Cross-border mobility between Nepal and India
Buddhi N Shrestha
(I have presented this paper in the International Boundary Conference entitled ‘Border Regions in Transition (BRIT-xiv) which was held in Arras and Lille in France and Mons in Belgium from 4 to 7 November 2014. Followings are the abstract and copy of my power point presentation) :
There is an open border regime between Nepal and India since centuries. This is unique in the world, in the sense that people of both countries can cross the international border from any point, many times a day without any interrogation, despite the existence of border check-posts at 26 locations. This type of cross-border mobility is being seen as a means of connection between the people of two countries. Life of both the frontiers have been linked and they are dependant each other. The mobility has enhanced the cross-border employment as well. This is understood as a source of innovation within the societies of both the nations.
The goal of this paper is to analyze the prospects and problems of free and unrestricted cross-border mobility. At the same time, it has to identify how the trans-border crimes could be stopped or minimized in connection to unrestricted cross-border mobility. It has been tried to suggest for alternative measures to stop the misuse of open border between Nepal and India. Emphasis has been given for the exchange of real-time information; and establishment of cross-border co-operation, co-ordination and collaboration mechanism, to make stop the unwanted activities along the open border.
• To analyze, the prospects and problems of free and unrestricted cross-border mobility between Nepal and India.
• To identify, how the trans-border crimes could be stopped or minimized in connection to unrestricted cross-border mobility through the open border.
• To suggest, for alternative measures :
– to stop the misuse of open border and
– to minimize cross-border crime between Nepal and India.
• Nepal is a landlocked sovereign state.
• It is situated between two emerging Asian giants, India and China
– On the north, there is the Himalayan range, as there is a regulated border regime with China.
– On the south, there are neither natural walls nor man made fences, as there is an open border system with India.
Cross-border mobility : A source of livelihood
• There is an open border regime between Nepal and India since centuries, as this is unique in the world.
• Cross-border mobility is possible due to good relationship and it is a means of connection between the people of two countries.
• People crossing the border for various activities in both the countries, is very high on daily basis.
• Livelihood of millions of people, living in both sides of the border, depends on that cross-border mobility.
• Nepal-India Peace and Friendship Treaty -1950 has agreed to grant privileges on matters of movement, on a reciprocal basis, to the nationals of one country in the territory of the other.
• Millions of people have a cross-border mobility every day between Nepal and India.
• For example, one single crossing-point Belahiya -Sunauli (Nepal- India) bears the following data in 2013 :
• Nepali and Indian nationals use to cross the international border (no need of document):
• Approximately 832,000 Nepalis and Indians travelled from India to Nepal:
– 548,000 Nepali nationals
– 284,000 Indian nationals.
• Similarly 924,000 people had mobility from Nepal to Indian frontier:
– 680,000 Nepali nationals
– 244,000 Indian nationals.
• Nepal and India have traditionally been close since ancient times.
• Nepal-India formal diplomatic relation was established on 17 June 1947.
• Nepalese and Indian nationals may move freely across the border without passport or visa/permit and may live and work in either country.
• Indo-Nepali model is found nowhere, as it has own speciality.
• Open border regime that has been existing from so many years, has become the most distinguishing feature of India-Nepal relations.
Features of India-Nepal relation
Here are some identified features of the India-Nepal relation along the border:
• Nepal quelled the disturbances of ‘Sepoy Mutiny Revolt’ in India during British India regime in 1857.
• The then Nepali Prime Minister Junga Bahadur himself led the Gorkha troops in India and subsided the mutiny.
• India also helped Nepal to settle decade-long (1996 until 2006) Maoist insurgency that came to end in 2006 with 12-point Comprehensive Peace Agreement
• Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on 3 August 2014:
– There is no war that India won without the sacrifice and martyrdom of Nepali people.
• The political relationship between the two countries goes back to the time immemorial before the period of British regime in India.
• Nepali political leaders and students had contributed to make India independent from British rule in 1957 such as:
– B P Koirala, Mana Mohan Adhikari, Ganesh Man Singh, Pushpa Lal Shrestha were involved in the fight against the British regime in India in the ‘Quit India’ movement launched in India by Mahatma Gandhi.
• Indian political leaders had contributed Nepal to bring democracy in 1950 as:
– Jayaprakash Narayan, Jawahar Lal Nehru and other had played a lead role to over throw Rana dynasty.
– Chandra Shekhar Contributed to regain the democracy in Nepal during 1990.
