Nepal-India Border and Borderland Communities Under COVID-19

The Nepal–India Border and

Borderland Communities

Under COVID-19

Buddhi Narayan Shrestha

There is an open border regime between Nepal and India since centuries.

But all the border-crossings have been closed dramatically during the

COVID-19 pandemic period. The number of Border Observation Posts

increased from 120 to 500 to obstruct movement. So the daily

activities of borderland communities were affected.

Introduction

The Nepal–India Boundary is 1,880 kilometres long, with an open border regime. It has twenty major border crossing-points. Before the pandemic, Nepalese and Indian inhabitants could cross the porous border from anywhere many times a day without any obstruction or interrogation.

There are more than six million Nepali people working in India in various capacities such as security guards, domestic workers, hotel restaurant waiters, industrial guard, porters, agriculture helpers, etc (Nagarik Daily, 4 August 2014). In the same way, about four million Indians work in various parts of Nepal as school teachers, carpenters, masonry workers, plumbers, electricians, furniture makers, etc (Madhukar Shumsher JBR, FPRC Journal, 2014(3) http://www.fprc.in). They could come and go from their homes for their livelihoods without any problem. If border police suspected anyone, proof of identity was enough to pass.

It was generally not necessary for Nepali and Indian citizens to show identity proof nor to keep records of the movement of people while crossing the international border before the COVID-19 pandemic. But the border has been closed from both sides since 24 March 2020 when the pandemic started to spread. The border is still formally restricted, even though the lockdown officially ended on 21 July 2020. Nevertheless, the local frontier inhabitants can cross the border on foot. Border police do not stop them. Cargo trucks with foodstuff, fruits, vegetables, and merchandise are permitted to enter from either side. However, passenger vehicles have still been restricted. The number of armed police personnel patrolling has increased to obstruct the movement of “non-essential” borderland inhabitants.

Study Area

My case study area is around the Belhi–Sunauli (Nepal– India) crossing-point. I have been to and from Indian towns many times through this point before COVID-19. This is one of the major crossing gates through which 1.28 million travelers crossed from India to Nepal and 1.36 million people entered into India from Nepal during the year 2018-19, the year before COVID-19 (Immigration Officer Giriraj Khanal and Area Police Inspector Bir Bahadur Thapa, Belhi).

Just three days before the lockdown, 16 to 18 thousand Nepalese, who worked in India, commuted across the border daily through this crossing-point (Kantipur Daily, 22 March 2020). When the lockdown started on 24 March, nearly 335 Nepalese were stranded in the Indian frontier, as the border was closed.

There are police posts, immigration and customs posts, and armed police personnel patrolling along this Belhi-Sunauli border crossing-point. Before the pandemic, Indian frontier inhabitants used to come to Nepali weekly Bhairahawa open market to sell their farm products such as vegetables, fruits, milk, ghee, and other consumable goods at a higher price. Nepalese borderland community people would go to the Indian Sunauli market to buy sugar, salt, spices, daily necessities, and cotton clothes at a cheaper rate in comparison to Nepali market. But these usual activities have been obstructed due to spread of the coronavirus.

Border Filtering Process

Immigration office, customs post, and police check posts personnel have been stationed in all 20 main border crossing-points along the Nepal–India border. Before COVID-19, Nepalese and Indian nationals could cross the international border without interrogation. They wouldn’t have to enter immigration check-points. But third-country nationals had to face the immigration office.

Major Customs Offices were established to check the third-country travelers and to provide visa facilities. Armed police patrolled along the border to deter illegal activities. However, unwanted elements misused the open border. Criminals commit crime in one frontier and could easily hide on the other side. Terrorists use to cross the border in a disguised manner as Nepali/Indian inhabitants, as those who had their attire, posture, food habit, language, as similar to either Indian or Nepali. There were cases of smuggling of goods and electronic materials, trafficking of girls and women, narcotic trafficking, export of fake Indian currency notes brought from third countries to Nepal and then India. These unwanted elements would try to infiltrate the porous border rather than through the main crossing-points. All these happenings were due to less vigilance and low numbers of armed police personnel along the border.

Border Management System Changed Because of COVID-19

During the COVID-19 pandemic period, the situation of border management system has been changed dramatically. The open and porous border was changed into a completely closed border system on both sides.

