This article is written by Tarannum Vashisht, a student of Rajiv Gandhi National University Of Law, Punjab. This article is aimed at explaining the major issues erupting between India and Nepal, primarily focusing on the Lipulekh issue.
On May 25, 2020, Nepal released a revised map of its country, encompassing some territories which India remarked was an integral part of its territory. This sparked a lot of debate and ultimately widespread criticism of Nepal’s recent move by Indian ministries.
This may seem like a small fight, arising from a mere boundary dispute between two neighbouring countries. However, that is not the case. This stems from a long-standing dispute between India, Nepal and China for a piece of land that lies at the tripartite juncture of these countries.
This piece of land is called the Kalapani-Limpiadora-Lipulekh trijunction. The aim of this article is an in-depth understanding of this dispute, the primary focus being Lipulekh. This article also throws light of other disputes circumscribing this dispute.
To understand the current issue of Lipulekh pass it is pertinent to understand the dispute over Kalapani-Limpiadora-Lipulekh trijunction. The Kalapani-Limpiadora-Lipulekh trijunction of India, Nepal and China is a disputed territory amongst these three countries. Let’s try to gain a greater understanding of this issue.
How did this issue start?
This dispute finds its basis in the historical accuracy or inaccuracy of the location of Kalapani-Limpiadora-Lipulekh tri-junction of India, Nepal and China. The dispute is that India considers this territory as a part of it’s Pithoragarh district, while Nepal firmly contends that it is a part of its Dharchula district. This is a historic cartographic dispute between the two countries, dating back to the time when Nepal was ruled by Raja Prithvi Raj Narayan Shah and India was under the rule of the British. Let’s take a look at the British Nepalese Relations in the eighteenth and nineteenth century.
British- Nepalese relations
Prithvi Narayan Shah of Nepal is said to be one of the most ambitious and powerful Gorkha rulers. He had successfully unified Nepal, keeping its borders intact. The British, too in the 18th century had acquired a significant part of India, and hence had a formidable presence in the subcontinent.
The relations between Nepal and British India soured when a border dispute arose between the two countries. As the British extended the borders of Awadh northward, tensions arose between the two countries, due to the British forces’ proximity with Palpa, a town of Nepal. Another reason for the Britisher’s unhappiness with Nepal was that they were serving as a hindrance to their trade ambitions in Tibet.
On 1 November 1814, a full-fledged war broke out between Nepal and India. This war went on for two long years and ended with the Sugauli treaty. Britishers acquired the areas of Kumaon and Garhwal, limiting the boundaries of Nepal to what they are today. This territory required the king of Nepal to surrender all its territories, except the ones that this country possesses till date.
It is pertinent to note that the fifth article of the Sugauli treaty says that the king of Nepal, via this treaty, renounces his rights to all lands to the west of Kali river. Neither he nor his heirs are now to do anything with the inhabitants of this region. Following this incident, Nepal’s western border is marked by river Kali.
The issue lies in allocating a precise location of River Kali, there is no consensus regarding the same. The issue of Kalapani-Limpiadora-Lipulekh trijuncture has stemmed from this lack of consensus. Two major reasons have accrued to this, one is the belief that Britishers, for strategic purposes, kept on shifting the border eastwards. On the other is the belief of some scholars that nature took a toll over the river and changed its course with time.
A contest over demarcating the territories
There still remain disputes over the demarcation of the territories of Nepal and India. Some Nepalese geographers are of the belief that since no map of the divided territories was made at the time of signing of the treaty, the maps which were made at that time should be considered. Now the question that arises is maps of which time period should be considered?
It is firmly proposed by Nepali scholars that till 1857 all maps produced by Britishers give a clear indication that the origin of river Kali lies in Limpiadora pass. The maps were changed by the Britishers between 1857 and 1881 and river Kali was misnamed. This, according to the people of Nepal, is unfair and illegal as this was a unilateral decision taken by the Britishers.
Indian scholars, on the other hand, focus more upon the revenue records dating back to 1830s, which indicate that Kala Pani was traditionally administered as a part of Pithoragarh district, falling in the Indian territory.
Indians also give a lot of importance to the first-ever survey of the upper reaches of river Kali which was conducted in the 1870s. In consonance to this survey, a map was made which indicates that Kalapani was a part of the British Indian territory. According to Indians, this is the map which should be considered for demarcation of the territories today.
There also lies a dispute on the origin of River Kali. This is because the demarcation of the two countries, according to the treaty, depends on the course of river Kali.
Nepal contends that the river originates from Limpiyadhura, a stream which lies north-west of Lipu Lekh. Hence Kalapani and Lipu lekh lie to the east of river Kali and henceforth are a part of Dharchula, a district of Nepal.
According to India, the river originates from springs that are well below the Lipulekh pass. The area above these springs was not demarcated by the treaty, therefore Indians contend that the revenue records of that time should be considered for a precise demarcation. These records indicate Kalapani and Lipulekh to be well within the Indian territory.