• Nehru managed to deal with Rana Prime Minister of Nepal for an agreement in 1950 with the consent of King Tribhuvan to bring democracy in Nepal.
• Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru helped Nepal in a movement against Rana oligarchy who were ruling Nepal for 104 years.
• Most recently, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said during his visit to Nepal:
– ‘Our relations have not moved forward with mere documents but through the heart of our peoples.’
These incidents show the political relations between India and Nepal.
• Large numbers of families across the border are tied through marital relations.
• Nepalese girls have been the daughter-in-laws of Indians.
• Indian boys are the son-in-laws of the Nepalese and vice versa.
• Commonalities of language, culture, physical features (especially Tarai area of Nepal) make the open border regime in one sense more people friendly.
• Indian Premier Narendra Modi has expressed:
– ‘We are nurtured by the same mountains and rivers and bound by ancient ties of religion, culture and kinship.’
Business and livelihood relation
• The Indian market provides cheaper and better quality products for Nepalese citizens, in the border areas to do their daily purchases.
• Nepalis can sell their locally produced goods such as vegetables, dairy products, domestic cattle, etc to the Indian market, as there is the cross- border mobility.
• It has created an opportunity for enhancing economic benefits for the residents of both frontiers along the border.
• Cross-border mobility has provided employment to the people on both sides.
• Near about 6 million of Nepalis have been employed in India as:
– restaurant waiters, security personnel; and factory and domestic workers.
• Similarly, nearly 4 million Indians are getting jobs in Nepal as:
– fruit and vegetable vendors, plumbers, electricians, carpenters and masonry; and school teachers in remote areas of Nepal.
• Indians visit Nepal on pilgrimage to the abode of Lord Pashupatinath, and Lumbini, the birth place of Lord Buddha, Muktinath, Janakpur etc as the holiest places for both Hindus and Buddhists.
• Likewise, Nepalese pilgrims visit the holiest Hindu places of India like Kedarnath, Kashi, Gaya, Jagannath, Haridwar etc.
Indian Premier Narendra Modi has made a relevant expression:
‘There is a temple in Kashi (India) that has a Nepali priest and there is a temple of Pashupatinath in Nepal where priests are from India.’
• Cross-border pilgrimages have really contributed to strengthening friendship, mutual understanding as well as cultural relations.
People of both countries share common religious faith and philosophies, and revere and worship same gods and incarnations.
• People in both countries share many languages.
– Such common languages include inter-alia Nepali, Hindi, Maithali, Bhojpuri, Avadi, Sanskrit etc.
• Nepal and India both use Devanagari script in writing Nepali, Hindi and many other common languages.
• Many a religious texts, including the Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas, Tripitak are written in Devanagari script.
• People of both the countries observe similar cultural festivities such as:
– Durga Pooja, Deepawali, Holi, Mahashivaratri, Krishnaasthami etc in an equal enthusiasm.
• Close socio-cultural relationship between the people of Nepal and India is a great asset of both countries.
• Contributed not only cultural and traditional friendly relations; but also greatly promoting mutual understanding, appreciation each other aspirations, and cementing the existing ties of warm and co-operative neighbourhood.
Particularities of open border
• There is an open border regime between Nepal and India since centuries.
– However, there are prospects and problems of free and unrestricted mobility of people of Nepal and India across the international border.
• If we look back the border management of Nepal:
– It was a closed border system before the Treaty of Sugauli-1816.
– Regulated system was practiced with visa and permit after 1816.
– Open border was Started slowly and unknowingly after the restoration of the lost territory, as Naya Muluk or New Territory from the British India in 1860.
• However, permit was necessary till 1960, before the construction of highway linking Kathmandu and Raxaul.
• Interestingly, there is no black and white to make the border open.This is only the usage from both the sides.
Reason to make border open
British Government kept the Nepal-India border unofficially open, primarily for three purposes:
1. To make easy to recruit Nepali hill people in the British army battalion.
2. To have easy and free access of British and Indian manufactured goods to Nepal and up to Tibet via Nepal.
3. To transport easily the raw materials from Nepal into India such as:
– timber and forest produce, herbs and medicinal plants, hides and skins, etc.
Whatever it may be, in the present context, there are positive and negative aspects of open border between Nepal and India.
Positive aspect of open border
There are positive aspects of the open border regime such as:
Convenience in movement:
• Open border has saved travelers time and energy to reach on their destinations on time.
