The Kalapani Issue

The controversy over the control of Kalapani area at the tri-junction of India, Nepal and China in the Himalayan region of Pithoragarh district of  the Indian state of Uttarakhand has once again come alive after New Delhi issued a revised map following the constitution of two new Union Territories, bifurcating the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Nepal claims as its own, a part of Kalapani and its adjoining areas, shown in the map as Indian Territory.

Kalapani controversy dates back to the historic Sagauli Treaty of 1816 between the King of Nepal and the then British India. The Treaty defines the Mahakali River as the boundary between the two countries, without indicating its place of origin or which of its tributaries was the main Mahakali River. But the Territorial maps issued by the Surveyor General of British India later clearly defined Kalapani, Lipu Lekh and Limpiyadhura areas as Indian territory while Nepal has been claiming sovereignty over these areas, disputing the origin of Mahakali River. Nepal claims Kalapani is an unresolved territory in its far western Dharchula district.

Nepal’s capital Kathmandu witnessed sporadic demonstrations demanding revision of the map issued by India on 2nd November 2019. Nepal’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Nepal firmly believes that Kalapani was a part of its territory. Reacting to it, India’s Ministry of External Affairs, however clarified that the new map issued by New Delhi depicts the sovereign territory of India and in no manner alters the boundary with Nepal.

Nepal Prime Minister K.P Sharma Oli held an all-party meeting which asked the Nepalese government to take effective steps to resolve the issue with India through diplomatic channels. Mr. Oli while asserting that Nepal will not cede even an inch of its territory expressed his government’s commitment to sort out the issue with India through bilateral discussions.

In 2015 also, Nepal raised similar objection over an agreement between India and China during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Beijing to develop Lipu Lekh pass, which is the shortest route to the highly revered Hindu pilgrimage centre Mansarovar. Nepal claims that area as its territory. Nothing much happened at that time and the Indian security forces have continued to control the area.

Both India and Nepal are in favour of resolving the issue in the spirit of their close and friendly relations through dialogue process. New Delhi however has pointed out that boundary delineation is an ongoing exercise through existing mechanism which is trying to find an amicable solution to all such issues. It has also urged Nepal to guard against vested interests trying to create differences between the two friendly neighbours.Domestic compulsions, ultra nationalism and external interests in Nepal affairs are perhaps compelling Kathmandu to keep the issues with India alive to serve their ends; whereas the leadership in both countries want to resolve all issues amicably through dialogue. In the case of Kalapani issue also, preliminary dialogue process between the two countries is already on. Nepal’s Ambassador to India Nilamber Acharya met Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale in New Delhi and discussed the matter with him. Nepal has also sought Foreign Secretary level discussions over the issue. Nepal government has formed a task force of experts to find out the historical facts about Kalapani.

The Foreign Ministers’ level Nepal India Joint Commission had held its 5th meeting in Kathmandu in August last and discussed the whole gamut of bilateral relations. In fact the growing ties between India and Nepal have touched new heights as last year, the two countries had identified three new areas of cooperation, Raxaul-Kathmandu electrified rail line and developing cooperation in hitherto unexplored areas of waterways and agriculture.

No doubt the Kalapani issue is sensitive to both India and Nepal. However, border survey teams from both the countries are on the job and the issue is expected to be resolved amicably soon.

  Script: Rattan Saldi, Political Commentator