Formerly, Nepal had deployed 5,000 Armed Police Force (APF) along the border, establishing 120 Border Observation Posts (BoPs), six-to-ten kilometers apart in the plain areas and eight-to-fifteen kilometres apart in the hilly region. It had deputed 30 to 35 APF personnel in each BoP on average. Whereas India had deployed 45,000 special security bureau (SSB) with 530 BoPs, two to four kilometres apart having 85 personnel in each BoP. Immigration and customs officers, intelligentsia, and security personnel had been deputed in the border crossing check-points.

When the lockdown was announced on 24 March 2020 by both countries, movement was restricted on both sides. Border-point officials, in a sense, have much less work as the movement of travelers and frontier inhabitants has been restricted. On the other hand, there have not been sufficient numbers of health officers and social workers.

In course of time, there were nearly 500 Nepalese stranded at the Indian frontier, as the border was restricted during first wave of Covid-19. They were harassed, because they were under lockdown into the closed door. There was not sufficient food and drink inside. When they tried to go out of the door, policemen would strike their heads with wooden batons. However, those who were eligible were permitted to enter the Nepali frontier after general health checks by means of thermal guns, rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs), and polymerase chain reaction (PCRs).

Nepal border security forces expanded to 22,000 personnel from 8,000 during the pandemic. It added 320 temporary BoPs to make 500 to obstruct the movement of people from India. A ban on walking across the border was enforced except in emergency situations. However, special passes were provided from the local body and district administration to borderland communities to attend funerals and ritual events.

Management After the Formal End of Lockdown

The lockdown was ended on 21 July 2020 in Nepal, with some restrictions in areas heavily hit by the novel coronavirus and continued suspension of public transport vehicles. However, the Nepal–India border crossing-gates were still closed officially and restricted for the movement of people by land as well as air. The Nepalese government had decided to continue the ban on people’s movement across the border with India and China until 15 December 2020 (Himalayan Times Daily, 20 November 2020). After that, number of BoPs has gone down to 175 with around 6,000 armed police personnel. Nepal government established additional BoPs after the lock down and now it became 183 posts having 6,300 at the end of March 2021. The government has a plan to expand it to 500 BoPs (485 along Indian frontier and 15 towards Chinese frontier) having 15,000 armed police personnel by 2024 AD.

Nevertheless, the Nepalese had gone to Indian cities for their jobs when the pandemic gone down, as they were out of work in their hometowns and other cities of Nepal. According to border area security personnel, more than 140 Nepalese crossed the Gaddha Chowki border-point in a single day on 17 November 2020 to go to their work place in India (Kantipur Daily, 18 November 2020). It is an example of one crossing point.  

When there was the second wave of corona pandemic in Nepal and India, border crossing points have been closed since 29 April 2021. Before the closure of crossing check-posts, Nepalis working in various cities of India started to return back home. On average one thousand Nepali came back daily through the Gaddha Chowki crossing point. While checking the corona virus to the returning passenger, 47 persons have been identified as virus affected. (Kantipur Daily, 25 March 2021). This is the representative figure of a single Nepal-India crossing point.  

The borderland communities are not happy, as the border has been closed for the last eight months during the first wave of pandemic. Border closures also affected weddings of borderland inhabitants. For example, twenty-year-old Nepalganj Municipality inhabitant Ali Shaiyad’s marriage has been stalled for months. Originally scheduled to tie the knot with a boy across the border in April, the wedding keeps being postponed due to the border closure and pandemic (Himalayan Times Daily, 24 November 2020).

COVID-19 in Nepal

The first COVID-19 affected person in Nepal was detected on 23 January 2020. The first case of death was on 16 May. By 21 July, when the lockdown relaxed, fatalities reached 80 and the infected number increased to 23,948, whereas 16,664 people (75 percent) recovered. From 22 July to 14 August in a three-week period, the death rate increased by nearly 20 percent. Now, the total test (PCR) is 1.67 million, and the identified confirmed cases are 222,288 persons and among them 202,067 have been recovered. The total death through 23 November was 1,942  patients. Staffing in hospitals and temporary health centers have been increased tremendously and they are busy many hours a day. In the same way, border security forces and BoPs increased along the border. But the immigration personnel at border check-points have sat idle, with the border formally closed.

