Kalapani: A Bone of Contention Between India and Nepal

17 Oct, 2000    ·   422

Alok Kumar Gupta, after an analysis of the Kalapnai issue points out that technically, it may be possible for India to shift its post from Kalapani to the west bank of the Kali. However, it may not be possible politically and from the strategic point of view

The Kalapani, is a 35 square kilometer area claimed by India and Nepal . It has been  embroiled in controversy since mid-1996, shortly after the ratification of the Mahakali treaty with India by Nepal ’s Parliament.



The 1816 Segauli treaty between the British Raj and Nepal provided that the Kali river would mark the western border between India and Nepal . Kalapani is on its east bank.  The pilgrim-cum-trade route here from India to Tibet runs for the most part on the west bank of the Kali, but, at Kalapani it crosses briefly to the east bank. India asserts that old British surveys and maps show this section as part of India . But Nepal points to other maps and documents to support its claims.



Nepal has laid claim to all areas east of the Lipu Gad—the rivulet that joins the river Kali on its border, a tri-junction with India and China . The tributaries of the Kali River comprise a number of streams, including the Lipu Gad, which merge into the main river at the Kalapani temple near the tri-junction. The Nepalese contention is that the Lipu Gad is, in fact, the Kali river up to its source to the east of the Lipu Lekh Pass.



According to Nepal , after the India-China war in 1962, Nepal allowed Indian troops to occupy some posts in Nepal as a defensive measure. India has withdrawn from all of them, except Kalapani. It apparently wants to hold on to that post.



Nepal has long complained about minor Indian encroachments into other parts of the border, mainly when rivers shift their course from time to time. But Kalapani is different, with Indian soldiers in possession, and this has raised nationalist hackles in Nepal . Nepal claims that the Kalapani area lies within its Darchula district and, therefore, the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) presence there amounts to “Indian encroachment of Nepal ’s territory.” It has therefore demanded that the border post be removed and the area restored to it. 



Nepal ’s claims first surfaced during the negotiations resulting in the Sino-Nepal Border Agreement (1961), Sino-Nepal Border Protocol (1963) and, the subsequent 1979 Border Protocol, and it continues to seek adjustments on the western extremity of the border, about 5.5 kms. westwards towards the Lipu Lekh Pass.



Official sources in India claim that the administrative and revenue records dating back to 1830s (available with the UP state government), show that Kalapani area has traditionally been administered as part of Pithoragarh district. A State Police post was established by the state government at the now disputed site in 1956 and operated from here till 1979. Since 1979, the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) have been manning a post for surveillance over the area, which is on the tri-junction of the international boundaries of India, Nepal and the autonomous region of Tibet in China. According to India , vide Article 5 of the Segauli Treaty (1816), Nepal had renounced all claims to areas ‘lying west of the river Kali’. The Kali (now Mahakali) river thus evolved into a well-identified border demarcation in the west. Before claiming some area around the Kalapani tri-junction, Nepal had disputed even the source of the river Kali, as claimed by India .



India has contradicted Nepal ’s claim that Lipu Gad is in fact, the Kali river upto its source to the east of the Lipu Lekh Pass. India holds that the river Kali begins from the meeting point of the Lipu Gad with the stream from Kalapani springs. In the Survey of India Maps, the border thus leaves the mid-stream of the river Kali below Kalapani turning eastwards away from the river, to follow the high watershed.



Significantly, British India conducted the first regular surveys of the upper reaches of the river Kali, in the 1870s. A map of 1879 vintage shows the whole Kalapani area as part of India . India has refuted Nepal ’s proposal that the map sketched by the British-Indian government in 1850 and 1856 should mark the basis for the origin of Mahakali river. Instead, India has pressed for the map sketched by it in 1879 and 1928/29 being utilised.



These differences amount in reality to differences in the maps that each country possesses, which is further exacerbated by the shifting course of the Mahakali river in the area that was earlier accepted as the boundary.



The Indian government has suggested that the two sides should discuss this matter in a Joint Working Group. Though, a Joint Technical Boundary Committee (JILBC) was formed 18 years ago, which meets twice a year in Nepal and India consecutively to discuss this issue, nothing concrete has come of its deliberations so far. Technically, it may be possible for India to shift its post from Kalapani to the west bank of the Kali. But what is technically feasible may not be possible politically and from the strategic point of view.



India has been apprehensive of Nepal ’s intentions, particularly after the reverses it suffered in its conflict with China in 1962; it is often thought that Nepal has been trying to play China and India off against each other. A section in Nepal , hostile towards Delhi and pro-Beijing, has been involved in precisely such activities. This is further authenticated by the fact that following its border agreement with China , Nepal has suggested that the sensitive western extremity along the Kalapani tri-junction be discussed trilaterally between China , Nepal and India , adding yet another dimension to the dispute.



Both Delhi and Kathmandu fear that the continuing border dispute might endanger the safe movement of trade and pilgrims along the strategically located Lipu Lekh Pass —the all-weather and reliable entry point into Tibet from Almora.



During Prime Minister Mr. Koirala’s visit to India in July-August 2000, there was a convergence of views between Mr. Koirala and Prime Minister Vajpayee on matters of far reaching import relating to political, security and development co-operation. It has been agreed that field-work for the demarcation of the boundary will be completed by AD 2001-2002 and final strip maps will be prepared by 2003. Significantly, the Joint Boundary Committee also agreed, that in case both sides were unable to reach a mutually acceptable agreement on specific segments (referring to two pockets on the boundary-Kalapani in the west and West Champaran in the east, which have defied resolution), detailed reports including a compilation of available evidence would be submitted to the two governments for consideration. The External Affairs Ministry in India , however, is rigidly opposed to the withdrawal of troops from Kalapani and maintains that the issue has been exaggerated. According to New Delhi , “such a withdrawal will have adverse bearing on India ’s security.”