Friday, 12 April, 2024

Tackling The Kalapani Dispute

Uttam Maharjan


The publication by India of its new political map consequent upon the change in the autonomy status of Kashmir has sent ripples across Nepal as the map has included the Kalapani region, which includes Kalapani, Lipulek and Limpiyadhura, and which belongs to Nepal, in India's territory. Limpiyadhura has an area of 335 square kilometres, whereas Kalapani and Lipulek have an area of 62 square kilimetres. This has exposed the nefarious intention of the Indian government: to usurp as much land of Nepal as it can.
Nepal and India share a 1,758 kilometre-long porous border. There are border disputes in as many as 71 places. India has been encroaching upon Nepali land continuously. It is an irony that a Nepali has to wake up in the morning as an Indian as the Nepali land turns into Indian land overnight.

Shrinking territory
The Sugauli Treaty of 1816 AD has delimited the area of Nepal, shrinking its territory from an area of 204,917 square metres to an area of 147,181 square metres. As per the territory of Nepal determined by the treaty, the Kalapani region belongs to Nepal. During the Sino-Indian War of 1962, the Indian forces crossed the Kali River, the border between Nepal and India, and proceeded eastwards. And the Indian government stationed its forces there. It has been 57 years since the Indian forces were stationed in the Kalapani region but no successive governments, whether of the Panchayat era or of the multi-party democracy or of the present-day republican era, have taken the initiative in removing the Indian forces from the Nepali territory.
In May 2015, India and China bilaterally made an agreement for the promotion of trade with Lipulek as a transit point. Nepal objected to this agreement but China just assured the country that it was ready to rectify the error in the agreement, if any.
It is not that no initiative has been taken in trying to resolve Nepal-India border issues. In 1981, Nepal and India constituted a high-level joint technical border committee to resolve the outstanding border issues within ten years. But the committee could not fulfill its mission even by 2007. Now the committee has disappeared into thin air.
Now there is a foreign secretary-level mechanism and a foreign minister-level commission working on the border issues. It is unfortunate that the Indian government could not have the patience to wait for the recommendations of these bodies. It may be noted that the Nepal-India Joint Border Working Group is meeting in Kathmandu after three months and experts are of the opinion that India intends to present the just released map as proof that the Kalapani region belongs to it.
Before the Sugauli Treaty, the area of Nepal was greater than the present-day Nepal, extending from Teesta to Kangara. The territories lost by Nepal due to the treaty were annexed to British India by the British East India Company. When the British government left India in 1947, it should have given the territories back to Nepal but it did not. And the successive governments of Nepal have not made any diplomatic efforts to get back the lost territories. As a result, Nepal has been confined to the Mechi River in the east and the Mahakali River in the west.
There are now widespread protests against the Indian move. Political parties and leaders, media persons and the general public are all up in arms against the Indian move. Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli called a meeting of top political leaders and experts recently in response to the Indian move. The political leaders and experts suggested that the government should take the diplomatic initiative in resolving the issue with India. It would not be prudent to take drastic action against the Indian move. Nepal can enlist the support of the United Nations or move the International Court of Justice but diplomatic initiatives should be given the first priority.
Nepal has documents and evidence to prove that the Kalapani region belongs to it. The Prime Minister also said at the meeting that such documents were being collected. The government is now preparing the agenda with historical documents, maps and other evidence for discussion with India. The government should present a strong case before India with such documents and get back the Kalapani region. This is also an opportune time for the government to get back other territories usurped by India by producing the relevant documents and evidence.
Nepal and India have enjoyed age-old relations but India often shows a big-brotherly and hegemonic tendency. Encroaching upon Nepali land and making embankments on the Nepali side have become its routine. On the one hand, India has stationed its forces on the Nepal-India border, whereas Nepal has stationed almost none. Further, the government has not paid heed to what is happening in the border areas. The locals living in the border areas feel the absence of the government. This has encouraged India to do what it wants to in the border areas. This could be the reason India has made a despicable attempt to show the Kalapani region in its map. If this issue cannot be resolved in time, India may be further encouraged to show other territories of Nepal in its map.

So it is high time that the government took the initiative in resolving the issue politically and diplomatically at the highest level as the existing foreign secretary-level mechanism and foreign minister-level commission may not be capable of resolving the issue. The sooner the issue is resolved, the better. The issue, if it lingers on, may sour Nepal-India relations not only at the government level but also at the people's level.

(Former banker, Maharjan has been regularly writing on contemporary issues for this daily since 2000. He can be reached at