In the second wave of Covid-19, the pandemic started to spread extensively. So, the ‘Prohibitory Order’ was implemented from 29 April 2021 initially for two weeks. Then, it is extended to14 June. Till the writing of this line, the total test (PCR) is 3,108,938  and identified confirmed cases are 576,936 persons and among them 467,467 have been recovered. The total death through 3 June 2021 is 7,630 patients. (Ministry of Health, Government of Nepal). It shows that during the first lock down period of four months, the death case was 1,942. But after executing the second prohibitory order from 20 April 2021, the death case reached to nearly 2.5 fold more on 3 June.

Feeling of Borderland Communities During COVID-19

Indian frontier community people have been aggressive during COVID-19, due to barring them from crossing the border for their daily livelihood, such as taking domestic animals to the other frontier for grazing and grass cutting. A group of 40 Indian community inhabitants tried to infiltrate the Nepali frontier from the Malangawa Municipality Bhediyari crossing-point. Armed police BoP personnel stopped them towards Indian frontier. But they were furious and hurled stones and logs at Nepali armed policemen. An Indian national attacked the Nepal Armed Police Force constable who was patrolling the border on 22April. The policeman was wounded on his head. In the meantime they were driven away with the help of Indian SSB personnel.

On 23 April, eight Nepali nationals returning from India forcefully tried to enter into Belhi, Nepal. Nepal Police took them into custody and they were sent back from where they had entered and ultimately handed over to Indian Police. They were taken to Subash Chandra Junior High School quarantine center at Sunauli No-man’s land. They were examined by RDTs, PCRs, and thermal guns. On the other side, a 43-year-old Indian national and another 35 years of age fled from the Nepal Siddharthanagar Municipality-3 quarantine on 23 April.

Conclusion

The Nepal–India border cannot be closed for ever, but neither it should be entirely open. Borderland community inhabitants of both countries have close relationships with each other since historic times in terms of kith and kin, pilgrimage, and social factors. In fact, the border must be regulated during and after COVID-19. There should be designated exit and entry points along the border. ID cards should be introduced while crossing the border. It should establish coronavirus check-up desks with sufficient health workers with necessary equipment and materials near to the border crossing gates. All travelers must be thoroughly examined to determine whether they carry the coronavirus. If virus-infected Nepali passengers have been identified, they should be obstructed and sent to local quarantine camp. If some of them are Indian nationals, they should be handed over to Indian health desk. After rigorous health checking, they should be permitted to enter into the immigration desk.

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Nepal-India-China Tri-junction

Nepal-India-China tri-junction

The most important elements to settle the border issues are dialogue, discussion, friendliness, neighbourliness and mutual understanding.

Buddhi Narayan Shrestha


Buddhi Narayan Shrestha

A tri-junction or a tri-border area is a geographical point at which the borders of three countries or sub-national entities meet. China has 16 tri-points with its neighbouring countries, India seven and Nepal two.

Shyam Saran, former Indian ambassador to Nepal and foreign secretary of India, has written in an article entitled ‘As Nepal paints itself into a corner on Kalapani issue, India must tread carefully‘ in The Indian Express dated June 12, ‘Buddhi Narayan Shrestha, who has been responsible for putting out justification for the new claims against India, is unable to deny it either. But he now says that the trijunction at this end has not been determined and that notionally it would be pillar number zero on the boundary! This is the first time one has heard of the concept of a “number zero border pillar”! This is ex post facto justification and the dishonesty behind it is glaring’.

International practice

It is pertinent to mention that there are currently 157 international tri-points all over the world. There is a practice to mark the tri-junction point as ‘zero’ number. For example, Venezuela-Brazil-Guyana have a seven-foot-tall marker on the tri-point where the borders of the three countries meet. It bears a bronze plaque and the geographical marker BV-0, referring to the zero point between the national boundaries. One side of the marker is clearly marked with the word ‘Brasil’ and the nation’s national shield, and the other side says ‘Venezuela’. The Venezuelan side also bears a bronze plaque and the geographical marker BV-0 referring to the zero point. The Guyanese side bears some barely legible and crudely done lettering.

