India’s defence minister virtually inaugurated a new 80 km-long road in the Himalayas, at the Lipulekh pass, connecting to the border with China. The Nepalese government came in immediate protest accusing Indian government of building a road on territory of Nepal and changing status-quo without diplomatic consultations.
What is the dispute about?
The Government of Nepal under the leadership of Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli passed a new bill in the House of Representatives on June 18, 2020 that included Indian territories namely Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura, within its borders. This came in response to India’s road construction in the region and pressure from Nepali Opposition, civil society, and press. Indian government rejected the new map calling the move an “artificial enlargement of claims, not based on historical facts.”
Image Source: Budddhi Narayan Shrestha, ‘Authenticity of Lipulekh border pass’, June 2015.
The disputed territory is a 338 square km strip located at the trijunction between India, Nepal, and China. The three areas of interest in this trijunction are Limpiyadhura pass, Lipulekh, and Kalapani. Though this territory has been in effective possession of India for at least 60 years, Nepal claims its authority over it. India has built other infrastructure in this territory and even deployed army, but it seems like Nepal, who is facing an internal political crisis, found this a way to gain support.
Why did India build a road through this territory?
The trijunction is of strategic importance to India. The new road through this territory is the quickest link between Delhi and Tibet. The route via Lipulekh Pass is of immense importance for Indo-China trade. Moreover, the region is important for Hindu pilgrims who trek across the border in the Kailash-Mansarovar Yatra.
How and when did the dispute begin?
Nepal got its borders demarcated under the Treaty of Sugauli, 1815 signed between the Gorkha Kingdom of Nepal and the British East India Company. Under this treaty, it was decided that the Kali river on the west and Mechi river on the east will mark Nepal’s boundaries. Though, neither party signed on any map.
The British East India Company later realized that the origin of Kali river was near the Limpiyadhura pass which was important for trade purposes. Thus, they shifted the boundaries of Nepal to the east of Kalapani, to which the then monarch of Nepal did not object.
India controlled this territory for a long time. Even in 1962, it had deployed troops in the region to keep on check on Chinese aggression. But situation changed when Nepal turned from monarchy to democratic rule in 1990s, introducing trijunction as the new border dispute between India and Nepal. In 2000, the then Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had agreed to conduct field surveys at the border. However, the process did not go further as India refused to remove troops from the trijunction until the process was over. On similar lines in 2015, India and China agreed to use Lipulekh to further trade between the two countries. However, the then Nepalese Prime Minister Sushil Koirala raised strong objections to the deal.
What is the current situation at the Indo-Nepal border?
On June 13, 2020, Nepal had deployed armed police along its border near Kalapani, that even led to the killing of an Indian citizen in a firing incident. There is constant patrolling Nepalese army at the border and Indian ambassador to Kathmandu has been summoned. Not only this, villages in Uttarakhand who can catch the frequency of radio stations of neighbouring country are bombarded with anti-India songs that call for the return of areas in Uttarakhand.
As per TOI report, Babita Sanwal, a school teacher in Dharchula in Pithoragarh district who was till some time back a regular listener of Darchula FM of Nepal, said she generally opted to listen to news on radio while walking back home from school. “I have now stopped listening to Nepalese FM after they started playing a lot of anti-India songs on FM,” she said. “These songs are being played multiple rounds, every hour.” Sanwal said she remembered the lyrics of one of the songs: “Hamrai ho tyo Kalapani, Lipulekha, Limpiyadhura… Utha, jaga, veer Nepali (Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura are ours… Wake up, brave people).”