Impact of Open Border Between
Nepal and India*
Buddhi Narayan Shrestha **
Boundary of the Himalayan kingdom of Nepal is surrounded by India on three sides and China is situated on the northern border. Mighty Himalayan range as the natural wall is elongated in between Nepal and China. On the contrary, there is the Indo-Gangetic flood plain, without any natural barrier in the southern frontier of Nepal with India. Mostly mountain ranges, hills, and hillocks are existed on both the eastern and western borderlines of Nepal, adjoined with India. Nepal has its controlled border system with China, whereas open border system is prevalent with India. But Nepal has never experienced closed border system with any of its neighbuoring countries since time immemorial.
Initiation of Open Border:
So far as the open border between Nepal and India is concerned, it is not known how and when the system of free movement of people on either side of the border started. However, British India primarily initiated it after the restoration of Oudha Tarai/ Naya Muluk (Banke, Bardia, Kailali and Kanchanpur) to Nepal in 11 November 1860. Free movement in the cross-border area was not prevalent even after the treaty of Sugauli in 1816. Anyone entering into Nepal particularly to the Kathmandu valley and towns of Tarai in general, had to get Rahadani or visa from the district administrations, prior to the restoration of Naya Muluk by Nepal, as the controlled border system was prevalent during that period. Nepal-India Peace and Friendship Treaty of 1950 motivated for the openness of the border between two countries. Article seven of the treaty says “The Government of India and Nepal agree to grant, on reciprocal basis, to the nationals of one country in the territory of the other the same privileges in the matter of movement and privileges of a similar nature.”
In other aspect if we have a look on the Nepalese perspective, Rahadani or controlled system was on practice till four and half decades ago. This system was unknowingly relaxed after the construction of Tribhuvan highway, which linked Kathmandu to the Indian town Raxaul. The Indian technical personnel constructed it with an assistance of the Government of India. Before the completion of this highway, Nepalese people even going from Nepal to Nepal via Indian territory had to obtain Rahadani permit from Rahadani Goswara, Kathmandu or local/ district office (Gadhi-Gaunda- Goswara).
Purpose of Open Border System:
The British Government initiated the India-Nepal border open primarily for two purposes. The first was to maintain unrestricted migration of the Nepalese hill people for recruitment in the Indian army as British Gurkha regiment. East India Company army men were familiar with the braveness and obedience of the Gurkha fighters and they wanted to make their army battalion stronger. The second factor was to have easy and free access of British and Indian goods into Nepal and to secure raw materials from Nepal to India such as timber and forest products, herbs and medicinal plants, hides and skins etc. In summary, British Government formulated India-Nepal border open to keep Nepal as their market place for their finished goods and as resource country to exploit varieties of raw materials for their factories and industries, including the conversions of honest and raw Gorkhali Nepalese boys into sturdy British Gorkha soldiers.
Acceleration in the System:
After the installation of democracy in Nepal in February 1951, it became a major turning point in reinforcing the Nepal-India border open with the accelerated movement of Indians into Nepal. At first, Indians used to come to Kathamandu as politicians and advisors to the Nepalese ministers, as councilor to the administrators, overseers as technical experts, unemployed Indian citizens as teachers in remote area schools even in Kathmandu Valley. After the elapse of time, retailers came to Nepal as whole seller businessmen. Vegetable and fruit vendors even in the narrow lanes of Kathmandu metropolitan city are the Indians these days. Indian hawkers use to roam and visit every nook and corner of the city to collect old materials as they voice “Khali Sisi, Purano Kagaj (empty bottle, old newspaper.)” Now these types of general Indian nationals could be found even in the remote hill towns and settlements of Nepal in connection to their livelihood as businessmen and construction oriented workers. Nepalese are also free to go to Indian cities in search of work as guards, domestic workers and restaurant waiters etc. All these phenomena can be cited as Nepal-India open border as it is unique in the world in the sense that people of both the countries can cross the borderline from any point / any time, whether it may be day or night. Single citizen could cross the frontier of both the sides without any record running to and fro so many times a day.
Every object has its two aspects as every coin bears two faces. And every item has its negative and positive impacts. Similaly, Nepal-India open border system has its negative and positive impacts for both the nations. But Nepal has experienced a large percentage of negative impacts in many cases, as compared to India.
If we make an inventory, negative impact outnumbers the positive one for Nepal. Some of the positive aspects of Nepal-India open border system are the easy access, fostering harmony and mutual understanding, maintaining relationship among the people to expand socio-cultural activities etc. The negative or adverse impact may be the border encroachment, criminal cases, anti-social activities, lawlessness, illegal activities, smuggling of goods / drugs and arms, trafficking of girls and narcotics, movements of terrorists etc.
