India-Nepal Border dispute

Reading time: 8-10 minutes.

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.

Significant Developments

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.

Critical Analysis

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.

Conclusion

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

India-Nepal relations

Reading time: 8-10 minutes.

Nepal has protested against the inauguration of a Himalayan link road built in a disputed territory by India that falls at a strategic three-way junction with Tibet and China. India’s defence minister, Rajnath Singh, inaugurated the 80-kilometer (50-mile) Lipulekh road, the shortest route between the capital New Delhi and the revered Hindu pilgrimage site on the Tibetan plateau, Kailash-Mansarovar. The link road via Lipulekh Himalayan Pass is also considered one of the shortest and most feasible trade routes between India and China. In a statement by Nepal’s foreign ministry the act of India was termed as “unilateral act” that “runs against the understanding reached between the two countries and that a solution to boundary issues would be sought through negotiations.”

It was called a “historic” achievement by the defence minister that he opened the path via video conference. The new road is also expected to provide Indian traders with better access to the India-China border trade at the Lipu Lekh Pass every summer from June to September. The government has underlined that through this improved route, yatris do not need the alternative routes now available for the pilgrimage, one through the Nathu La border in Sikkim and the other via Nepal, which entailed “ 20 per cent land journeys on Indian roads and 80 per cent land journeys in China … the ratio has been reversed. Now pilgrims to Mansarovar will traverse 84 per cent land journeys on Indian roads and only 16 per cent in China .”

Significance of this development

Building roads leading to the disputed LAC with China has been a contentious exercise for the Indian government. The India China Border Roads as they are known, were conceptualised in the late 1990s by a consultative group called the China Studies Group, approved at the highest level of the Cabinet Committee on Defence, and provided the go-ahead for construction in 1999. Yet the deadlines were movable targets, and it was only in the midst of the 70-day Doklam stand-off with China in 2017, that India realised with surprise that most of those roads had remained on the drawing board. For all those years, only 22 had been completed.

The Standing Committee on Defence, in its 2017-2018 report, noted that “ the country, being surrounded by some difficult neighbours, with a view to keeping pace, construction of roads and creation of adequate infrastructure along the borders is a vital necessity. The parliamentary committee recommended a higher budgetary allocation for the BRO. Another report on border roads, submitted by the Standing Committee in March 2019, marked the ICBRs as a key element in “ effective border management, protection and construction of infrastructure in inaccessible areas bordering the China Border ”.

India-Nepal relations

In this phase India has tried to normalize its relations with Nepal again after when the monarchy system is demolished in 2008. These two countries witnessed high level of exchanges between them. India is the largest foreign investor on Nepal .and have a significant role in Nepal economy. India is currently helping a lot to Nepal providing aid and developing infrastructure with the extension of $1 billion. These aid and development also include military aid. Nepal prime minister has recently visited India and signed agreements focusing on improving of infrastructure and aiding to earthquake victims’ post-earthquake reconstructions border security and hydropower development.

When Nepal was hit by a devastating earthquake of 7.8 magnitude in 2015April25 followed by a powerful after shock in 12May2015 of 7.4 magnitude. The first move that government of India has taken was dispersion of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF). With rescue and important materials this relief has arrived in Nepal after 6 hours of earthquake. India also has helped Nepal in restoring three power sub-stations in Kathmandu. The relief was amounted to over US$67 million.

The largest investors in Nepalese market are Indian firms. Accounting for about 30% of the total foreign direct investments of the country. The total investments of the Indian firms in Nepalese market is (INR-5942.68 crores). About 150 Indian ventures are operating in Nepal now engaged in various sectors like banking, insurance, dry port, education, telecommunication etc. Mutual understanding on water resources is one of the key prospects of bilateral diplomacy. There was a large number of rivers that flow from Nepal to India. These small flowing rivers have power to become the major source of irrigation and power for both these countries. A 3-tier bilateral mechanism was established in 2008 to concentrate on key areas of water management, flood management, and hydropower related issues between Nepal and India.

Historical background of relations

The start of bilateral diplomatic relationship between Nepal and India can be traced back from 1950 peace and friendship treaty. Articles 5,6,7 of the treaty were the key articles in 1950 peace and friendship treaty. Article 5- allowed Nepal access to weaponry from India. Article 6- Says that national treatment for both Indian and Nepalese business (i.e. if once imported, foreign goods would be treated no differently than domestic goods). Article 7-says about reciprocal treatment of Indian and Nepali citizens in these two countries.

