Deciphering the Kalapani dispute between Nepal and India

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The border issue over the areas of Kalapani and Susta between India and Nepal has remained unresolved for years and amid the ongoing covid-19 crisis, recently, India’s defence minister Rajnath Singh flagged of a road link connecting Lipulekh with Kailash Manasarovar that engendered further tensions in Nepal. In response, the latter published a revised map that shows the Kalapani area within its borders. This has supposedly been instigated by a series of four actions – first in May 2015 when India and China signed an agreement, without consulting Nepal, to boost trade through the Lipu Lekh pass, secondly in November 2019 when India released a new political map showing Kalapani within its territory, thirdly the recent inauguration of road link and the last being the statement made by the Indian Army Chief General M.M Naravane.

While Nepal considers the route along the Lipu Lekh pass and the India-China-Nepal tri-junction i.e the Kalapani territory to be a part of Dharchula district mostly basing their claim on Sugauili Treaty of 1816 among others, India on the other hand considers it as a part of Uttarakhand’s Pithoragarh district.

The new political maps of the respective countries (left: India and right: Nepal)

The new political maps of the respective countries (left: India and right: Nepal)

Short history behind the territorial dispute

In the late 1700s, Nepal under the reign of king Prithvi Narayan Shah expanded its territories to the west of Uttarakhand that ultimately led to its agreement to Sugauli Treaty in 1816 with the British East India Company. The treaty claims Kali River to be the western boundary of Nepal with India. However, what gave room for the territorial dispute was the fact that the river itself has lots tributaries mixing into its course and moreover, to demarcate river Kali as the boundary, there should be a mutual agreement between India and Nepal on the origin of the river. While India considers its origin to be the northeastern Kalapani streams, according to Nepal, the river originates in the southwestern which is the Kuthi Yankti streams in Limpiyadhura. However, in 1996 the two countries signed the Mahakali treaty to share rivers and resolve all of their border disputes.

Being connected to Kailash Manasarovar, the Lipulekh Pass holds immense religious significance for the Hindu and Buddhist pilgrims of both the countries. Moreover, especially for India, the area is crucial in terms of national security, considering the encroachment of Chinese troops in 1962 through Se La Pass.

A dispute between Nepal and India that has been unresolved for ages, if left to fester further, may ultimately creep its way into the close personal ties the people of the respective countries have had with respect to religion, language and ethnicity. Having said that, with Nepal delaying its amendment of the constitution that would otherwise give legal backing to the new controversial map, hopefully, there would be a friendly and peaceful talks between the two countries which may lay the dispute to rest.

Last modified: June 2, 2020

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