Twenty-five years in
Nepal-India border demarcation
By Buddhi Narayan Shrestha
India is a close neighbor of Nepal in terms of geographical proximity. The physical configuration of the border between the countries does not present natural barrier. Nepal-India relation has developed from time immemorial in cultural, religious and social aspects. India is very close for Nepal in respect of increasing volume of trade. In the same way Nepal is important to India in many aspects, as Nepal is situated between emerging China and India. India could increase trade volume with China through Nepal, as a transit country.
Various treaties, agreements and memorandums have been carried out between Nepal and India since the British period. Supplementary boundary treaty of 1 November 1860 is one of them. This treaty has delineated the last borderline of present Nepal. After the treaty, border demarcation was made with Junge pillars. However, clear-cut demarcation was incomplete in many places including the riverine segments. To complete the remaining works, Nepal-India Joint Technical Level Boundary Committee (JTLBC) was formed. The terms of reference of the JTLBC is to erect subsidiary markers in bending line, to repair wrecked pillars, to prepare strip-maps and to maintain no-man’s land. Work of joint team is underway to demarcate the 1808 km of borderline.
But unfortunately, it is yet to be completed. The committee is completing 25 years today. There may be a question: whether this duration is too long to complete the work or normal due to the nature of work. To answer this, we have to evaluate the activity of JTLBC, field program of joint teams, diplomatic initiative, feeling of sensitivity of international border and role of the head of government to solve the border issues.
First, there is a provision to organize joint meeting twice a year alternately in Kathmandu and New Delhi, as stated in the terms and reference of JTLBC. As such, fifty meetings should have been taken place during the period of twenty-five years. But the meeting has been held twenty-seven times. The last meeting is held on September 1, 2005 in New Delhi. With this, the progress is counted as only 54 percent. In the mean time, committee leaders have been changed frequently, twelve times in Indian side and eight times from Nepal. Occasional transfer of committee leaders might have hampered the progress of the joint committee.
Second, insufficient joint field survey teams have been deputed in the field. At the same time, there is no proper co-ordination between the teams of two nations. For example, team of one side would wait for weeks and weeks on the spot looking for counterpart team. This has caused backlog to meet the fixed target. Since border business is a joint teamwork of both the nations. Demarcation carried out by one side may not be agreeable to the other side.
Next, lack of appropriate diplomatic initiative is one of the main reasons to spend twenty-five years in demarcating Indo-Nepal border. There are many spots and segments of disputes, conflicts, encroachment, claims and counter-claims. The study has shown that there are 54 spots of conflict and disagreements, having 60 thousand hectares of land on the demarcation line. Kalapani-Limpiyadhura, Susta, Thori, Sandakpur, Maheshpur, Tanakpur, Pashupatinagar, Bhantabari, Parasan are notable spots.
Fourth, Indo-Nepal international border demarcation work has been on shadow due to frequent political changes. Heads of government have been changed 20 times in Nepal in 25 years period.
As a result, border problems could not get priority. Presently, months have been elapsed for the summit talks between the Maoists and SPA. They are engaged in solving political issues. It seems that everybody is hankering over the political and administrative power. Political leaders have given less attention to settle the issue of national border. There may be a curiosity, if there is no definite national boundary of Nepal, for whom the summit talk should be held. If some portion of the frontier is encroached by the neighboring country, Nepali nationals of that frontier will be transferred to be alien. What will be the importance of summit talk and constitutional assembly of Nepal to those alienated people? Not to alienate the Nepali citizen, Nepal has to be aware to complete the demarcation of national borderline correctly, as the historical maps and documents depict.
Fifth, there is a passive role of head of government of both countries. It has pulled on the duration of border demarcation between Nepal and India. They provide general instruction to JTLBC. But they never solve the problems put forward by the joint technical committee. Since the committee has its limitation on technical matters. But the crux of the border problem, especially on encroachment is of political and diplomatic nature. The heads of government level should have settled the problems. But they are not in action to solve the problem.
However, they know the problem well including the Kalapani issue. It may be relevant to mention that IK Gujaral has said in his prime ministerial tenure “As regards Kalapani, the technicians from both sides are engaged in the demarcation of border. If their reports conclude that the area belongs to Nepal, we will immediately withdraw from there” (Gorkahpatra Daily, 24 February 1997).
In the same way, Krishna Prasad Bhattarai as prime minister has said “Kalapani is in Nepali territory and Kalapani is ours according to the maps of that area” (Kantipur Daily, 24 July 1999). From this version, one has to realize that heads of government know well the problems. But they don’t venture to put this matter on the agenda during face to face meeting. Instead, they spell directions to junior officials to study the problem further more.
When we prick the directives provided by the prime ministers, one could recall the joint statement published during the visit of neighboring country. Article 25 of Nepal-India Joint Press Statement released on August 3, 2000 during PM Girija Prasad Koirala’s visit to India states: “The two Prime Ministers direct the committee to complete its field work by 2001-2002 and final preparation of strip-maps by 2003. They also directed the JTLBC to expeditiously complete its examination of the facts relating to the alignment of the boundary in the western section, including the Kalapani area, and in other pockets, where there were differences in perceptions of the two sides.”
Similarly, Article 6 of the joint statement issued on September 12, 2004 during the then PM Sher Bahadur Deuba’s visit to India states: “The Prime Ministers expressed satisfaction at the progress made by the JTLBC and directed the committee to complete the remaining mandated tasks by June 2005.” But this directive also could not get materialized. Instead, the time period has been extended to the end of 2006 by exchanging letters. It is memorable that the previous deadline of JTLBC was fixed as 1991, 1995 and 1997. Here lies the question: Why are the joint instructions of two PMs not materialized? Is it possible to complete the remaining tasks in due time? Let us have a look on the remaining works.
It is commendable that JTLBC has completed 98 percent of the demarcation work with the establishment of border pillars. But 2 percent of the total work has been entangled for long. There are many claims and counter-claims at 54 places within 2 percent on the spotted span of 36 km and Kalapani and Susta are the major issues. Regarding Kalapani issue, India and Nepal differ as to which stream constitutes the source of the River Mahakali, whether it is originated from Limpiyadhura, Lipulek or an artificial pond. As a result, DPR of Mahakali Treaty has not yet formulated, since ten years have been elapsed, the treaty was signed. As regards the Susta case, there is a controversy on the original course of the River Narayani flown during 1816 Sugauli Treaty between the British East India and Nepal.
Here lies the question again: how those differences could be resolved amicably! The answer may be, trained and experienced diplomatic channel should be utilized, which have sufficient knowledge on the subject matter. Secondly, mature politicians should be assigned to talk jointly with fixed agenda. After this, border problems must be handled and resolved in the prime ministers’ level, as channelised by the experienced diplomats and mature politicians’, findings of the ways and means to resolve the problems. Border problems must be negotiated with mutual discussions in respect of friendship, brotherhood and equality with the background of historical maps, related facts and supporting documents.
Role of civic society is to make aware and create pressure to the government authorities highlighting the facts and figures. Executing power lies in the hands of government authorities. So the head of the governments must demonstrate skill for the settlement of disputed portions of the national territory once and for all.
Nepal-India JTLBC has elapsed 25 years, as it has crossed the year of silver jubilee. The civic society will evaluate whether this is a long or short period. However, let us hope the border demarcation between Nepal and India will be completed in a very near future and boundary protocol will be signed in due time. Resolving the border issues, relation between the two countries will be further strengthened in the days to come in a consolidated manner.
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