Nepal-India border needs to be regulated: Buddhi Narayan
Buddhi Narayan Shrestha is a noted border expert. Shrestha, also a former director-general of the Land Survey Department, is now managing director of Bhumichitra Mapping Company P. Ltd. With a number of books and research works to his credit, he has been vigorously involved in defending the national border and creating awareness among the people about this. He talked to Ritu Raj Subedi of The Rising Nepal on a string of topics, including border disputes and geopolitical issues. Excerpts:
Nepal is set to get a stable government after the conclusion of the historic three-tier elections. How you perceive this development?
With the completion of the polls, the new government must be formed without delay. It should work harmoniously by taking the opposition into confidence. The federal parliament should pay attention to planning and executing projects in a practical manner. The local level organisations must have sufficient power to plan, execute, implement and monitor programmes/projects within their jurisdiction. They should have the authority to collect revenue and spend the budget locally, providing some portion of the revenue to the federal government.
You are a noted border expert. Are there border disputes with the two neighbours of Nepal?
We have some border disputes with both our neighbours. However, there are fewer disputes with one country and more with another. Nepal and China have yet to settle two issues related to the border. One is the conflict related to the location of Border Marker 57, demarcated on the Lapchi area of Lamabagar, Dolakha district. It’s a matter of six hectares of land that Nepal claims, as, it says, the marker has been established at the wrong sites. The other is the issue of the height of Sagarmatha (Qomolongma). China has been saying that the height of Sagarmatha has decreased and insists the new height - 8843.43 metres - be mentioned on the joint strip-map. But Nepal has rejected it and sticks to its traditional height as 8,848 metres.
There are encroachments, disputes, conflicts, cross-holding occupations, claims and counterclaims in 71 places along the 1,880-kilometre-long border between Nepal and India. The total area of such conflicts has been computed at 66,602 hectares of land. The largest chunk of encroachment is in the Lipulek-Kalapani-Limpiyadhura area of Darchula district with 37,000 hectares of land being encroached. Around 14,500 hectares of land have been encroached at Susta of Nawalparasi. A 24-squaremetre area of Fatak of Pashupatinagar, Ilam is the smallest spot that has been intruded into. All these disputes with both the neighbours should be resolved amicably based on the historic maps and documents. It requires understanding and brotherhood from both the sides.
Could you highlight the history and current status of border demarcation and management?
The border demarcation with British India started just after the 1816 Treaty of Sugauli. It was carried out in 1817-20, 1859-60, 1880-83 and 1940-41. Strip-maps were prepared. During the British period, Jange Border Pillars were erected at a distance of every 5-7 miles. The border lines were blurred in some segments as the boundary was not straight between two pillars. With a view to establishing subsidiary and minor pillars on the zigzag boundary between two main pillars, a Nepal-India Joint Technical Level Boundary Committee was formed in 1981. It worked till the end of 2007. Within this period, 97 per cent of the border line was demarcated, and 183 strip-maps were prepared. But the technical committee could not resolve 3 per cent of the border line due to the dispute at Kalapani, Susta and some other spots. The committee was dissolved in 2007.
On the other hand, Nepal and China signed an agreement on the boundary in 1960 and a boundary treaty in 1961. During the demarcation of the border carried out in 1961-62, the two sides had disputes at 32 places, including Sagarmatha and Mount Gauri Shankar. But all the controversies were settled within a period of two years in accordance with the five principles of peaceful co-existence and a spirit of fairness, reasonableness, mutual understanding and mutual accommodation. The dispute on Sagarmatha was resolved at the prime minister level with the two nations agreeing that the mountain peak belonged to Nepal. So far as the two latest issues are concerned, China had invited Nepal for a meeting in Xian on February 1-5, 2012 to resolve the matter. But Nepal postponed the joint meeting. Nepal should pursue it and put up its views.
Nepal and India have formed a border management committee to sort out the border problem? Could you highlight the progress made by the committee?
During the first visit of Indian PM Narendra Modi to Nepal, a four-tier mechanism was formed. Firstly, a Border Working Group (BWG) was formed under the Surveyor Generals of both the countries to establish the remaining border pillars, re-construct the missing pillars, repair and maintain existing pillars, and clear the no man’s land (Das Gaja) area and above all provide necessary technical inputs to the foreign secretaries.
Secondly, the Survey Officials Committee (SOC) under the Deputy Surveyor Generals from both sides was constituted to fix the technical design, supervise and provide technical guidance to the field teams. Thirdly, Field Survey Teams (FST) were formulated under the CDO of Nepal and DM of India to conduct a joint field survey, repair and maintain the existing border pillars, relocate the missing pillars with GPS technology and prepare a strip-map. Fourthly, an Outstanding Border Issue Resolution Mechanism (OBIRM) was formed at the Foreign Secretary level to suggest to the respective governments on the issues of Kalapani and Susta based on the technical inputs from the BWG. Joint field teams are working to repair and maintain the boundary pillars. However, the OBIRM has not held a single meeting to date.
Nepal and India have had an open porous border for a long time. Should it be open or regulated?