Facility of quick response during hazard and natural calamities:
• There was fire hazard in Pashupatinagar of Ilam, Nepal on 6 June 2011. Fire Brigade brought instantly from Darjeeling (India) put off the fire.
Medical services facility:
• Indian frontier inhabitants could come to Nepal’s Sagarmatha Choudhary Eye Hospital, Lahan
to get the treatment without any obstruction.
• Hundreds of Indians including Sonelal Das (82 years old) got cataract operation on 9 October 2014.
Immediate supply of food-grains.
• whenever one side of the border suffers from the severe shortage of food and daily necessities as consumer goods, the other side of the border is always there to fill in.
Competitive cross-border market:
• The local populace prefers to buy goods wherever they find them cheaper, for example:
– Nepali women customers of Birganj go to Raxaul (Indian town) for cheaper shopping of daily necessary.
• Indian citizens along the border come to Birganj (Nepali town) to buy cheap Chinese and third country (overseas) goods.
Facility of weekly market (Hat Bazaar)
• Frontier people of Nepali settlements go to Indian market for cheaper sugar, salt, spices, kerosene etc.
• Indian people also come Nepali weekly market to buy fresh fruits and vegetables and pure milk
Analysis of the problem of misusing open border
• Open border has been misused and it has become safe passage to criminals and terrorists.
• There are some challenges from free and unrestricted cross-border mobility as well.
• The unrestricted border has indeed been responsible for all sorts of criminal, anti-social and illegal activities.
• National security system of both the countries has been affected by the impact of this open border arrangement.
• Article-VII of Nepal-India Peace and Friendship Treaty- 1950 says:
– ‘Government of India and Nepal agree to grant to the nationals of one country in the territories of the other the same privileges in the matter of movement of a similar nature.’
Reactions on open border system
• Newly elected Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi said on 27 May 2014:
– ‘Nepal and India should be mindful of mutual security concerns as they share an open border.’
• Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar said during Chief Ministers conference in New Delhi on 21 April 2012:
– Open border with Nepal poses security challenges to Bihar. It needs center’s support to regulate the border to check cross-border crimes.
• Indian Ambassador to Nepal Ranjeet Rae has said on 12 February 2014 in an interview to the Kathmandu Post Daily:
– India and Nepal are very close friends and neighbours that share an open border.
– We have open border. Someone commits crime in one country and runs to the other.
– This is a problem for both countries.
– Open border has been misused by people who do not have the best interests of the two countries by heart.
– We have to set up our co-operation and co-ordination to ensure that the benefits are
maximized and the problems are minimized.
– Terrorism-related cases, fake Indian currency smuggling, gold smuggling and trafficking of protected species are at he specific areas of concern India has with Nepal.
Challenges of open border
Challenges are the other side of the same open border regime.
Misuse of open border :
• Open border system between Nepal and India has been misused by unwanted elements, though it was brought into operation with good intention.
• Sushma Swaraj, External Affairs Minister of India has said on 28 July 2014:
– ‘Open border has facilitated extremely close people-to-people linkages.
– However, this has also been misused for criminal activities in the border areas, such as human
trafficking,import and export of illegal drugs, smuggling of Fake Indian Currency Notes (FICN) etc.
– We are also working with the Government of Nepal to jointly prevent such activities.’
Nepali authorities also have expressed concern over misuse of open border.
• Vice-President Parmananda Jha has said :
– ‘The open border between Nepal and India should be considered a boon for the two countries.
– However, Nepal and India should try to ensure that the open border was not misused by smugglers, terrorists
• Foreign Minister Mahendra Bahadur Pandey has said in a seminar organized by the Institute of Foreign Affairs on 9 September 2014:
– ‘Our immediate neighbours expect Nepal’s active cooperation in not allowing our territory to be misused by elements inimical to them.’
was arrested by the Special Cell of Delhi Police from the Indo-Nepal border on 16 August 2013.
• Yasin Bhatkal, one of India’s most wanted terrorism suspect was arrested near India’s border with Nepal on 28 August 2013. Bhatkal is the co-founder of the Indian Mujahideen, a militant group banned in India and listed by the United States as a foreign terrorist organization.
Trafficking of narcotic drugs :
• Indian para-military (SSB) seized, in Indo-Nepal porous border Patna Frontier, over 1,892 kg marijuana, 63.9 kg hashis, 1 kg brown sugar and 500 gm heroin worth total 1 million US$ in January 2011 alone.