In 1950 the treaty of trade and commerce was signed between these two countries. Which has also helped in strengthening of trade bond between these two countries. Not only there was a improvement in trade policies. But also, customs duties and trade regulations between these two countries were made narrower resulting to increase in trade between India and Nepal.

1960 has been a golden year for Nepal as Nepal has balanced its relations with both India and China. By this time the trade and commerce between India and Nepal has achieved a new height of glory. In 1960 another PEACE and FRIENDSHIP TREATY was signed with china. However, in the long journey of relationship between these two countries there were many more treaties signed. In 1965 a secret agreement is signed between these two countries. According to this agreement Nepal is allowed to import arms only from India. However, in 1969 this treaty was cancelled by Nepal also a call was made to remove Indian military personnel from Nepal.

1978 has also saw a great amount of joint investments between Indian and Nepalese co-operates and firms. That was also marked as a great year of business between these two countries. the turning point come in 1989, when failure to negotiate a new trade policy and purchase of weapons from china which leads to the expiration of main trade and transit of goods treaties between these two countries, which had placed a big blind spot in Nepal economy.

Major agreements between India and Nepal

India has been assisting Nepal since many years. This assistance is given for cross border road development, infrastructure, health, and education development. The total economic help provided by India in financial year 2017-2018 is Rs.375 crore. Which was increased by 73% in the financial year 2018-2019. More than 559 projects including small scale and large-scale projects of cost NPR-76 billion have implemented in Nepal by India since 1951. Till now approximately 692 ambulances, 140 school buses have been allotted in 77 districts of Nepal. Except from this assistance a credit of (USD-1.65 billion) has been granted for infrastructural development and post-earth quake assistance.

Both countries have a great cooperation in field of defence. India has always been supporting to Nepalese Army (NA) by providing training and supplying required equipment’s. joint military trainings, bilateral visit by army staffs shows how strong the defence cooperation between these two countries are. The Indo-Nepal joint military exercise SURYA KIRAN Is conducted twice a year between both the armies.

Critical analysis

It can be stated that through the lapse of time there was no change in diplomatic relationship and structure between these two countries. However, since years the relationship between these two countries is improving and there was no major change in relationship Between these two countries. There were many situations of odds between these two countries. Like blockage by India. And also, there were many falls in the relationship between these two countries. But also, major change in relationship is not heard. However, these changes in day to day diplomatic process between Nepal and India does not have a major impact in its diplomatic process.

Landlocked between two major regional powers, the quick readthrough of Nepal’s ties with India and China shows that not being overly dependent on either India or China is a crucial aspect of Nepal’s foreign policy. Strategically, it makes sense for Nepal to balance between India and China, as being landlocked hinders Nepal’s opportunity to trade with the rest of the world freely and being overly reliant on either nation would only lead to potential problems if either country withdrew their support. The bilateral diplomatic process between these two countries is good. But yes, need certain improvements like-1. The diplomatic process should be such that it does not affect the subject population. 2. there is a lack of information in the grassroot level of Nepal about India.

Probable future

People should also be made aware about the aids, funds and facilities so that the corruption should also be minimized and peoples of Nepal should be made aware about what help their neighbour is giving. The latest developments hence, suggest no diversion from this historical status quo and future talks between India and Nepal should be expected. There are numerous treaties and agreements such as the PFT, Trade and Transit Treaties, Arms Assistance Agreement, etc. between the two neighbours. The current dispute must be solved mutually, believing the universal truth that neighbours can never be changed. The suffering of neighbours shall affect all, owing to the world’s liberal trend towards global citizenship, or citizenship without frontiers.

Conclusion

In conclusion, following suggestions could be made for strengthening the relationship between the two neighbours:

  • Both the countries are affected due to the abuse of open border by internal and external powers, the duty of border protection and control depends on both.
  • India should provide an alternative narrative for India-Nepal ties, one that takes into account longstanding people-to – people ties and cultural connect.
  • India should focus on fructifying the potential of hydropower cooperation, which has remained untapped largely due to differing perceptions.
  • India should preserve the policy of keeping away from internal affairs of Nepal, meanwhile in the spirit of friendship India should steer the nation towards more inclusive rhetoric.
  • With its immense strategic relevance in the Indian context as Indian security concern, stable and secure Nepal is one requisite which India can’t afford to overlook.

Author: Nipun Kalra from National Law University, Delhi.

Editor: Dhawal Srivastava from Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Patiala.