International Booster- India Nepal Latest border dispute

India Nepal Latest border dispute

On May 8, India’s defence minister virtually inaugurated a new 80 km-long road in the Himalayas, connecting to the border with China, at the Lipulekh pass. The Nepali government protested immediately, contending that the road crosses territory that it claims and accusing India of changing the status quo without diplomatic consultations.

Among the many escalatory moves since then, Nepal deployed police forces to the region, summoned the Indian ambassador in Kathmandu, and initiated a constitutional amendment to formalise and extend its territorial claims over approximately 400 sq km. India, on the other hand, has conveyed its openness to a dialogue but does not seem to share Nepal’s sense of urgency: its initial statement agreed to a dialogue, but only after the COVID-19 crisis.

India has been in effective possession of this territory for at least sixty years, although Nepal claims it conducted a census there in the early 1950s and refers to the 1815 Sugauli Treaty as legitimising its claims. But India’s new road, up to the Lipulekh pass, is not an unprecedented change in the status quo. India has controlled this territory and built other infrastructure here before, besides conducting its administration and deploying military forces up to the border pass with China.

The region is of strategic importance, and the new road is now one of the quickest links between Delhi and the Tibetan plateau. In a 2015 statement, China also recognised India’s sovereignty by agreeing to expand trade through the Lipulekh pass. Finally, this is also an important route for thousands of Hindus who trek across the border with China every year to visit the sacred Mount Kailash. Given recurrent military tensions with China, the future potential of trade, and the religious symbolism of the region, India will certainly continue to exercise civilian and military control.

Kali river as separation line between India and Nepal

The Kali river originates at Kalapani in the Pithoragarh district in the Uttarakhand state of India. The river flows in few other places in the countries of India and Nepal. It forms the boundary between India and Nepal in the Kalapani region .

The Kali River flows through an area that covers a disputed area of about 400 km² around the source of the river although the correct size of the disputed area may vary from source to source. From 1962 onwards, the Indian government forwarded their  disagreement that the border should be based on the ridge lines of the mountain of Om Parvat. The dispute also aggravated in 1997 as the Nepal government considered a treaty on hydroelectric development in the Kali river. India and Nepal argued on which stream of the river constitutes their country, in order to establish hydroelectric development.  This argument in locating the source of the river Kali led to boundary disputes between India and Nepal. Both India and Nepal produced maps supporting their own claims.

Areas in the Indo-Nepal border dispute

Lipulekh and Kalapani are major regions in India, and the Susta region in Nepal is covered in the border dispute between India and Nepal.  The territorial dispute between India and Nepal includes an area of 400 km2 at the India-Nepal-China tri-junction region. The Kalapani territory is a region under Indian administration as a sector of Pithoragarh district in the Uttarakhand state, but has also been claimed by Nepal since 1998. However, the Nepal government claims that Kalapani province lies in Darchula district, Sudurpaschim Pradesh. Kalapani has been controlled by India’s Indo-Tibetan border security forces since 1962. But Nepal demands the withdrawal of the Indian border forces in Kalapani area because they are claiming that Kalapani belongs to them.

Lipulekh is a Himalayan pass situated on the border between Uttarakhand state of India and the Tibetan autonomous region of China, near their trijunction with Nepal. Nepal affirms that  the southern side of the Lipulekh pass, called Kalapani territory (which is controlled by India), belongs to Nepal. The pass is near the Chinese trading town of and it has been used since ancient times by traders, mendicants and pilgrims traveling between India and China. Lipulekh pass is also used by pilgrims to reach Kailas and Manasarovar.

As an initiative to demarcate the India – Nepal border, survey teams from both countries were set up in order to explore and resolve the issue. They conducted a survey of the border pillars prepared by the Joint Technical Level Nepal-India Boundary Committee (JTLNIBC).  The JTLNIBC was set up in 1981 to demarcate the India – Nepal border – and after years of surveying, deliberations, and extensions, the Committee had finally submitted the demarcating report in 2007 for ratification by both the countries.

The survey team identified missing pillars along the borders. Nepal maintained that it cannot ratify the maps given by the survey team without the resolution of Kalapani and Susta in the Nepal map. India, on the other hand awaited for Nepal’s ratification. In the absence of ratification, the process of completely demarcating the India-Nepal boundary could not be undertaken, and the border issue was not solved despite the formation of a survey team. From this argument, it is evident that both the countries continue to fail to compromise, and a lack of understanding is present between them.

India-Nepal border issues appear to be easily solvable, as long as there is political goodwill and statecraft being exercised on both sides. The way to move forward is to formally approve the strip maps, resolve the two remaining disputes, demarcate the entire India-Nepal boundary, and speedily execute the work of boundary maintenance.

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