas namely – Kalapani, Limpiyadhura and Lipulekh (trijunction between India, Nepal and China).
The first big dispute is about the Mahakali River (or Kali River) that runs through Kalapani region which marks the border between India and Nepal according to the Treaty of Sugauli which was signed by the Kingdom of Nepal and British India in 1816 after Anglo-Nepalese War. It located the Mahakali River as Nepal’s western boundary with India.
Nepal claims that the river west of the disputed territory is the main river and so Kalapani falls in its territory. While, India claims Kalapani, a valley situated on the Kailash Mansarovar route, as a part of the Pithoragarh district in Uttarakhand. The administrative and revenue records show that this (Kalapani) region was on the Indian side.
The dissimilarity or discrepancy in locating the source of the Mahakali River led to the boundary disputes between India and Nepal and each country produced their own map supporting their own claims.
The other dispute is about the Lipulekh area which is located in the far west point of Nepal near the Kalapani region. This dispute took place when India and China both decided to open the Lipulekh pass for travelling to Mansarovar. But, Nepal raised objections against this. Nepal thinks that it has the equal right over Lipulekh area and was upset with India for not taking the permission from Nepal.
How did it start?
Nepal had expressed displeasure on the 2015 agreement between India and China for using the Lipulekh pass for trade, without consulting Nepal. Lipulekh sits atop the Kalapani valley and forms a tri-junction between India, Nepal and China. This was the event which actually triggered the dispute between India and Nepal for the first time. Nepal claimed that it has equal right over Lipulekh area and India did not even consult with Nepal.
This (Lipulekh) dispute dates back to 1997 when India and China both decided to open the Lipulekh to facilitate a travel route to Mansoravar. But, Nepal raised objections against this. Nepal thinks that it has the equal right over Lipulekh area and was upset with India for not taking the permission.
Officially, Nepal came up with the issue of Kalapani before India in 1998. Both the sides agreed to demarcate the outstanding areas (including Kalpani) by 2002 at the prime ministerial level talk which was supposed to be held in 2000. But that has not happened yet.
The dispute worsened between India and Nepal when India released its new political map in the month of November, 2019 just after the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A. The map showed the region of Kalapani is under the control of India as a part of the Pithoragarh district in Uttarakhand.
Nepal was upset about the Kalapani region which was shown under the control of India as per the new map released by India. Nepali Government claimed that the Mahakali River which is on the west of Kalapani is under its territory.
Nepal’s claim has a historical reason i.e. the Treaty of Sugauli which was signed by the Kingdom of Nepal and British India in 1816 after Anglo-Nepalese War. It located the Mahakali River as Nepal’s western boundary with India.
But then in the 1860s Britishers released a new map and excluded the western boundary from Nepal’s territory as it was useful for trading with China. From that time till years after independence of India, western side of Kalapani was under India’s control.
At the time of Indo-China war in 1962 India took Nepal’s permission to place Indian army on that disputed border and since then it is under the control of Indian Government.
Recently, in the month of May 2020, India’s defence minister Rajnath Singh, inaugurated a motorable link road that connects India and China, significantly reducing the time of Kailash Mansarovar Yatra. This road passes through the territory at the Lipulekh pass that Nepal claims as its own territory.
Nepal claimed that if India wanted to build a road passing through Lipulekh then it should have consulted Nepal. In response, India said that there was no need for such consultation as the Lipulekh area is under its control.
Then the protests for the road built on the Lipulekh pass worsened in Nepal. The Indian Army Chief then stated that he sees the hand of third party (i.e. China) as the protest fired up in Nepal. Then in the same month, Nepal, as a protest against India, has released a new political map that claims Kalapani, Limpiyadhura and Lipulekh of Uttarakhand as part of Nepal’s territory.
Days after publishing the map showing Kalapani, Limpiyadhura and Lipulekh areas in Uttarakhand as its own, Nepal sensed that separate cartographical publications would not resolve the border disputes with India. Nepal then believed in settling the dispute through mutual treaties and agreements irrespective of what they have published for showing the actual control of the territory.
Nepal stated that it has to change the map on its Emblem and has to amend the Constitution as well so the best way to solve the dispute is through mutual treaties and agreements. Nepal even tried to reach out to India and talk about the issue. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kathmandu, Nepal’s embassy in Delhi tried to contact the Indian side. But New Delhi is yet to send a response.
Legal Provisions/Agreements involved
The Treaty of Sugauli is directly involved in the dispute between India and Nepal. It was signed on 2 December 1815 and ratified by 4 March 1816 between Kingdom of Nepal and British East India Company following the Anglo-Nepalese War (1814 – 1816). It demarcated the borders of Nepal and British India.
According to the Treaty of Sugauli the Mahakali river located in the western area of Nepal was designated as the western border of Nepal. Then in the 1860s Britishers excluded the area consisting Kalapani, Limpiyadhura and Lipulekh for the purpose of trading with China and since then even after the independence of India (1947) it is still under India’s control.
In this difficult situation of COVID-19 when every country in the world needs to be together to fight this pandemic, sadly, India and Nepal are having border disputes. The dispute is about the region namely – Kalapani, Limpiyadhura and Lipulekh (trijunction between India, Nepal and China).
Nepal claims the disputed region to be in its territory according to the Treaty of Sugauli which was ratified by 4 March 1816 between Kingdom of Nepal and British East India Company following the Anglo-Nepalese War (1814 – 1816).
At the same time India claims that it has been controlling the disputed region since the 1860s when it took permission from Nepal to place its army on that region for its own protection during the Indo-China War. The region was under control of India even after its independence and Nepal did not have any problem with that.
In 2015 when India and China made an agreement on constructing a motorable road through Lipulekh pass Nepal raised objection against this. Nepal also claimed that India should have consulted with it and should have formed an agreement or a treaty as it also has an equal right over the disputed region.
Nepal again protested in the month of May 2020 by releasing its political map including the disputed region in its own territory. And as a result the situation got worse than before.
India and Nepal both are trying to solve the dispute peacefully. In fact, Nepal had already tried to contact India but there is no response from the Indian side yet. And Nepal seems to be more interested in a peaceful solution to the dispute. Both sides are making legit claims over the inclusion of disputed areas in their own territory. India and Nepal should try to resolve the boundary dispute by taking into account all shared environmental characteristics. Since the free movement of people is permitted across the border India can’t afford to overlook stable and friendly relations with Nepal.
Author: Lakshya Kothari from United World School of Law.
Editor: Silky Mittal, Junior Editor, Lexlife India