New Dynamics in Nepal-India Relations
Prof Hari Bansh Jha

Nepal-India relations are as old as the history of human civilization. No two countries of the world are as much tied together through the bonds of geography, culture, social, economic, religion, and language as these two countries. Because of these factors, the foundation of friendship between the two sovereign nations has been so stable and strong that even small jerks in relations, especially at the government-to-government level, do not affect the ground realities.

Because Nepal for all practical purposes is an India-open country, most of Nepal’s trade with other countries occurs through Indian territory. India is a proactive partner in the development sector in Nepal, including in energy, infrastructure, education, health water resources, disaster management, and cross-border connectivity through railways, roads and electricity transmission lines. Nepal’s first two plans beginning in 1956 were virtually financed by India. Cooperation between the two countries on these fronts has greatly helped to transform the entire development landscape in our region.

In 2023, Nepal sold green energy worth INR. 9.6 billion to India, which is likely to increase to INR. 15.6 billion in 2024, a jump of over 61 per cent. The two countries are likely to resolve the costs and benefits related issues of the 6,480 MW Pancheshwar project planned in 1996 on the Mahakali River along the Nepal-India border for power generation, irrigation and flood control. Several other mega hydropower projects, including Arun 3, are underway in Nepal. Such a development could substantially boost our economies.

Unfortunately, though, disputes between Nepal and India over the border issues in Kalapani, Limpiyadhura and Lipulekh areas along the trijunction point between Nepal, India and China have somewhat soured our relations, especially at the government-to-government level. Both Nepal and India claim these areas as part of their territories.

The problem arose in 2015 when India and China agreed to use Lipulekh pass for trade between the two countries without consulting Nepal. Following this development, Nepal amended its constitution and incorporated the entire Kalapani, Limpiyadhura and Lipulekh areas into its territory. Accordingly, a new map of the country was released in 2020. But India immediately rejected Nepal’s claim over this region.

Recently, the Nepal government decided to exhibit the new map in its notes of 100-rupee denomination. Criticising this move of the government to place the new map with disputed areas between Nepal and India on the notes of 100 rupee denomination, Chiranjibi Nepal, former Governor of Nepal’s central bank i.e. Nepal Rastra Bank said, “Nepal being in dispute with India over certain parts of territory is one thing but printing in the currency a map that is different from what the international bodies, including two neighbours, have recognized is unwise.”

Until the Treaty of Sugauli Treaty of 1816 between the East India Company and Nepal, there was no properly delineated border between Nepal and India. The border was delineated only after this development. Ever since then, the border has remained open for the citizens of Nepal and India. The border is a lifeline for most people on both sides as they cross it each day for education, health, business, trade, social, cultural and religious purposes, apart from buying daily necessities of life.

Over the years, frequent cross-border movement of Nepali and Indian citizens through the land border has facilitated marriages between the people on the two sides. This roti-beti rista among the people rejuvenates the relations at the people-to-people level between the two countries. But being envious of these relations, certain elements in Nepal have now started advocating for introducing a passport system for the people while crossing the border. As if this is not enough, to curb the movement of people while crossing the border, they have also begun to create public opinion through film, social media and other ways to fence the border with barbed wire and introduce a passport system on the flimsy ground that crime rates and smuggling are growing in the region.

Questions arise about whether it is the open border system as such that is responsible for the growing crimes and smuggling between the two countries or if there are some other factors like the failure of intelligence and security agencies to curb the elements involved in such unscrupulous practices. If this is not so, how is it that the Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu has emerged as a hub of gold smuggling despite the presence of all the security agencies over there? Such activities often happen when the smugglers or the criminal elements receive patronage from high-profile people in the respective countries.

The fact is that the border between Nepal and India is not completely open. The Border Security Force (BSF) in India and the Armed Police Force (APF) in Nepal patrol their respective border regions. Powerful surveillance cameras have been installed over there. Vehicles moving from one country to the other are recorded. The Customs officials of the two countries regulate the entry and exit of goods between the two countries. Also, the security agencies of the two countries meet regularly to assess the situation along the border.

To ensure effective surveillance and management of the border, Nepal’s Supreme Court has recently ordered the government to stop all criminal activities along the Nepal-India border. For this, it wants the government to use all possible modern equipment and technologies like drones and CCTV cameras. Besides, it also wants the government to resolve the existing border disputes with India by using diplomatic channels and restoring missing and broken border pillars, apart from clearing the no man’s land.

Nepal and India have completed 98 per cent of survey work on their 1853 km long international border. So, there are no boundary issues in most of the border regions. People in the border regions live in peace and harmony, which the vested interests want to disturb by one or the other tricks. Given the multi-faceted unique relations among the people in Nepal and India, there is no reason why even contentious issues at some points such as in Kalapani, Limpiyadhura and Lipulekh, apart from Susta, cannot be resolved through dialogue at the diplomatic channels.

(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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