Infiltration of third country nationals :
– Bangladeshi citizen use to cross Nepal-India porous border illegally in the disguised of Indian national (West Bengal).
– Such is the case from Pakistani, Afghani, Iranian citizens, as Indian (Uttar Pradesh State) nationals etc.
– Similarly, Bhutanese and Mynmarian citizens cross the border illegally in the disguise of Nepali nationals.
– If we stay and look for one or two hours in the Thamel street market of Kathmandu-
– we can identify such non-status third country citizens.
Transportation of fake Indian currency Notes :
Fake currency Notes come from third country via Nepal to India.
– Shekh Muhammad was arrested with Rs. 905 million Indian fake currency Notes on 7 June 2013.
– Aasin Miya was arrested with Rs. 6.9 million on 28 May 2012 in Bara district border.
Abduction of businessmen and their children :
• Nepali industrialist Ganga Bishan Rathi was abducted from Biratnagar, Nepal and he was taken to Silguri, India and he was killed on 10 January 2013, after 23 days of his abduction.
• Nepali businessman Tulsi Ram Agrawal was abducted and taken to the other side of the border. He was released after the monetary negotiation
Illegal transportation of small arms :
• Police have arrested seven people with a dozen of small arms and ammunition from Morang, Sunsari, Jhapa, Saptari and Siraha within one month period, September 2013.
The Indo-Nepal open border, according to security personnel,
has helped in smuggling small arms manufactured in India.
during 2013 in the Belahia-Sunauli border crossing point. They were supposed to be sold in Indian brothels.
Nepal and India should discuss:
• Free and unrestricted cross-border mobility should not be allowed any more, to eradicate illegal and criminal activities.
• It has to stop the misuse of open border in the changing security situation of the region.
• An alternative measure should be made, not to let misuse the open border in the present context.
• To stop the unwanted cross-border activities, Indo-Nepal border should be regulated slowly and unknowingly, step by step, in a phase wise basis as followings:
1. Deployment of security forces.
2. Monitoring by CCTV cameras.
3. Introducing ID card system.
4. Fencing the frontier.
1. Deployment of security force
• Deploying border security force is an alternative provision to check terrorist activities, to stop the smuggling of goods, and to stop several undesirable and illegal activities.
• India has deployed 45,000 para-military force with the establishment of 466 border observation posts (BOPs) in the border with Nepal.
• Nepal also has deployed 5,300 Armed Police Force (APF) with 87 BOPs.
It can be regarded as the first step of adoption of regulated system.
2. Monitoring by CCTV cameras
A mechanism should be developed to monitor by the CCTV cameras.
• CCTV and Digital Security Gate should be installed in a long but narrow corridor.
• Travelers should walk through that room speaking his/her name with caste, address, purpose of crossing the border and number of days he is travelling.
• It has to monitor, visualize and study his face, posture, dialect, way of walking, sequence of speaking on the computer monitor from inside the corridor.
• Doubtful traveler should be interrogated taking him to nearby small room. If he is found suspicious, it must be arrested for further inquiry.
• If he is a genuine passenger, he should be allowed to cross the border without any delay.
• If this mechanism is applied, half of the trouble created by open border will be minimized.
• Introducing ID card system is pragmatic for Nepal and India, for the security reason, in a
phase wise basis in various crossing-points.
• Canada and USA has the open border system, but ID has to be produced while crossing the border.
4. Fencing the frontier
“Good fences make good neighbors.” -Robert Frost
• It will be not too bad to erect barbed wire fencing between Nepal and India with 360 exit /entry points.
• It will also be easy to supervise the border and watch the illegal activities.
• Bangladesh and India (Tripura) has raised in 856 km. wire fencing.
• India and Pakistan have common barbed iron fencing (2,912 km).
But it is not a relevant time to introduce visa system because of the perspective of age old friendship
To materialize the above mentioned recommendations, following mechanism should be established to overcome on the misuse of open border:
Common action programme to accelerate connectivity
• Nepal and India need to execute integrated common action programs to develop on both the frontier regions collaboratively.
Develop further co-operation
• It has to develop further co-operation, co-ordination and collaboration mechanism by increasing the border vigilance, not to let misuse the open border.
Exchange of real-time information
• First hand information should be passed on to the concerned counter-part authorities to nab the criminal immediately.
Stress not to let misuse open border
• Nepal-India border must be restricted to the unwanted elements.
But there must not be any delayed for genuine cross-border mobility of the people of Nepal and India to cross the international border smoothly.