The Nepalese Parliament, on June 14th, 2020, unanimously passed the Constitution Amendment Bill. This Bill revised the map of Nepal. The new map also claims parts of Indian territory as Nepalese. These include the regions of Lipulekh, Kala Paani and Limpiyadhura situated on the Uttarakhand border.
This issue makes Nepal the third State to have a territorial conflict with India. India already has territorial conflicts with Pakistan and China. The Indian Government has protested this move. It has called it a unilateral act of “artificial enlargement of territorial claim”.
Why did Nepal revise its boundaries?
The move came as a protest against the newly built Indian road in Uttarakhand. The road extends up to Kailash Mansarovar via Lipulekh. Nepal issued a statement on the very day that the road was inaugurated. It termed the road as encroachment of the tri-junction of Nepal, Tibet and India. As a result, the Nepalese Foreign Minister said that they pressed for a meeting with India over the issue. However, this meeting never happened.
In an interview, the Minister said that India must honour the letter and spirit of the Sugauli Treaty. Accordingly, it must hand over the said territories to Nepal. Nepal claims that they based the new map on the Sugauli treaty of 1816. Nepal had signed this Treaty with the British India government. They insist that they have enough proof to show that these territories are Nepalese. These proofs include various documents, facts and maps.
Nepal argues that the Kali river starts from Limpiyadhura. Limpiyadhura is a region north-west of Lipu Lekh. Thus, the 3 disputed territories fall to the East of the river. This makes them a part of Nepal’s province of Dharchula. India, however, contests this. India maintains that the river originates in Kalapani in the Himalayas. This region is in the Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand. India also has records dating back to the 19th century which prove that Kalapani was on the Indian side.
Why does India reject Nepal’s claim?
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that India has built the link road on its own territory. It also said that this territory is not under dispute whatsoever. The road was built on the pre-existing route for pilgrims of Kailash Mansarovar Yatra. Hence, it had religious as well as strategic importance for India.
Further, Indian Army Chief General M.M. Naravane hinted at China’s possible involvement. He said that Nepal might have done this “at the behest of someone else”. The road in question is to the West of the Kali river. Thus, it is not on the Nepalese territories which are East of the river. To further clarify, the river is the boundary separating the 2 nations.
The Indian side argued that it has built the road far from the disputed area. Defence Minister, Rajnath Singh also weighed in on the matter. He said the road was important for “strategic, religious and trade purposes”. India sees the building of the India-China border roads as a fraught exercise. India considers such development activities vital for border security.
How are international borders determined?
For a country to become a member of the United Nations, it has to submit various documents. The official map of the country is one of them. Nepal joined the UN as a permanent member in 1955, 6 years after applying in 1949. Yet, Nepal had not submitted the map then, and instead had offered map-like details. This is the first time Nepal has included the 3 territories in its map officially. This means that the map, as was submitted to the UN did not include the disputed areas.
Countries decide their international borders by mutual agreement. This is called Boundary Delimitation. India and Nepal are both members of the UN. Hence, they cannot use violent methods for determining their international boundaries. So they must come to a mutual understanding while determining their borders.
In the present case, Nepal took a unilateral decision of changing its map. It did not take India in confidence. Nepal would need a NOC from India if it is to claim areas that are officially included on the Indian map. However, Nepal has not fulfilled any such formality before altering its shared border.
How should the situation be handled?
Nepal’s Constitutional Amendment comes as a unilateral decision on an issue that is bilateral. Talks are necessary between the two countries, especially when Beijing might be deteriorating our foreign relations for its own gains. Nepal and India have always had friendly ties. However, India cannot afford to compromise its position on its borders anymore.
India has already lost plenty of land to its other neighbours. It would not be in our best interest to lose any more of our land. Therefore, the issue must be resolved through dialogue and diplomatic tactics only. The two countries have already expressed their willingness to discuss the matter. India must hold talks with Nepal before this issue escalates any further.
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