Both these nations have their proof of the British era, intact. Therefore, this dispute regarding the territoriality of Kalapani is unclear till date.
Recent efforts at drawing a consensus
Following are the recent efforts made by India and Nepal towards solving the boundary dispute between these two countries-
- In the 1980s, a Joint Technical Level Boundary Working Group was set up with the consensus of both these countries to demarcate the boundaries of these two nations. The group was successful in demarcating everything except Kalapani.
- In the year 2000, talks were initiated at the prime ministerial level. During BP Koirala’s (then the prime minister of Nepal) visit to New Delhi, to meet Atal Bihari Vajpayee, then the prime Minister of India, it was divided between the two that this outstanding boundary dispute of Kalapani would be solved by 2002. However, there was no progress.
- A plan was chalked out by the countries to meet this year and solve this impending boundary dispute. This plan has however been halted by the sudden breakage of COVID 19.
LipuLekh Pass issue
Lipulekh is a part of Uttrakhand, it falls in Dharchula’s Chaudans valley. Dharchula comes under Pithoragarh district of Kumaon region. Lipulekh links with Nepal’s Bashyash valley and China’s autonomous region-Tibet.
Lipulekh road was constructed by the India China Border Roads Organization. This road is en route to the annual Kailash Mansarovar Yatra, one of the most revered pilgrimage spots of Hindus. Therefore, this road is considered to be important because of religious, strategic and trade-related reasons.
The road was constructed between Ghatibagar in Dharchula to Lipulekh near the Chinese border. The length of this road is 75 km. This road ends at lipulekh pass, whose height is 17,000 feet. The lipulekh pass is close to the trijuncture between India, China and Nepal and is the lowest point of that portion of Himalayas.
The Construction of this road makes many Indo- China security check posts accessible. In 2008, the construction of this road began and was halted in 2013. In 2018, a revised cost of Rs 439.40 crore was approved for its construction.
The Indian government is proud of the fact that this road besides being of immense importance from the security point of view, it also eases the journey of the pilgrims. A tiring trek of 17060 ft becomes an easy road journey.
Another achievement is that the route to the pilgrimage would now be mostly through the Indian landmass and not through China or Nepal. The other two routes for reaching Kailash Mansarover are through Nepal and through the Nathu la Border in Sikkim. From these routes, 80 percent of the journey is through China and the remaining 20 per cent through Indian roadways.
With the building of this new road, this proportion reverses. Now, to cover the whole journey, 16 per cent roadways of China and 84 per cent roads of India are used. The India- China road trade via lipulekh would now be imbued with better connectivity.
What motivated the government to construct this road?
For the construction of roads leading up to the LAC, a special forum called the India China Border Roads was made by the China Studies Group for the construction of border roads between India and China. The Cabinet Committee on Security approved the plan for construction of these roads in 1999.
However, this plan was not put into action until the Doklam standoff between India and China. It was only after that incident that the Indian government realised the need for the completion of construction of these roads. Till that date, only 22 out of them had been constructed.
After that date, various reports of the government proved the urgency of construction of these roads due to their trade, security and development related benefits. Therefore, the need for updating infrastructure, security and management of the border areas became the motivation of the Indian government to construct these roads.
In the 1962 Sino- Indian war, India acquired Kalapani and its borders were guarded by the Indian forces since that day. It is pertinent to note here that Nepal did not raise any grievance at that time and virtually ignored this issue of Kalapani.
When India and China’s first trading post was opened at Lipulekh in 1992, Nepal became anxious. Nepal was opposed to these growing trade relations between the two countries.
In 1998, the Nepalese government raised this issue for the first time. The government contended that the border of the country should be shifted 5.5 km westwards as this is what was decided by the treaty of Sugauli.
An incident which added to tensions between the two countries was tacit support by India for a Blockade done against the making of a new constitution by the Madhesi community. This angered the Nepalese government.
Another incident occurred when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was on his visit to Beijing in 2016. There were protests by the Nepali youth in Kalapani as well in the parliament of Nepal over India and China’s decision to increase trade through Lipulekh.
Nepal raised objection in November 2019, when India released its new political map denoting the bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir. Here, Nepal disapproved of India’s portrayal of Kalapani, within its state of Uttarakhand.
Nepal raised objections on the construction Lipulekh road on 17 April 2020, that is the day of inauguration. On that day the foreign ministry of Nepal expressed its discontentment over the construction of this road. The people of Nepal, the ruling Nepal Communist Party and the opposition party of Nepal, the Nepal Congress were out on the streets protesting against India’s release of the political map.
Nepal and India have remained on friendly terms for many years now. So much so that there is an open border between the two countries, with a major chunk of Nepali population working in India.
However, in recent years this trend has seen a change. Due to the various reasons enumerated in this article, tensions have increased between these two neighbours. India has shown its inclination towards solving issues with Nepal through its foreign ministry. Talks were to commence this year, however, due to the outbreak of COVID 19 crisis, talks on these issues between the two countries have come to a standstill.
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