Security Challenges along Indo-Nepal Border Regions
Prof Hari Bansh Jha

Nepal holds a crucial role in India’s security not merely on account of its size, natural resources and population, but more so due to its strategic location between India and China, which happen to be the world’s fastest-growing economic and military powers. Of the two neighbours, Nepal shares a 1,751 km long border with India in the south, east and west, whereas it shares a 1,400 km border with China to the north. During his recent visit to Fatehpur Border Observation Post (BOP) along India’s border with Nepal in Bihar, Amit Shah, India’s Union Home Minister reviewed all important activities of the border area with Sahastra Seema Bal (SSB), including the problem of fake Aadhaar, misuse of voter cards, smuggling of cows, growing cases of counterfeit Indian currency, and illegal infiltration through the border points. In this regard, what worried him most were the demographic changes taking place along the Indo-Nepal border regions.

The SSB, which is the lead border security force on the India-Nepal border under the Ministry of Home Affairs of India, has been deployed in five Indian states bordering Nepal, including Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar West Bengal, and Sikkim since 2001. It is mandated to control smuggling and trafficking through the open border, apart from checking infiltration of the militants trained on foreign soil.

Considering the seriousness of the situation, Home Minister Amit Shah wanted the SSB jawans to remain extra vigilant while guarding the open border with Nepal to prevent any illegal trans-activity through it. He also felt the need to provide them with modern technology like CCTVs, drones, etc. for this purpose. To enhance the capability of its security wing, the Indian government already increased its spending on infrastructure in the border areas from Rs. 23,700 crores to Rs. 44,600 crores between 2014 and 2020 and it will do so more in future.

The border between Nepal and India was demarcated about two hundred years ago after the Sugauli Treaty between British India and the Gurkhas of Nepal in 1816. Until the deployment of the security agencies like the SSB on the Indian side of the border and the Armed Police Force (APF) on the Nepalese side of the border in 2001, the entire border region was largely guarded by no one other than the border inhabitants of the two countries and the local civil police.

Given the strong people-to-people relations among the border inhabitants, the Indo-Nepal border proved a great asset in strengthening the traditional bonds of relations between the two countries. Since these regions posed no meaningful threat to the government authorities, these issues did not figure much on the radar of the security agencies of the two countries. No adequate attention was paid by the governments of both countries to develop infrastructure facilities, like transport, communication, education, and health all along the border areas. As a result, sizeable sections of the population in these regions are poor and living a degraded life.

Taking undue advantage of the situation, certain power centers hostile to Nepal and India increased their presence through the religious and other institutions in some chosen pockets of the Indo-Nepal border areas. With the spurt in religious institutions, the demography changed in favour of certain communities, which in recent years led to a surge in multi-faceted crimes through the porous border. It is far easier now for unscrupulous elements to indulge in criminal activities in one country and then seek protection in the other. All this could not have happened without nexus between the local politicians of the two countries who provided them protection in different ways.

As such, despite the deployment of the SSB along the Indian side of the border and that of APF along the Nepalese side of the border, the smuggling, human trafficking, or infiltration of militants through the border hardly seems to have come under control. Considering this situation, certain forces both in India and Nepal often put forward the views for closing the traditional open border system between the two countries.

Compelled by the need to contain the trans-border spread of COVID-19, the two governments closed the Indo-Nepal border for months together from March 2020 onwards. Around that time, the use of Indian currency notes of above Indian Rs. 100 denominations was banned to discourage movement of tourists from India to Nepal. Vehicles bearing Indian registration number plates were denied entry into Nepal. The exchange of Indian and Nepali currencies too was virtually stopped. Some of these measures were adopted to discourage the movement of citizens between the two countries.

Because of these restrictions along the Indo-Nepal border, the hardships of the common people, especially of the border inhabitants, multiplied beyond any measure. People found it immensely difficult to cross the border for buying or selling goods for their daily consumption. Thousands of those who crossed over the border daily for employment, education, health, or other factors had to live in miseries.

Despite the difficulties posed along the Indo-Nepal border to check the movement of people during the COVID-19 period, people often started crossing the border through such routes where the presence of security agencies was least. Unauthorized trade, smuggling of goods, and other unscrupulous activities along the border also thrived during that period.

So, simply the closure of the border or its militarization is not going to lessen the human trafficking, smuggling of goods or even infiltration of unscrupulous elements through the border. What is needed today is to check the crimes along the Indo-Nepal border without affecting the day-to-day life of the citizens of the two countries in general and that of the border inhabitants in particular. Towards this end, it has become more important to equip the border security agencies on both the Indian and Nepalese sides of the border with the latest technology like drones, CCTVs, and other surveillance wherewithal. If needed, the number of security personnel could also be increased. But more than these, the security agency/agencies need to enhance greater communication with the villages and develop more networking with villagers horizontally through service delivery in their assigned regions. Along with this, vertical cooperation between the security agencies on both sides of the Indo-Nepal border is equally important.

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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