Nepal: India Boundary delimitation and talk of land encroachment

Nepal: India Boundary delimitation

Two Hands-up

Buddhi N Shrestha

Former DG, Survey Department/ Border expert, Nepal



Now we come to the case study of the southern boundary of Nepal. Prithvi Narayan Shah the Great had started to unify 56 small kingdoms and principalities into a strong Himalayan State of Nepal in 1769. His successors completed the unification campaign and the territory of Nepal was extended from Tista to Kangra as Greater Nepal by 1806. In those days, the Britishers, who had entered into India with the intention of doing business there, were ruling India. They probably did not like the rise of Nepal. They began to turn their eyes towards Nepal. The British East India Company Government was looking for an opportunity to expand trade to Tibet. But, since the border of the then Nepali Kingdom had extended west to east covering the northern frontier of British India. The Indian businessmen did not have direct access to the then Tibet. All the easy access transit points to enter into Tibet from India were under the territory of Nepal. The Britishers did not see any way out to fulfill their wish to trade with Tibet through Nepal, except using military force. So they raised an issue of the boundary dispute of Seuraj and Butawal areas of Nepal as a pretext for them to go on war. East India Company thought to threaten Nepal with war.

The British sent a letter to Nepal in March 1814, giving her an order to abandon her occupation of the territory of Seuraj and Butawal. If Nepal did not send back a satisfactory reply to the letter within 25 days, they would capture these places by means of force. But Nepal did not respond. So Lord Hastings officially declared war against Nepal on 1 November 1814. Then a dreadful war between the Gorkhali and British army took place. Many fighters of both sides laid down their lives during the war. In the mean time, British proposed a treaty and Nepal government was also ready to negotiate peace terms. Finally, a treaty of peace and friendship was drafted and sent to Nepal by the East India Company on 2 December 1815. Nepal counter signed the treaty on 4 March 1816 at Sugauli. Now Anglo-Nepal war was ended.

This treaty became known as the ‘Treaty of Sugauli- 1816.’ It was mentioned in the articles of the treaty that Nepal shall give up the claim on all the territories that had become a matter of dispute before that war, he shall accept the authority of the Company Government over the Tarai (plain area) across the river Tista in the east; to Satlaj and Kangra in the west. This treaty largely shrunked the border of Nepal to the river Mechi on the east and river Mahakali on the west. Foot-hill of Siwalik Range was the southern border of Nepal with India. As a result, one third of the Nepalese territory was chipped off.

In fact, this treaty of Sugauli was in favour of the East India Company; and Nepal had to suffer a heavy loss of the territory. Nepal was highly dissatisfied to loose a large chunk of land from Mechi to Tista, where there was no war. So, to pacify Nepal and as indemnity, a Supplementary Boundary Treaty was made in 11 December 1816 to which Nepal restored the Tarai low lands from Koshi to Rapti River. In course of time, as a reward to Nepal that Nepal subsided the Sepoy Mutiny in India, raised against the East India Company government; British India returned the ceded western Tarai low land of Nepal from Rapti to Mahakali as new territory (Naya Muluk) signing the Boundary Treaty on 15 November 1860.

As a matter of fact, the Treaty of Sugauli (4 March 1816) and Supplementary Treaty (11 December 1816) are the bases to delineate and demarcate the eastern, western and portion of southern border of Nepal, even though the Boundary Treaty (15 November 1860) implied specially the south-western portion, as the restoration of Banke, Bardiya, Kailali and Kanchanpur districts as new territory (Naya Muluk). And this became the boundary of present day Nepal. It could be said that Nepal’s southern boundary line was expanded and shifted four times within a period of fifty one years.

After the restoration of low land, southern borderline of Nepal with India runs through fertile plains, jungles, rivers and settlements as well. On the east there is the Mechi River and the watershed of Singhalila Range with hills and hillocks stand as the border. On the west, the Mahakali River runs all the way as the border line between Nepal and India.

This is an interesting fact to mention that even after the Sugauli Treaty, there were disputes and differences at various places. But allowing to the Supplementary Boundary Treaty of 11 December 1816, it was envisaged that such disputes would be settled with mutual understanding on the basis of exchanges of land on equal quantity of area and such quantity of ground as may be considered mutually desirable for the new boundary. It further says, as it is impossible to establish desirable limits between the two States without survey, it will be expedient that Commissioners be appointed on both sides for the purpose of arranging in concert a well defined boundary on the basis of the preceding terms, and of establishing a straight line of frontier, with a view to the distinct separation of the respective territories of the British Government to the south and of Nepal to the north. In case any indentations occur to destroy the even tenor of the line, the Commissioners should affect an exchange of lands so interfering on principles of clear reciprocity.[i]

Additionally, there were also provisions to exchange any portion that jot in and out of the straight line on the principle of clarity and mutuality. They agreed that if the land of any individual fell across the boundary line, the issue would be put before the governments of the two countries to solve the dispute. The Commissioners were also given the authority to make agreements and to make exchanges of such land to allow the landowners to remain within their previous territory. It was also agreed to carry out a survey to establish border markers, and to exchange documents bearing the borderlines and to be approved by both the governments.

