Besides the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan which has free movements of people and goods with India, Nepal is the second country which shares the same privileged relation with Union of India. The India – Nepal Treaty of peace and Friendship of 1950 signed between the Government of India and Government of Nepal brings both the countries to close strategic relationship. The treaty also allows free movements of people and goods between the two nations. The treaty gives especial privilege to the Government of Nepal to have free access to import, from or through the territory of India, including defence equipments and warlike stores under Article 5 of Indo – Nepal Treaty of 1950. India and Nepal also share especial relation under Tripartite Agreement of 1947 between India, Nepal and Britain, and under the agreement six Gorkha Regiments of erstwhile British Indian Army joined the Indian Army. Gorkhas of Nepal domicile are working in different regiments of the Indian army till today.
Regardless of decades of exchange of all good wills between the two neighboring Asian countries, a road block having its origin in historicity cartography came to limelight soon after a 75 Km Indian border road from Darchula to Lipulekh in border area between the countries was inaugurated by Defence Minister Rajnath singh on May 8, 2020. The road is an axis for border trade between India, Nepal and China and also an important route for Kailash – Mansarovar Yatra in Tibet. The Government of Nepal under PM KP Sharma Oli reacted strongly against the road alignment and he termed that the road was constructed in Nepali territory by India. This episode in Indo – Nepal relationship brings into limelight old Kalapani dispute between the countries.
India shares fourth longest land boundary after Bangladesh, China, Pakistan upto 1700 Km with Nepal. The Indo – Nepal Technical Level Joint Boundary working Group which was set up in 1981 achieved to settle some of the most contentious areas between the two countries especially in flat terrain in Terai region. Almost 98% of boundary between the two countries has been resolved and strip maps have been prepared and signed by surveyors of both the countries except for two disputed areas of Kalapani and Susta (Maharajganj district of Utter Pradesh).
Mahakali River is the clear defined boundary between India and Nepal at its lower and middle course of the river without any dispute. The dispute between both countries along the Mahakali River lies at its upper course at Gunji village. At this junction, two streams, west stream and east stream or the tributaries of Kali River confluenced to form the Kali River (Main Kali River). But the point of contention between the countries is that which tributary amongst two streams constitutes main channel of Kali River. Nepal point of contention is that western tributary amongst two constitutes the main Kali River, which in turns would entitle more land territory to Nepal. India claims that eastern tributary constitutes main channel of the Kali River, and this position would offer more land to India.
The Nepali argument of western tributary being the main channel of the Kali River is that it’s larger and longer as compared to eastern tributary, and thus western tributary is the main channel of the Kali River. This tributary originates at a point called Limpiyadhura Pass at a highest point and flows almost 40 Km until it joins with eastern tributary at Gunji Village. This gives Nepali an edge over India in terms of territory gain. Nepal produced, in their support, all historical maps issued by British Government to Nepalese Government when the former was ruling Indian Sub- Continent. According to this claim, areas east of western tributary belong to Nepal including disputed places - Lipulekh and Kalapani. Nepal claims, according to their point of contention, that approximately 375 Sq. Km of Nepalese land is under occupation by India.
Another version of interpretation of main channel for the Kali River is that all maps issued by British post 1860 referred to stream from Lipulekh (origin of Eastern tributary) to Kali River as a main channel for Kali River in contrary to Nepalese interpretation. India holds revenue records to prove that the area belonged to Pithoragarh District of Uttrakhand since 1830s. Whatever India’s claiming is based cartography records the former inherited from British at the time of Independence in 1947. Nepalese Government has a feeling that India has incorporated the disputed areas into the India territories in Map of India of 2019.
Genesis of Dispute
Genesis of the dispute may be traced back to the era of King Narayan shah’s expansionist policy of Nepal in the 18th Century. The policy brought the Nepalese king in direct confrontation with British ruling erstwhile Indian Sub-Continent then. Anglo – Nepal War of 1814 – 15 broke out and Nepalese force was defeated by British and resulted in signing of Treaty of Sugauli to cease the hostility in 1816. British pushed back expanded Nepalese territory to be bounded by Mechi River in the East and Mahakali River in the west. The Gurkhas, then reluctantly signed the treaty, or else British advancing army would have had reached near Kathmandu. Therefore, the territory of Nepal has been restricted, in case of its western boundary, upto Mahakali River. Contentious between the countries arises in the interpretation of origin of the Mahakali River or which channel amongst the two tributaries constitutes main channel to Mahakali River.
Recent Manifestation of the Indo – Nepal Dispute
Nepal, on May 20, 2020 released a new political map of Nepal based on old British map survey reflecting Kali River originating from Limpiyadhura instead of a spring near Lipulekh Pass. The map was adopted in the parliament of Nepal by present Government of Nepal and also proposed for amendment in the constitution of Nepal to add new territory of 335 Sqkm under new boundary alignment. Nepalese moved came and borne significance especially when it came after few days India inaugurated its 75 Km long border road in the district of Pithoragarh. Indian termed the Nepalese map and inclusion of Indian land into its territory as ‘artificial enlargement’ of territory by Nepal.
- NPK SinghAmity University