China-Russia-Mongolia have set the position of their junction point by a trilateral agreement signed in Ulaanbaatar in 1994. The agreement specifies that a marker is to be erected at the eastern tri-point called Tarbagan-Dakh. At some tri-points, the latitude, longitude and altitude are stated, like at the tri-point of the borders of Norway, Sweden and Finland. This is the technical fact based on the boundary principle adopted across the world. Some diplomats and politicians might not have heard about the technically related tri-junction. Erecting a tri-point pillar is a global practice, and it must have the serial number zero. The three countries involved should participate and cooperate equally in all respects.

So far as the tri-junctions on the Nepal-India-China border are concerned, two tri-border points need to be established at Nepal’s north-eastern and north-western corners at Jhinsang Chuli (altitude 7,483 metres) and Limpiyadhura (altitude 5,532 metres) respectively.

Nepal and China signed a boundary agreement in 1960 and a treaty was signed in 1961. The borderline was demarcated in 1961-62. After the completion of the demarcation amicably, the first boundary protocol was signed by the plenipotentiaries of the two countries in 1963. It was renewed in 1979 and 1988. A Nepal-China joint boundary committee is working to renew the protocol for the third time. It is to be noted that the demarcation has not yet been completed for the tri-junctions at either end of Nepal to be erected. Border pillar number one has been erected at Tinkar Pass in Darchula and number 79 at Tiptala Pass in Taplejung.

Saran has written, ‘A Nepali diplomat has repeated this same specious argument, “Given the situation in 1961, Nepal and China fixed pillar No 1 at Tinkar Pass with the understanding that pillar number zero (trijunction of Nepal, India and China) would be fixed later”. [Shrestha] has not adduced any evidence that this indeed was the ‘understanding’ reached with China in 1961’.

In this aspect, Saran seems to be correct. Studying the Nepal-China boundary maps prepared during 1961-62, one can see that the boundary line has already been drawn to a hillock about 4 km northwest of Tinkar Pass. Now it has to be extended further north to Lipulekh Pass and then north-westward catching the watershed range ultimately to Limpiyadhura. It is to be noted that the map has been chalked up to nearly 3 km north of Lipulekh Pass. It may be due to the understanding with China, as Saran has stated.

Bilateral talks

Nepal and India have not only diplomatic, political and economic relations, but also social, cultural and people-to-people ties, as Nepal also has with the northern neighbour China. The most important element to settle the border issue is dialogue, discussion, friendliness, neighbourliness and mutual understanding. This has been stated by former Indian ambassadors to Nepal from Deva Mukherjee to recently retired Manjeev Singh Puri. In the same way, Nepali diplomats from Bhekh Bahadur Thapa to Deep Kumar Upadhyay have said that friendly negotiations could resolve the issue.

In this regard, the date and venue should be fixed for the bilateral talks between Nepal and India as soon as possible. It has to adopt the spirit of Article 5 of the 1816 Treaty of Sugauli to delineate and demarcate the origin of the Kalee/Mahakali river. Once this matter is resolved, the issue of the Kalapani area will be settled forever. China must be involved to erect the tri-junction point where the Nepal, India and China borders meet.

***

Heartfelt Condolence to Himali

Heartfelt Condolence to Late Chetendra Jang Himali

By: Buddhi Narayan Shrestha

दुःखी मनले यो कोर्दैछु :

रहेनन् चेतेन्द्रजङ्ग हिमाली ।

छैनन् अब चेतेन्द्रजङ्ग हिमाली ।

सीमा अभियन्ता तथा सीमाका पैरवी, सीमा सरोकार नागरिक समितिका अध्यक्ष ।

८६ वर्षको उमेरमा हिजो चैत १५ गते, शनिबार विहान ४.४४ बजे उनले छाडे यो धर्ती ।हार्दिक श्रद्धाञ्जली, आत्मा शान्ति होस्, स्वर्गारोहण होस् ।उनका जहान परिवार सन्ततिलाई समवेदना ।

उनी केही समयदेखि स्वास प्रस्वासका कारण केही अस्वस्थ थिए ।

= उनी देशको सीमा रक्षाका अभियन्तामात्र होइन, राष्ट्रको इतिहासका ज्ञाता पनि थिए ।

= कसका पालामा के कस्ता घटना दुर्घटना हुन पुग्यो देश विकासमा भनी सोधनी गर्दा आधुनिक गुगल महर्षीले जस्तै गरी कण्ठै भनिदिन्थे ।