Boundary demarcation :

The border demarcation work between Nepal and India was started with the spirit of the Treaty of Sugauli (ratified on 4 March 1816). Surveying and demarcation of border with the erection of pillars had been started just after monsoon season of 1816. The boundary line between two countries was surveyed and demarcated from 1816 to 1860/182/85/1906/ 1940-41 dividing it into nine different sectors with the erection of 913 masonry boundary pillars.

During the demarcation, Nepal and the Company Government had disputes at several places over the border. For example, whether the border line should be taken at the top ridge or the southern or northern foot-hill of the Chure Range. In this regard, disputes had erupted in the area from Dunduwa Range of Dang to Arra Nala and Taal Bagoda in 1817. Similarly, there was a dispute in ownership of Antu Danda of Ilam in 1825. There was also dispute in 1838 on the origin of the Mechi River, whether the river originated from north-east or north-west should be delineated as the source of the Mechi River.[ii] There was also ‘mine-and-yours’ controversy regarding the border areas adjoining with Tirhut and Sarun districts of India. In 1840, there were claims and counter-claims on the ownership of several villages and settlements of the Ramnagar area.[iii]

The above mentioned examples illustrate that there were disputes on the border just after the Treaty of Sugauli, which showed Nepal’s disenchantment with the treaty. Disputes in several areas had been settled, but in so many other places the disputes still have been remained to be settled and there were debates, conflicts and controversies.

During the demarcation from 1816 to 1906, border pillars had been planted at a distance of one to 2.5 kilometer according to the terrain. Strip-maps were prepared in connection to the border demarcation. Some of the segments of border line were zigzag, some triangle-shaped sharp line, some other bending with acute angle. But no sufficient boundary markers were erected on these winding/bending lines and river courses. So the actual line of demarcation was obscure in some of the portions in some segments. No-man’s land with ten-yard width (Das Gaja) on both the sides was not maintained in those areas. This was the cause of disputes and conflicts on some spots.

In course of time, portions of the dense forest (Charkoshe Jhadi) along the Tarai plain border strip was cut off and cleared to provide settlement for the hill people. Besides, some border rivers changed its courses during monsoon flood and eroded the boundary pillars. So the border was obscure in due course of time. And it became a probability of encroachment from the adjoining densely populated frontier of India. At that time there was a population pressure in Indian settlement, especially Bihar State. So the adjoining Indian inhabitants started to make encroachment on the Nepali frontier for their livelihood; and migrated into Nepali territory. These were some of the causes of shifting border of southern Nepal.

In due time, government of Nepal was aware of this fact of encroachment and occupation by Indian side. So the Nepal government formed an inspection team consisting of the personnel from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Home Affairs and Land Survey Department. They did field visit, inspected the location of border pillars, and supervised condition of No-man’s land during the dry seasons of 1965 to 1967. Finally, they submitted a report to the government mentioning that there is no clear demarcation in so many portions of some of the segments of the border. Hundreds of boundary pillars have been missing. A considerable number of pillars and monuments have been broken, destroyed, dismantled and smashed in a pitiable state. Many spots on No-man’s land have been cultivated and constructed animal-shed.

Nepal government realized that condition of its low land territory, consisting of southern belt and portion of eastern and western segment, are in deplorable and miserable condition that may create problem in future. Considering all these facts, Nepal moved and talked diplomatically with India to formulate Nepal-India joint border inspection mechanism to so keep the border clear and intact. The talk went on for almost a decade. After a long consultation and conversation, it was finally agreed on 25 February 1981 to work jointly to clear and maintain the border line between two countries. As a result, it was formed ‘Nepal-India Joint Technical Level Boundary Committee’ in November1981.

Various minor issues have been resolved and erected subsidiary/additional pillars and prepared strip-maps of the resolved areas. But the joint committee could not settle major issues of encroachment or disputed portions. In fact, the Joint Technical Committee (JTC) worked for 26 years and completed 97 percent of the boundary business. The remaining 3 percent of the border business or 56 km in various spots of the total span of Nepal-India border was beyond their capacity. This unsettled portion of border consists of Kalapani-Limpiyadhura encroachment 17 km, Susta 24 km and other various spots make 15 km. There are encroachment, cross-holding occupation, dispute, conflict, claims and counter-claims in 71 spots having approximately 60,660 hectare. The prominent areas have been identified as Kalapani-Limpiyadhura, Susta, Mechi riverine area, Tanakpur, Sandakpur, Pashupatinagar, Hile, Thori etc. The largest single chunk of encroachment is Kalapani-Limpiyadhura (37,000 hectare) of Darchula district and smallest portion is Fatak 0.025 hectare (240 square metres) in Pashupatinagar of Ilam district. It could be said that boundary treaty and the statement of delimitation do not have detail and clear description. So, it created doubt and suspicion on the mitigation of the boundary issue.

The JTC could not settle major issues of encroachment or disputed portions as there are issues in more than 71 places. The main reasons and issues of the boundary business with India is the border encroachments, disputes on mostly cross-holding occupations, divergence of opinion on basic materials such as maps and old documents for demarcation. The other reason is the slackness in joint survey field teams and lack of equal participation and so on and so forth.

(Excerpts Only) The paper was presented by the author at International Cross-Border Conference on Border Regions in Transition (BRIT)-XII Fukuoka (Japan)-Busan (South Korea) 13-16 November 2012. 

Weekly Telegraph, January 23, 2013 Page 4

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: