‘We could regain Greater Nepal’
Buddhi Narayan Shrestha, a former director general of the Department of Survey, is probably the most distinguished survey research scholar of Nepal’s international boundaries. He has been working in the field of surveying and mapping for the last 41 years. Shrestha has authored several books on the Nepal-India border demarcation and management. He was trained and educated in surveying and land-use mapping in India, Canada, Germany and Japan.
Shrestha, who was awarded the coveted Madan Prize 2057 for his book Boundary of Nepal, spoke to Kamal Raj Sigdel of The Kathmandu Post on the current Indo-Nepal border dispute. He says India has encroached on almost 60,000 hectares of Nepali territory over the last 72 years. Excerpts:
Q: You have been a vocal critic of Indian encroachment on Nepali territory for a long time. What actually is the Nepal-India border dispute?
Shrestha: There are a number of reasons that trigger rows over the border – no clear demarcation pillars, lack of historical documents, unclear points/articles in the border treaties, frontiers based on changeable river courses, one country considering itself superior to the other and the like. Nepal has been having arguments over the border with India for a long time. On March 4, 1816, Nepal and the East India Company signed the Treaty of Sugauli. That was expected to resolve the border disputes, but it did not. For instance, right after the signing of the treaty, the East India Company claimed Antu Danda of Ilam and handed it over to Sikkim. However, Nepal managed to get it back in 1838. The border problems remained after India became independent in 1947. In fact, they intensified as India’s population increased rapidly and Indian settlers began clearing Nepal’s forests in the tarai and settling down there. And now in 2007, when loktantra has been established in Nepal, the disputes still exist.
Q: Mainly, which parts of Nepal have been encroached on?
Shrestha: There is a 1,808-kilometer-long border between Nepal and India, and 26 districts of Nepal adjoin Indian territory. In my estimation, there are 54 places in 21 districts involving 60,000 hectares of land where we have border disputes, conflicts, encroachment claims and counterclaims ranging from the smallest one of 2 hectares in Sandakpur to the largest one of 37,000 hectares in Kalapani. Some of the others are Susta (14,000 hectares), Mechi (1,600 hectares) and Parasan (450 hectares).
Q: Does the government recognize the fact that there are 54 border disputes that you just mentioned?
Shrestha: A meeting of the 31st Nepal-India Joint Technical Level Boundary Committee held in Delhi is supposed to have completed 98 percent of the task of strip-mapping the border. So, according to the government, all the disputes, except Susta and Kalapani, have been resolved. But making maps is not everything. The maps may be correct, but when we trace the border in the field, we find instances of encroachment. What is the use of the maps if the Nepalis cannot use their land?
Q: How was Kalapani encroached upon? And what is the dispute about?
Shrestha: In 1962, there was a fierce war between India and China which India lost. After the fighting stopped, the Chinese Army retreated to its original border. The Indian Army looked around and found Kalapani to be a strategically advantageous point. There is a 20,276-foot-high hill which they thought could be useful as a stronghold from where to fend off the Chinese Army. At a meeting of the technical committee, Nepal had proposed to resolve the Kalapani dispute using the maps of 1850 and 1856 as the basis. But India wanted to use the map of 1879. Since the Indian map was irrelevant to Nepal, it rejected the proposal. What is interesting is that Kalapani is shown to be on Nepali territory on the maps submitted by Nepal and on Indian territory on Indian maps. In the map taken as the base document by Nepal, the Kalee River is shown as the frontier. The facts have been distorted on Indian maps, and the river has been renamed as the Kuti Yangti River. As India has changed the name of the river, the dispute remains unresolved.
Q: What is the Susta border dispute about?
Shrestha: In the Susta area, India has encroached on about 14,000 hectares of land over a period of 72 years. The intrusion happened in stages, the latest being on November 22, 2007.
Q: What do you think are the reasons behind the arguments over the border with India?
