Foreign Policy Watch: India-Nepal

India Nepal Border issue: Colonial legacy or the Dragon’s Power Play


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Treaty of Sugauli, Lipu Lekh pass.

Mains level: Paper 2- India-Nepal ties, and issues involved.

India – Nepal relations are having its “see saw swing” moment. At one end, lies the 1950 treaty of peace and friendship, close people to people relations and India’s aid during 2015 earthquake. But on the other end lies the economic blockade and Madhesi protest. Another entry to the later side is the Border issue.

  • The inauguration of road from Dharchula to Lipu Lekh was done with great fanfare, at least on the Indian side.
  • The metalled road is a BIG relief for pilgrims and traders on the traditional route for the Kailash-Mansarovar yatra, who otherwise were stuck for days in the arduous walk.

So, where is the issue?

The issue lies in Nepal’s charge claiming that the stretch passes though Nepalese territory. This was displayed by some politicized moves like-

  • Intemperate remarks by Nepal’s PM in the Nepalese Parliament.
  • Manner (airdropped to the location by helicopters) and timing(why now?) of the Deployment of armed police at Chharung, close to Kalapani, in its Sudoor Paschim.
  • Finally, Nepalese government has raised the stakes further by authorizing a new map extending its territory across an area sensitive for India’s defence.

The very beginning: The Sugauli Treaty

  • Before the 1816 Treaty of Sugauli, the Nepalese kingdom stretched from the Sutlej river in the west to the Teesta river in the East.
  • Nepal lost the Anglo-Nepalese War and with the signing of Sugauli Treaty was brought down to its present territories.

The Sugauli Treaty stated that “[t]he Rajah of Nipal [Nepal] hereby cedes to the Honourable [the] East India Company in perpetuity all the under-mentioned territories”, including “the whole of the lowlands between the Rivers Kali and Rapti.” It elaborated further that “[t]he Rajah of Nipal [Nepal] renounces for himself, his heirs, and successors, all claim to or connection with the countries lying to the west of the River Kali and engages never to have any concern with those countries or the inhabitants there of.”

  • The present controversy arose with Nepalese contest that the tributary that joins the Mahakali river at Kalapani is not the Kali river. Nepal now contends that the Kali river lies further west to the Lipu Lekh pass.
  • But here’s the catch!
  • The British used the Lipu Lekh pass for trade with Tibet and China.
  • Even Survey of India maps since the 1870s shows the area of Lipu Lekh down to Kalapani as part of British India.
  • Even though the areas of Nepalgunj and Kapilvastu were restituted to Nepal as a reward for the military help rendered by Jung Bahadur Rana in quelling the 1857 uprising. The British did not return any part of Garhwal or Kumaon, including the Kalapani area, to Nepal.
  • Infact, both the Rana rulers of Nepal and the Nepalese Kings accepted the boundary and did not raise any objection with the government of India after India’s Independence.
  • True that India did not existed in 1816 when the Treaty of Sugauli was concluded.
  • But many borders of the world and India are colonial legacy, which we have to work out.

The path to peace

  • The Nepal-India Technical Level Joint Boundary Working Group was set up in 1981 to resolve boundary issues, to demarcate the international border, and to manage boundary pillars.
  • By 2007, the group completed the preparation of 182 strip maps, signed by the surveyors of the two sides, covering almost 98% of the boundary, all except the two disputed areas of Kalapani and Susta.
  • Not able to solve the border issues in these disputed areas has left us hanging.

India has successfully resolved far more intractable border issues with Bangladesh.

  • The land boundary settlement required an exchange of territories, including the transfer of population, and a constitutional amendment to give effect to the 1974 India-Bangladesh Land Boundary Agreement.
  • The maritime boundary issue with Bangladesh involved going to the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration. Despite knowing well that if the Court applied the principle of equity, India would lose up to four-fifths of the disputed area. India lost but the government of India accepted the ruling.
  • Compared to what was accomplished between India and Bangladesh, the India-Nepal border issues appear more easily solvable.

Respecting out Ties

  • India Nepal ties are unique.
  • Historical link between the nations.
  • Spirit of maintaining India’s close and friendly bilateral relations with Nepal.
  • The people-to-people relationship between India and Nepal is unmatched.

What lies ahead?

  • This matter can be best handled bilaterally, through quiet diplomacy.
  • The Official Spokesperson of India’s Ministry of External Affairs, Anurag Srivastava, has said recently that India and Nepal have an established mechanism to deal with all boundary matters.
  • He has affirmed that India is committed to resolving outstanding boundary issues through diplomatic dialogue.
  • The remaining issues concerning the boundary i.e Kalapani and Susta are not difficult to resolve unless they are caught up in domestic or international concerns.
  • The next steps should be approval of the strip maps by the respective governments (that of the Nepalese Government is still awaited), the resolution of the differences of opinion over Kalapani and Susta, and speeding up the erection of damaged or missing border pillars.

Consider the question “India-Nepal ties are unique. Both countries have many things in common. Yet, recent developments over the border dispute threaten to snap these ties. Examine the border issue between the two countries. What is India’s stand on the issue? Suggest ways to resolve the issue.”


The more the trouble festers, those who stand to gain by deteriorating India-Nepal relations will benefit. There is need for the two countries to lower the temperature and defuse the issue. They must invest time and effort to find a solution. Raking up public controversy can only be counterproductive to the relationship.

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