Foreign Policy Watch: India-Nepal

Thinking through the Nepal policy


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Treaty of Sagauli

Mains level: Paper 2- India-Nepal relations

Unilateral actions by Nepal

  • Minor dispute involving territory around the Kalapani springs, was expanded to claim a large wedge of Indian territory towards the east, measuring nearly 400 square kilometres.
  • The expanded claim was incorporated into Nepal through a constitutional amendment and a revised official map.

Future course of action

  • India should be willing to engage in talks with Nepal on all aspects of India-Nepal relations.
  • But any talks on the Kalapani issue should be limited to the area which was the original subject for negotiations and Susta.
  • Borders which have been accepted by both sides for more than 100 years and which have also been reflected on their official maps cannot be unilaterally altered by one side coming up with archival material which has surfaced in the meantime.
  • This would make national boundaries unstable and shifting, and create avoidable controversies between countries as is the case now between India and Nepal.

Some historical background

  • The Treaty of Sugauli of 1816 sets the Kali river as the boundary between the two countries.
  • There was no map attached to the treaty.
  • Nepal is now claiming that the main tributary of the Kalapani river rises east of the Lipu Lekh pass from the Limpiyadhura ridgeline and hence should serve as the border.
  • Even if the lengthiest tributary may be one principle for a riverine boundary, it is not the only one.
  • There are many boundaries which do not follow any geographical principle at all but are the result of historical circumstances, mutual agreement and legal recognition.
  • British surveys of the region consistently showed the India-Nepal border heading due north of Kalapani springs.
  • This alignment never changed in subsequent years and was also reflected in Nepali official maps.
  • It has been argued by Nepal that it was the East India Company and successor governments “cartographic chicanery” to shift the source of the Kali river towards the east.
  • But Nepali government never contested such actions.
  • In 1969, the then Prime Minister of Nepal demanded that India military personnel manning 17 villages along the Nepal-Tibet border since the early 1950s be withdrawn.
  • If Lipu Lekh and Kalapani were on Nepali territory then why were they omitted from the list?
  • The Chinese, at least since 1954, have accepted Lipu Lekh Pass as being in Indian territory.
  • In the Nepal-China boundary agreement of 1960, the starting point of the boundary is clearly designated at a point just west of the Tinker Pass.

Consider the question “Nepal’s newfound aspiration has led to the introduction of friction in India-Nepal ties, what is needed is recognition of each others’ concerns. Comment.”


For India, more than the exemplary inter-state relationship, it is the unique people-to-people relations between India and Nepal; and, fortunately, inter-state relations have been unable to undermine the dense affinities that bind our peoples together. While India should reject the Nepali state’s ill-conceived territorial claims, it should do everything to nurture the invaluable asset it has in the goodwill of the people of Nepal.

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