The Lower House of Nepal’s Parliament, the Pratinidhi Sabha approved a Constitution Amendment Bill to change the country’s political and territorial map on 13th June, 2020; which shows some parts of the Indian territory in Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand state as Nepalese territory.
Discussion on the bill was fast tracked by the House earlier, adopting a resolution. The new map of Nepal approved by the Cabinet on 18th May 2020 includes Kalapani, Limpiyadhura and Lipulekh region as Nepalese territory. These areas always have been and are integral parts of India; under the administrative control of Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand. The area comprising of nearly 350 square kilometres of terrain is of strategic importance to India as an important pilgrimage route to Kailash-Mansarovar, a cherished destination of every Indian, passes though it besides being a trade route between India and Tibet. It is in the vicinity of the trijunction of India, Nepal and China’s Tibet Autonomous Region.
India described the move by Nepal as violative of the understanding between the two countries to hold talks on outstanding boundary issues. New Delhi asserted that this artificial enlargement of claims is not based on historical facts or evidence and is not tenable. Earlier also, when Nepal released the revised map on 20th of last month, India while calling for a restraint on such unjustified cartographic assertion hoped that Nepal’s leadership would create a positive atmosphere for diplomatic dialogue to resolve the outstanding boundary issues.
The Kalapani row was unnecessarily escalated by Nepal after Defence Minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated the 80 kilometre long road from Dharchula town in Uttarakhand to Lipulekh pass on way to Kailash Mansarovar on 8th May 2020 purely inside Indian territory. After Nepal objected, New Delhi clarified that the road was constructed on the traditional Mansarovar route for the ease of pilgrims and traders and it lies completely within India’s territory.
Earlier in November 2019 also Nepal reacted sharply to India issuing a new territorial map of India after bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir state into two union territories. Nepal objected to the inclusion of Kalapani, Limpiyadhura and Lipulekh as part of India’s sovereign territory; as was in the earlier maps also. It may be clarified that these areas were always part of India and as such being shown as India’s territorial map always. Thus, there was no fresh claim or provocation for the unreasonable reaction by Nepal.
However, Nepal reacted strongly demanding Foreign Secretary level talks to resolve the boundary dispute. As both countries are in the grip of severe Covid 19 pandemic, the dates were yet to be fixed through diplomatic channels when the K.P. Sharma Oli government acted in haste to issue the revised map to include disputed areas as Nepal’s territory and brought this bill before Nepal’s Parliament. But Mr. Oli and other leaders in Nepal still believe that matters could be sorted out through dialogue.
On 10th June, 2020 four days prior to adoption of the Constitution Amendment Bill, Nepal government set up a team of experts to collect historical facts and evidence related to the disputed areas in favour of Nepal. Perhaps doubts still persists in the minds of the Nepali leadership even though the bill was approved by Nepal Cabinet and registered at the Lower House of Parliament which later adopted it.
India and Nepal traditionally have had geographical, cultural, historical and religious linkages. Both have very strong people to people ties. They have a border dispute resolution mechanism and 98 percent of their border related problems are already resolved. It is hoped that the two neighbours would resolve the present impasse through diplomatic and political channels at the earliest.
Script: Rattan Saldi, Political Commentator