As we make a list of positive impacts, it may be the followings:
1. Easy access: The most positive aspect of open border system is the easy movement of people of both the countries. Travelers reach to their destination on time without any obstruction. There is no botheration to show their identification card and it does not need to maintain recording system for the nationals of two countries.
2. Strengthens relationship: People to people relation on the frontiers of both sides has been maintained and strengthened due to free movement of people on either side of the border. It has naturally promoted social and cultural relationship among the nationals of both sides through matrimonial relationship as well. Nepalese boys are the son-in-laws of the Indians. Similarly, Indian daughters have been the daughter-in-laws of the Nepalese nationals, being Nepalese and Indian fathers as the father-in-laws each other.
3. Rescue operation:Prompt services have been offered and provided on either side during calamities and disasters. Some of the examples can be cited, as there was a great fire in the Fikkal town of Ilam district in last February. Fire brigade with fire fighting men from Pashupatinagar, India reached prior to the Nepalese fire brigade teams from Ilam headquarter. Vice-versa was the case that Birganj fire brigade rushed at first to the Indian town Raxaul when there was a fire. This is due to unrestricted border system.
4. Health service:When there was an epidemic of meningitis in the India town Rupaidia, patients rushed to the Zonal Hospital of Nepalgunj for the treatment. Hundreds of Indian children were survived by the Nepalese doctors in due time. Similarly, Indian children are benefited, when polio vaccine program and distribution of Vitamin-A programmes were launched in Nepalese settlements.
5. Instant supply of labour:When there is a shortage of local labour in one side during rice plantation and harvesting of crops, labour will be supplied instantly from other side. Harvesting is almost not possible in the frontier of Morang district, without availing the labour from Farvesganj of India.
6. Competitive Market:There is always a competion between the businessmen of the cross-frontier towns. For example, local people of Birgung go to the Indian town Raxaul for cheap everyday household items. Similary, Indians come to Birgunj to buy cheap Chinese goods and clothes. In addition, the same brand of Liril bath soap and Colgate/ Peposdent toothpaste are sometimes cheaper in the Indian market and in other days the same materials can be obtained in discounted rate in Nepalese towns.
7. Prompt Supply of food grains and daily stuff:Unrestricted border has made comfortable for the prompt supply of food grains and daily foodstuffs from either side of the territory, where there are shortages. Hundreds of trucks of rice, lentil and beans were procured from India last summer via Belhi-Rupandehi border point during the food grain scarcity in the Nepalese territory. The result was the availability of foodstuff locally in one hand and the roared price of such stuff got down considerably for the benefit of local consumers.
Open border has economically benefited the inhabitants of both sides of the border from the sell and purchase of livestock products, vegetables and daily kitchen stuff in Hat Bazars (open-roof markets) taking place regularly in various days a week in different parts on either side. These are the points of favorable impact on positive side. However, it depends upon a good understanding of the political circumstances of the state govt. of India.
Current open and unrestricted border system between Nepal and India has created so many adverse impacts and it has emerged many problems. Some of the issues have been mentioned as follows:
1. Border Encroachment:Aggression of boundary line and encroachment on the Nepalese territory is the by-product of the open border system. People are free to cross the border without any restriction. Some of the inhabitants who reside in the frontier area do not hesitate to destroy and pull off the main boundary pillars. In other cases, no-man’s land (ten-yard width strip) has been encroached by converting into agriculture and construction in so many places. Nepalese territory has been encroached by India so far in fifty-four places having total area of approximately 60,000 hectare. It consists from a small patch /strip to a big chunk of land encroached by the general Indian people and Indian military camp as well. Most notable places of encroachments are Kalapani-Limpiyadhura area by military (37,800 hectare), Susta area (14,850 ha), Mechi riverian area (1,600 ha), Banwasa-Sharada dam area (15 ha), Tanakpur Afflux Bund area (222 ha), Pashupatinagar (40 sq. meter), Luna river bank (1 km width) etc. Similarly, boundary pillars have been shifted to Nepalese frontier and the notables are number 84 and 85 in Thori, 46 in Madanjot, 28 / 29 and 30 in Tribhunnagar VDC and south-western portion of pillar number 120 in Bhadrapur area etc.