= विशाल नेपालकालदेखि हालसम्मका थापा, पॉडे, कु‘वर, सिंह, राणा, शाह, मुख्तियार, शाषक, पदाधिकारी, समाज सेवक, विद्वतवर्गका तीनपुस्ते तथा जन्मकाल र उनीहरुले गरेका राम्रा नराम्रा क्रियाकलाप फररै भन्थे । किताब पल्टाइरहनु पर्थेन ।

= सम्झन्छु ः २०३० भदौ ३० गते सीमा सरोकार नागरिक समितिका उनी अध्यक्षको अगुवाइमा सदस्यहरु डा. सुरेन्द्र केसी, फणीन्द्र नेपाल, रतन भण्डारी, रामचन्द्र चटौत, मलगायत अन्य केहीको टोली सुस्ता अतिक्रमण क्षेत्रको अवलोकन अध्ययनमा गएका थियौं ।

= त्यहॉका गोपाल गुरुङलगायत स्थानीयले आयोजना गरेको कार्यक्रम र उपस्थित केही भारतीय सञ्चारकर्मीले हामीलाई पालैपालो अन्तर्वार्ता दिएका थियौं ।

= अर्को पठक सुस्ताबाट फर्केपछि डुङ्गा तरेर सगरदिन्हाको जङ्गेखम्बा नं. १ मा पुग्यौ ।

= खम्बा अगाडि मैले नक्सा र जमिन भिडाउ‘दै व्याख्या गर्न सुरु गरेको २ मिनेटमै भारतीय एसएसबीका दुई जवान आएर हामीलाई त्यहॉबाट भागिहाल्न भन्दै मेरो नक्सा खोस्न आइपुगे ।

= मसाथै हामीहरु झोला टिपेर छड्किहाल्यौं ।

= हिमाली त अटेरी भएर जङ्गे खम्बा नजिकै उभिइरहे । अनि केही मिनेटपछि हामीतिर आए ।

= किन त्यही‘ किन उभिइरहनु भएको भनेर सोद्धा, त्यसको बाबुले कहॉ लगेर कति दिन राख्दो रहेछ हेरौं न भनेर अडिएको । त्यसै कारण उभिइरहेको, केही गरेन । तपाइ‘हरु कुलेलम ठोकिहाल्नु भयो ।

= यस्ता देशको सीमाप्रति अडिग रहने वक्ति अब हामीमाझ रहेनन् । उनीलाई श्रद्धा सुमन अर्पण गर्दछु । अन्तरमनैदेखि हार्दिक श्रद्धाञ्जली ।

Comments

A Kind of Social Honour

A Kind of Social Honour

Buddhi Narayan Shrestha

Nepali Territory has been encroached.

Nepali Territory has been encroached

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Interview by Mountain Television

Book in Eight Languages

Book in Eight Languages

International Boundaries of Nepal

Buddhi Narayan Shrestha

My book entitled ‘International Boundaries of Nepal‘ published by Lambert Academic Publishing, Latvia, Europe is going to be translated in eight languages with the means by Artificial Intelligence Natural Translation.

In my book I have also dealt in :

1. Chapter-4 in sub-title ‘Kalapani-Limpiyadhura Issue with India’.

2. Legitimacy of Lipulek Border.

3. In chapter-6, Kalapani Dispute has been Internationalized.

4. Latest Incident in page 271: India published recently ‘Political Map of India’ on 2 November 2019 that had depicted encroaching the north-western border of Nepal with India.

The more in further pages from page 276 and . . . .

International Boundaries of Nepal

International Boundaries of Nepal

Buddhi Narayan Shrestha

Biratnagar 057

 

International  Boundaries of  Nepal

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Panel Discussion on Kalapani in Baltipmore

Panel Discussion on Kalapani in Baltimore

Buddhi Narayan Shrestha

Nepali Nationalism in America

Nepali Nationalism in America

Buddhi Narayan Shrestha

Without Waiving Maps it couldn’t get back Kalapani

Without waving Maps, it couldn’t get back Kalapani

Buddhi Narayan Shrestha

to add into google.
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