Shrestha: The main reason is that 595 kilometers of the 1,808-kilometer-long Nepal-India border is defined by rivers—such as the Mechi in the east, Mahakali in the west, and the Narayani in the Susta area, which demarcates a 24-kilometer stretch of the international frontier. The rivers keep changing course and that gives rise to arguments.
Q: Are there any special reasons behind the encroachment in Susta? What do the Indians have to say?
Shrestha: There are five major reasons behind the Susta border dispute – natural, technical, social, political and governmental. The natural reason is flooding. The Narayani River changed its course after the floods of 1845, 1954, 1980 and 1989, and the Indians argued that the reclaimed land was theirs. Another natural cause is that Susta is surrounded on three sides—north, south and east—by Indian territory, and on the west you have the Narayani River. So, Susta is cut off from Nepal which makes it easier for the Indians to move in and occupy it. The technical reason is that no Junge pillar has been erected along the 24-km riverian border, perhaps because the river was considered to be a natural boundary at that time. The social reason is that the population gradually increased on the Indian side adjoining Susta, and the Indian Special Services Bureau helped them to encroach on Nepali territory. Besides, when the Gandak Barrage at Bhaisalotan was completed, nearly 250 laborers that came to work on the construction project did not return but settled in the Susta area. They outnumbered the Nepalis and they encroached on more land. The political cause is that the BJP in Bihar encouraged local Biharis to intrude into Nepali territory under the condition that they vote for the party in return. They also have the backing of the Indian government as is proven by the fact that the SSB has been supporting the locals in their landgrab. The SSB has been torturing Nepalis frequently. But the presence of the Government of Nepal has not been felt.
Q: Are the government’s efforts to resolve the disputes adequate?
Shrestha: Nepal has not acted as it should have. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs had released a statement saying that, except for Kalapani and Susta, all the border issues had been resolved. But there are other places where encroachment has happened. Of late, however, the government is gradually becoming more aware. Parliament is also taking this issue seriously. Parliamentarian Kunta Sharma returned from a visit to the Susta area and claimed that Nepali lands had been occupied. The parliamentary foreign relations committee is also keeping a close watch. Various MPs have been raising the subject in Parliament. Even the Prime Minister has expressed his commitment to look into it seriously. So the matter has now reached the highest level. I think that if the PM were to pursue it seriously, it can be resolved. The problem is that our leaders fear raising the border issue with India because they think that it will make their chairs shake. Foreign Minister Sahana Pradhan talked to her Indian counterpart Pranav Mukherjee on December 7. Mukherjee said that the status quo should be maintained. But what does that mean? That is not the solution. Now that the issue has reached the Foreign Minster’s level, it should be taken to the PM’s level too. The PM should look into it because the border is a serious national issue. If one square kilometer of our land is lost, the Nepali nationals living on it will be turned into aliens. Those responsible for losing Nepali territory should be punished for being traitors. Our head of state should not be afraid of talking to his Indian counterpart for the integrity of our national boundary. He should work fearlessly.
Q: Some border experts speak of a Greater Nepal that includes the territory Nepal gave up with the Sugauli Treaty. Is it possible?
Shrestha: There is a concept of “Greater Nepal” which extends from Tista in the east to Kangra in the west. If Nepal were to become prosperous and powerful like China, Nepal’s future generations could get back the lost territory, which is one-third of the area of Greater Nepal. As China got back Hong Kong from the British, so can Nepal get back its lost territory that was lost with the Sugauli Treaty. Such historical facts should be passed on to our future generations. What is important is that we should not forget our history and the historical facts. The land we lost to the East India Company should not belong to India. It is ours. The 1950 Treaty, too, says that “the Treaty cancels all previous treaties, agreements and engagements entered into on behalf of India between the British Government and the Government of Nepal”. This means that Nepal should regain its lost territory because the 1950 Treaty has nullified the Sugauli Treaty. But the reality is that the 1950 Treaty has not been implemented fully.
Posted on: 2008-01-06 22:23:47 (Server Time) The Kathmandu Post Daily
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