||700 square kilometers encroached upon
No other issue fuels anti-India sentiments in Nepal more than border encroachment. While left-leaning parties continue to whip up Kalapani and Susta, reports of border dispute with China have also begun to surface with more frequency of late. What is the state of Nepal’s frontiers with India and China? Is Nepal’s territory shrinking?Mahabir Paudyal, Koshraj Koirala and Prem Thapa sat down with renowned border expert and former Director General of Survey Department Buddhi Narayan Shrestha to find out.
Can you enlighten us on the state of encroachment of our borders?
Nepal shares 1,880-km border with India with 26 districts adjoining the giant neighbor. There are claims and counterclaims at 71 different locations. Of this, the most disputed is Kalapani-Lilmpiadhura area of Darchula district. There is a history behind the encroachment of 37,000 hectares of land there. During the 1962 Indo-China war, Indians were looking for a place where they could be safe and yet harm Chinese troops should the latter make further inroads into India. Indian troops found Kalapani the perfect place to do so. They thought they could use the 20,276-feet high butte there as their station to thwart the Chinese attack and disperse Chinese troops, by rolling down rocks and stones if everything else fails. They occupied Kalapani for this purpose and have been doing so ever since. Susta of Nawalparasi is the second largest encroached upon area with 14,500 hectares in dispute. But nature seems to have played a big role in this encroachment. By the time Nepal signed Sugauli Treaty on March 4, 1816, Narayani River was flowing toward north-south from Triveni Ghat. Subsequent floods changed the river course. The river began to erode Nepali land and India could claim more and more of Nepal’s territories.
Are there any estimates about the extent of encroachment of Nepali territories from Indian side?
Currently, altogether 60, 662 hectares of land is under encroachment and cross-holding. You need to distinguish cross-holding from encroachment. Cross holding happens because of unclear border demarcations, big spaces between Junge pillars and loss of such pillars. Because of this people from the other side of the border have been able to inhabit this space.
There is a perception that Indian establishment backs such encroachments. What is the truth?
I cannot tell you about other places but Indian locals, Central Government, Sasastra Seema Bal and political parties in Bihar are behind the encroachment in Susta. I have heard that BJP leaders in Patna encourage the poor and the landless to inhabit Susta in return for votes. Besides, SSB forces stand by those Indian farmers living in the encroached land and treat those who protest cruelly. When Gopal Gurung, Adam Khan (11 bigas of his land has been encroached by Indian locals) and Laila Begum of Susta protested, SSB forces threatened them at gunpoint. In some other places SSB is said to have arrested the protestors and tortured them.
Is the problem of encroachment limited to India or do we have similar issues with China?
Many people think Nepal has border problems only with India. But that’s not true. Border demarcation between China and Nepal was carried out in 1961 following a border treaty between the two countries. At that time, there were border disputes with China at 32 locations. Then, China had made a claim on Gaurishnakar Mountain, even Mount Everest. But in two years all such disputes were settled. But Lungdep village of Lamabagar in Dolakha district has emerged as a conflict point. Six years ago a joint border team had been formed to renew the border protocol between China and India. Back then Chinese officials claimed that the boundary marker no. 57 was out of place and that it had to be moved towards Nepali territories. Nepal has not agreed to it citing that the marker was erected in 1961 and cannot be moved. This has put six hectares of land in dispute. The dispute drags on also because Nepal-China Joint Border Commission that was formed six years ago has been idle.
We studied in school that Nepal’s area is 147,181 square kilometer. How much of that area is still under Nepali jurisdiction?
If you consider both encroached and disputed areas as much as 700 square kilometers might be subtracted from the figure of 147,181. This is a very serious issue. The fact that more than 60,000 hectares of land has been encroached upon means that people living in those territories are slowly becoming aliens in their own country. If encroachment continues at the current rate and if we continue to watch from the sidelines, millions will soon become aliens and our nation and nationality will be under serious threat. Eventually, it could even end Nepal’s existence.
Isn’t there an amicable way to settle these disputes?
Solutions are not hard, except for Kalapani. There is great diplomatic and political interest of India in Kalapani. But in other areas, if experts from Nepal and India collect all the old maps and documents and tally them with the existing disputed borders, we can find out the reality.
Have Nepal and India taken any such initiatives?
Nepal India Joint Technical Committee had been formed in 1981 for this purpose and it worked for 26 years before it was dissolved in January 2007. The Committee settled 97 percent of border demarcation disputes and prepared 182 strip maps. Surveyors from both Nepal and India have put their signatures on those maps. Only three percent work remains, including on disputed regions of Susta and Kalapani.
Why could not the committee settle the issues of Kalapani and Susta as well?
India has been insisting that plenipotentiaries of the two countries should first endorse 97 percent work and remaining three percent should be settled by a Higher Commission. But Nepal has not agreed to it because such a proposal is against the principle of international boundary settlement. International boundary principle allows for endorsement of such an agreement only after 100 percent work has been completed. Also India seems reluctant to solve the problems at times. In an attempt to solve Susta and Kalapani dispute, Nepal proposed making an 1853 map issued by British India’s Department of Survey as the basis for demarcation. India studied that map but backed out because it clearly shows Susta and Kalapani are in Nepal. When Nepal asked for the reason India claimed that such a map was not scientific. India refuses to follow this map because if it does it will have to leave Kalapani and also return our land at Susta.
What is India’s claim? Which map does it consider valid?
India has forwarded a map issued in 1879. The map shows Nepal’s hills, valleys and rivers accurately. But the symbols (dash and dots) seem to have been manipulated in such a way that they show Kalapani within India. It is clear that those dots and dashes were forged. This was an act of ‘cartographic aggression’. I believe that the original version of this map can be found either in the US Library of Congress or the British Museum. If we tally Indian claims with the original map, we can find out the reality.
How will border encroachment affect constituency delineation work and state restructuring?
Constituencies should be delineated on the basis of rivers, hills, roads and canals. Border issues may have little effect on it but if we set about restructuring the state without settling encroachment issues, it is sure to have serious repercussions on Nepal-India relation.
How do you view Supreme Court’s stay order on government’s decision to allow India to open checkpoints at Pashupatinagar and Lumbini?
According to principles of international boundary and border management, a country can open checkpoints and immigration offices only within its frontiers. India’s attempt was a continuation of its border encroachment policy and an attack on Nepal’s sovereignty. The Supreme Court thwarted the attempt just on time.
Let us turn to border management. How should Nepal and India regulate their borders?
Before Sugauli Treaty, Nepal had closed border with British India. The treaty changed it into regulated border system. After British India and Nepal signed Supplementary Boundary Treaty on November 1, 1860, open border system came into place. But there is no treaty or formal understanding between two countries that there shall be an open border. Open border has created a lot of problems on both sides.
How can these problems be solved?
India and Nepal will need to do a few things. Let us install CCTV at border checkpoints. It will help us track criminals. Let us keep proper records of those who enter Nepal from India, and vice-versa. Let us implement ID card system. We should fence the border but establish enough entry and exit points. People living within five kilometers of the frontier should be allowed free mobility. Nepal-India border can be easily regulated, if we show strong will.