2. Cross-border terrorism: Open border has provided as safe passage to the terrorists. India has been blaming Nepal that Pakistani ISI agents are infiltrating into India via Nepalese territory. But it is the fact that Pakistanis must travel to India at first to come to Nepal, if they use the land route. Most recently Nepalese Maoist terrorists are creating havoc and they are making war with the Nepalese army men and policemen killing so many innocent local people, especially in the hill districts of Nepal. Those Maoist fighters who have been saved as casualties use to cross the borderline and they are taking shelther in the Indian settlements. Most recently five wounded Maoist casualties, who were under treatment in the private hospital at Lucknow, have been arrested by the Indian policemen. Besides, Lucknow Police officer D.B.Bakchhi arrested eight Nepalese Maoist terrorists (with one woman), including the leader Aakash Darlami (Nischal) and handed over them to the adjoined Nepal police post on the 8th of April this year. Local inhabitants of India believe that Maoist terrorists are taking shelter at Kauwapur, Bishanpur, Balarampur and Baharainch of India as they think safe and secure (Gorkhapatra Daily, 22 April ’02). American Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rakka expressed her worrines during her recent visit to India that the Nepalese Maoists are taking shelter in India. United States under its military assistance has proceeded to provide equivalent to 20 million dollars to control the Maoist terrorism in Nepal. (Gorkhapatra Daily, 25 April ’02)
3. Trafficking of girls:More than five thousand Nepalese girls have been sold annually in the Indian brothels. U.N. Women Development Fund, UNICEF Nepal field office mentions that there is near about two hundred thousand Nepalese girls and women in total in India, They have been compelled to submit their chastity (Gorkhapatra Daily, 20 April ’02). They are as the consuming commodity in the red-light and prostitution areas of Bombay, Calcutta, Darbhanga, Betia, Siligurhi and some other cities of India. All these are due to uncontrolled border system between India and Nepal.
Organization, such as Maiti Nepal is rescuing those girls before and after trafficking. Maiti Nepal has received Rebock Human Award from the U.S, Award of the World Children-2002 in Sweden in recognition of the rescuing movement, conducted against girl trafficking. US Govt. has provided a gratuity of an amount of 200,000 dollars to the movement against girl trafficking.
4. Illegal import of arms and ammunitions:Various types of guns, fire arms, gun-powder, grenades and its raw-materials, used by the Maoist terrorists have been confiscated by the army men, especially in the western hill districts. These unregistered and unlicensed arms and ammunitions might have been transported illegally because of the weakness of unrestricted border. Nepalese policemen have recovered 1,410 pieces of gelatin, 3,300 detonator and 740 pieces of fuse-wire in Kapilvastu district, just 1.2 km north of Khunuwa Indian border point (Kantipur Daily, 26 November ’01)
5. Smuggling of goods, material and machinery: There is always a possibility to be transported market goods and merchandise through the illegal entry points of the border, where there is no custom or police post. The patrolling army men found large amount of illegally imported textiles in the godown of a businessman in Bhadrapur area last year. The Assistant Sub-Inspector of police Dhana Bahadur Tamang at Nainahi VDC of Mahottari district obstructed two stolen Maruti motorcars, having Indian number plates. Car lifters were driving illegally in the Nepalese territory in February 2000. And the drivers of the stolen cars fled away, while making enquiry.
6. Smuggle of archeological artifacts:Archeological materials such as ancient bricks and materials of Lumbini area (birthplace of Lord Buddha) have been smuggled to Piparhawa of India. Because India is going to construct duplicate structures to draw attention of the world, saying as Buddha was born in India. They are trying to distort the historical facts due to lack of the controlled border system between two countries.
7. Cross-border crime: Criminal activities such as murder, theft, and rape cases have been increased on the frontier of both the countries due to open border. Criminals make crimes in one frontier and they run there and then to the other frontier without any restriction. There is no means of obstruction to stop the criminal on the spot to enforce him the law of that territory, where the crime has taken place.
8. Kidnapping: Kidnapping of businessmen and children of well to do family is due to unrestricted movement in the borderline. Parmeshwor Lal, a businessman of Birgunj municipality was kidnapped and taken to India. Kidnappers demanded Rs. 40 million to release the businessman. But Nepalese DSP was ultimately able to rescue the businessman after 42 days with the help of Indian policemen.
9. Highjacking:Indian aircraft IC 814 to Delhi was highjacked from Tribhuvan international airport on 24 December 2000. It was ultimately landed at Kandhar, Afganistan and the aircraft with the passengers were stranded for complete one week. People realized that open border is the cause of highjacking. It is to be noted that passport / identification card controlled border system was introduced for the air passengers at Tribhuvan international airport Kathmandu and New Delhi Indiragandhi international airport after the Indian aircraft highjacking incident.
10. Robbery and theft:Two Indian motorcycle men looted Rs. 200,000 from the local money change counter at Malangwa of Sarlahi district in 5 February 2000. After snatching the money, they rushed and entered into Sonbarsha of Indian territory. The moneychanger complained to the police posts of both the frontiers. But the plunderers were not identified because the border is always open.
11. Infiltration of Bhutanese refugees: Nearly 100,000 Bhutanese refugees infiltrated into Nepalese territory five years ago. It is to be noted that Nepal and Bhutan are separated by a wide stretch of Indian territory. And Bhutan and India have no open border system. And there is no possibility to enter Bhutanese into Nepal without crossing the Indian territory. It is the fact that Bhutanese refugees had entered at first into Indian territory. But India drove them to Nepal. In reality, the first place of asylum for them was India. It was the responsibility of India to make them settled in India. Instead, India diverted them into Nepal. It was the cause and effect of open border between Nepal and India.
