India and Nepal are at loggerheads over the construction of an 80-km-long road through the Lipulekh Pass in the Himalayas that will significantly reduce the travel time for Indian pilgrims visiting the Hindu religious site at Kailash-Mansarovar in Tibet. The 17,000-feet high Pass is located close to the disputed Kalapani area, which is claimed by both sides. While India argues that Kalapani is a part of Uttarakhand’s Pithoragarh district, Nepal claims it falls in its Darchula district.A diplomatic squabble erupted after Defence Minister Rajnath Singh announced the inauguration of the road, built by the Border Roads Organization, on May 8. Nepal’s Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali summoned the Indian Ambassador in Kathmandu, Manjeev Singh Puri, to lodge a strong protest.
What is Nepal saying?
Nepal claims Kalapani is a part of its territory, based on the Sagauli Treaty signed by Nepal’s Gurkha chiefs and British India on March 4, 1816, to end their three-year-long Anglo-Nepalese War. It asserts that it ceded control of the areas west of the Kali River, as well as the disputed Tarai, but retained stretches east of the water body, including Limpiadhura, Kalapani, and Lipulekh as per the agreement.Objecting to the road construction by India, Nepal’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement: “The unilateral act runs against the understanding reached between the two countries, including at the Prime Ministers’ level, that a solution to the boundary issue would be sought through negotiation.”
“The government of Nepal remains committed to seeking a diplomatic solution to the boundary issue based on the historical treaty, documents, facts, and maps in keeping with the spirit of close ties between the two countries,” it said.The news of the road inauguration triggered protests by student groups in the capital. Demonstrations were held outside the Indian Embassy and at Maitighar Mandala area, which is close to the Central Secretariat and the Parliament building.
What is India saying?
In response, the Ministry of External Affairs said the road lies within India’s territory. “The recently inaugurated road in Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand lies within the territory of India. The road follows the existing route used by the pilgrims of the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra. Under the present project, the same road has been made pliable for the ease and convenience of pilgrims, locals, and traders,” the MEA Spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said.
“India and Nepal have established a mechanism to deal with all boundary matters. The boundary delineation exercise with Nepal is ongoing. India is committed to resolving outstanding boundary issues through diplomatic dialogue and in the spirit of our close and friendly bilateral relations with Nepal,” he said in a statement. Mr Srivastava said that both sides will hold Foreign Secretary-level talks in this regard after the dates are fixed, post the COVID-19 crisis.In 2015, Nepal had also expressed its disagreement after India and China agreed to include Lipulekh Pass as a bilateral trade route in a joint statement during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Beijing.
Missing Original Treaty Documents
In 2019, Nepal’s leading newspaper Kathmandu Post had reported that the original documents of the Sagauli Treaty and the Nepal-India Friendship Treaty, 1950, had gone missing from the national archives. In a report in August, it stated that Nepal’s then Foreign Minister Narayan Khadka had raised the issue in Parliament, urging the government to locate them. The original Nepal-India Treaty document was also found missing in 2016 when the Eminent Persons Group, which was reviewing the bilateral relations, had requested for the file, the report said. The treaty was signed by then Nepal’s Prime Minister Mohan Shumsher and then Indian Ambassador Chandeshwar Prasad Narayan Singh.
The Nepal government had set up an inquiry committee and instructed it to search for the missing documents. The committee, however, reported back that it could not locate them even after checking at the libraries, the national archives, the archaeology department, the Narayanhiti Museum, and the Law and Foreign Ministry offices. But Mr Gyawali later said that “We have them but we have to forensically verify whether they are originals or not.” “We are also trying to find historical documents and maps in India and the UK,” he was quoted as saying.
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