Nepal and India have shared an open border since long, but the time has changed. Now the open border must be regulated phase-wise. This is necessary because criminals commit crimes on one frontier and go to hide on the other side of the border. The border has been misused by unwanted elements. Abdul Karim Tunda, one of India’s most wanted top 20 Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists, was arrested on August 16, 2013 in Nepal. The Nepal Police nabbed Yasin Bhatkal, co-founder of the outlawed Indian Mujahideen, near India’s border in 2013. Both were handed over to India unofficially. On the other hand, Nepali industrialist Ganga Bishan Rathi was abducted from Biratnagar and taken to Siliguri, India, where he was killed in 2013 after 23 days of his abduction.
The ID card system has been implemented on the air route since October 1, 2000 after the hijacking of the Indian aircraft that flew from Kathmandu. So it is imperative to introduce the ID system also on the surface route. It is relevant to mention that while visiting Nepal in 2016, Indian PM Modi said: ‘We will not allow terrorists and criminals to abuse our open border. Security agencies of the two countries will intensify co-operation.’ Similarly, the fifth joint meeting of the Nepal-India EPG, held in Kathmandu in October this year, discussed the issue related to the open border and dwelt on ways to manage and regulate it without causing any inconvenience to the people from both the countries.
What is the relation between border, security and defence?
There is a close relationship between border management and security concern. If the border is not well managed, it creates a security threat. The open border regime poses a challenge in maintaining peace and security, and protecting human rights on both frontiers. Crimes such as human trafficking, cross-border terrorism, smuggling of narcotic drugs, goods, small arms and India fake currency notes take place through it. India has deployed more than 45,000 cops from the Sashastra Sena Bal along the India-Nepal border. Nepal has also deputed nearly 7,000 personnel from the Armed Police Force. But the people of both sides do not feel secure due to the continued misuse of the open border.
Some time ago, you wrote a book ‘Jange-Buddhe”, which apparently brings to light the contribution of Janga Bahadur in the management of the border. Will you shed light on this?
During the restoration of the Naya Muluk (Banke, Bardiya, Kailali and Kanchanpur districts) from British India, Janga Bahadur said that he would not accept the land until and unless the area was demarcated with the border pillars. So a commission was formed, and 252 ‘Jange Pillars’ were erected along the boundary line, and a Boundary Treaty was signed on November 15, 1860. On top of everything else, Janga Bahadur was a crusader of border’s protection, as he had erected and established the ‘jumbo boundary pillars’ to preserve the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Nepal. When 160 bighas land of Jamunah area of Banke was encroached, Janga Bahadur sent a protest letter to the British government on April 7, 1862, forcing the latter to give up its claim over the territory. It is to be noted that many kings and prime ministers have come and gone since the demise of Janga Bahadur, but none have corresponded with India over the encroachment of thousands of hectares of land till date. So I have shown my appreciation of him in my book entitled ‘Jange-Buddhe.’
The issues of Kalapani, Susta and Lipulek often hit the headlines. Can you shed light on the genesis of their dispute and solution?
The portion of the Narayani River (Gandak) in Susta area makes 24 kilometres of borderline with India. The river has destroyed vast swaths of land on Nepal’s side owing to the big floods in the last 75 years. As the river has shifted to Nepal’s side, India has occupied the area left by the river. In this way, Susta of Nepal has been encroached and occupied by India. With regard to the Kalapani issue, the Indian paramilitary forces encroached on the Nepali territory of Lipulek-Kalapani-Limpiyadhura after the India-China border war in 1962. Kalapani has its strategic importance. It is located on the Nepal-India-China tri-junction area. According to the Sugauli Treaty, the Kali River is the western boundary point of Nepal. The historical maps of 1827 and 1853, and other documents depict that Kalapani is located east of the river Kali. It means the Kalapani area automatically falls into Nepali territory.
The Lipulek Pass serves as the shortest route from Delhi to Lhasa, and a pilgrimage to Manasarovar from India and Nepal. When India and China made an agreement to augment the list of traded commodities and expand the border trade via Lipulek on May 15, 2015, there was much hue and cry in Nepal. It is Nepali territory occupied by India. It would be wise if the China-India agreement was corrected and recognised that Lipulek belongs to Nepal. India is always ignoring Nepal on the Lipulek issue. But China knowingly forgot it this time for trade and business benefit. In this situation, I suggest that Nepal propose to both India and China to convert the Lipulek area as a ‘Special Economic Zone’ for all three countries with the ownership belonging to Nepal.
Nepal is going to implement federalism with the new government getting down to business. Can you offer your insights on solving the potential disputes related to demarcation?
The provincial boundaries have been demarcated haphazardly without taking stock of the ground reality. It may create some disputes if there are resources, like minerals and rivers along the provincial border. The Nawalpur area of Nawalparasi and East Rukum of Baglung were separated from the respective districts to meet political interests. In fact, federal boundaries should be demarcated, taking the natural elements, historical monuments and cultural spots into account so as to avoid possible disputes between the provinces in the future.
Would you like to add anything?
A boundary is a sensitive element. Even if a small portion of a nation is encroached, the citizens living there will feel alienated. The more the encroachment, the more the people will be estranged. If the intrusion goes unabated, the nation loses its identity. So it is the duty of not only the political leaders, but also all citizens to protect the international boundary of the nation.