12. Deforestation and exploitation of medicinal plants and herbs: Indians have exploited Nepalese forest resources illegally. They enter into Nepalese territory time and often and cut hardwood trees and collect rare medicinal plants, herbs and honey without permission from Nepal. They use to sell it in Indian markets as “Nepalese Sal Timber”as the best wood and “Nepal Honey” the best in the region. Two years ago Indian border security force cut the Nepalese forest timber at Darchula area to construct their security post in the west of the river Mahakali.
13. Peace and Security:General people of Nepal are experiencing that peace and security in the nation is being weak due to free movement of people on either side of the frontier. Third country nationals, as similar face to the Nepalese and Indian may cross the border in the form of Indian/ Nepalese national. It is creating problems to maintain peace and national security in both the nations. It is because of the fact that no identification card has to be produced while crossing the inland border point. Former member of parliament Mr. Mirjadil Sadbeg was fired and murdered by Indian assassinators in Chabahil, Kathmandu in 1998 and crossed the open border in a very short period of time. Also there are incursions of Indian policemen inside Nepal territory without permission in search of criminals, who fled from India to Nepal. Indian policemen created a disturbance in the life and property of the residents of Baneshwor, Kathmandu capital city four years ago. Nepalese security personnel did not know it beforehand because the border is open. This is regarded as lawlessness and anti-social activity in the nation created by the foreigners.
14. Migration:Density of population in the adjoining districts of India is higher than in the frontier areas of Nepal. So some of the Indian people resembling with the Nepalese faces have migrated to Nepalese territory, being benefited by the unmanaged open border. As a result, migrants tend to obtain Nepalese citizenship certificate from backdoor. Besides, there are so many Indian teachers working in the schools of remote areas of Nepal with a hope to be ultimately the Nepalese nationals.
15. Pollution on politics:Polluted and spoiled politics have been imported openly from India, especially from Bihar due to unrestricted movement of people on either side of the frontiers. It has created a negative impact on the development of Nepal. Former Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala has expressed that Bihari wind (style) has affected the Nepalese politics within and outside the parliament and open border system is responsible for the circulation of polluted politics in Nepal (Kantipur Daily, 16 August 2000). The use of muscle men for booth capturing and for electoral manipulations on either side of the border during elections is also not uncommon due to thorough passage.
16. Trafficking of narcotic drugs, encroachment on the Nepalese culture and traditions, leakage in revenue collection, distribution of fake academic certificates, prevalence of anti-social activities, rape cases, construction of dams and embankment submerging the borderline are also the result of thorough passage from the uncontrolled and wanton border.
Kantipur Daily newspaper has made an internet poll to know whether it is necessary to formulate a regulation on the cross border movement for the nationals of Nepal and India. As a result of internet gallop poll, 89.5 % percent (1,053 people) voted for the need of the formulation of regulation, whereas 10.5% percent (111 persons) opined as it is not necessary to change the system (Kantipur Daily, 21 February 2000). Similarly, Media Services International had conducted a voting survey in 15 districts of hill and Tarai areas. 85.5% of the participants voted that it must regulate the border. Among them, 42.9% expressed their opinion in favour of the execution of passport system. In the voting, 44.4% mentioned that both Nepal and India are responsible for uncontrolled border system and negligency in border inspection activity, whereas 40.7% expressed as the weakness of Nepal and 3.8% have taken as India’s weakness for unrestricted system (Kantipur Daily, 3 July 2000). With the result of these polls, we can understand that Nepalese people have expressed their desire in favour of the controlled border system between two countries.
Open border system has created so many problems and it has affected in social and economic aspects for both Nepal and India. The most sensitive issues these days are the free movement of the terrorists and transportation of illegal arms and ammunitions across the open border. This is quite harmful for both the countries. An uncontrolled, unrestricted and opened border constitutes the breeding ground for terriorism, criminal, illegal and anti-social activities. Keeping in view the welfare and development of general people of the two nations, there is an urgent need to manage and regulate the free movement of people. It needs to check and stop transportation of smuggled goods across the unpatrolled open border. The time has been changed much from peacefulness to disturbing and troublesome. General people of both the countries are feeling panicy and fearfulness due to current circumstances in the South Asian region. It has to be made joint efforts to review the impact of open border system through dialogues and negotiations. It must come to the conclusion jointly to make the border restricted for the terrorist, controlled for smugglers, obstructed for the girl traffickers, checked for the criminals, stopped for narcotic holders but managed for the genuine passengers and regulated for legal export and import.
* Published in NAH JOURNAL, Nepalese Association in Houston, Texas, U.S.A., 1 October 2003.
* * Former Director General of Survey of Nepal and recipient of Madan Puraskar (Prize)-2057.
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