The Kalapani dispute between India and Nepal is an accidental dispute that arose due to misinterpretation of the origin of the river, its various tributaries, and changes in the course of rivers. Kalapani is a 372-sq km area at the China-Nepal-India tri-junction. According to India, Kalapani territory lies in Uttarakhand, whereas Nepal claims it lies in Nepal's Darchulla district, and despite several rounds of negotiation, the issue remains unresolved.
This battle over the accuracy of the territory's geographical location has been boiling for several years between the two countries. Since this river has changed its pathway several times, it has given rise to conflicts and counterclaims.
These two countries share a border of around 1800 km, managed by the bilateral Treaty of Friendship and Peace (1950), which was established by the 1816 treaty of Sugauli signed between East India Company and Nepal following the Anglo-Nepalese war 1814-16. The 35 km square region of Kali river arising from Lipulekh pass meets with western fall of kuntas peak and watershed of the river is dispute Kalapani region.
Escalation of the Dispute
Nepal claims India encroached land in Limpiyadhur that Nepal gave to India to set camp during the Indo-Sino war 1962. Due to the asymmetrical power relationships between countries, Nepal was unable to remove Indian troops. The concern of Nepal for Kalapani was raised in 1998 to highlight its controversy of domestic political reason. Both countries decided to resolve Kalapani and their other border disputes through bilateral talks. They were able to resolve approximately 98% of the conflict, but the remaining 2% was a hard nut to crack. Since rivers define Nepal borders, but the precise location of this river is quite confusing, India follows the British theory. It has considered the Kali river, where all mountain streams meet whereas, Nepal considered the main watershed as a Kali river.
Kalapani region again became a matter of conflict between India and Nepal when India released its new political map portraying the newly created union territory of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. This map also depicted the Kalapani area as a part of India to which Nepal claims within its region. In reaction to this, Nepal released its new plan that claims Kalapani, Limpiyadhur, and Lipulekh (part under Uttarakhand) as part of its territory.
According to the treaty of Sugauli, 1816, the Kali river demarcated the border between India and Nepal. However, the Kali river's position at upper reach is vague. Years after signing of this treaty, it was found that the Kali river was formed from the union of the Kalapani river (Lipulekh pass) and Kuthi Yankit river that rises below the Limpiyadhura pass hence, the Kali river demarcated between Uttarakhand (Kumaon region) and Nepal from Limpiyadhura. In 2015 India and China agreed to use Lipulekh to trade between the two countries. Nepal objected to this trade deal. Recently the border tension re-escalated when the defence minister inaugurated 80 km Darchula-Lipulekh pass link road to Mansarovar. Nepal opposed this construction and considered it as a unilateral step of India over the disputed land. It has also deployed an Armed force at disputed land.
Other disputes and Legal Dimension
Other than this, the countries are subjected to another dispute based on the Susta river. The 1816 treaty considered the Gandak river as the international boundary between India (Bihar) and Nepal. The river's right bank was under Nepal’s control, and the left bank became part of the Indian territory. Since the river changes its course with time, this river dispute arose due to a shift in the course of Gandak river. When the treaty was signed, Susta was on the right bank of Gandak under Nepal's control. Still, due to a change in the river's course, Susta falls on the right, i.e., India's control.
If we look at the legal aspect, according to international law, the principle of avulsion and accretion defines the border when the boundary is changed when rivers change course. If the change of river course is due to avulsion (sudden and perceptible change in the land brought about by water, which may result in the removal of land from the bank), then the boundary doesn't change. But if the course is changed due to accretion (slow and gradual deposit of soil by the water), then the borders will change accordingly. Since Gandak changes its course by accretion, therefore India claimed it under its territory. Nepal maintains the Gandak's course in 1816 to be taken as the fixed international boundary. India believes that land on the river's left bank is its territory for a reason mentioned above.
The Need to Resolve the Dispute
At times, countries are subjected to various disputes among themselves. It becomes necessary to resolve them because they do not merely affect them as a state but also affect every part of the world. While dealing with Nepal's dispute, which a neighbouring country to India, many factors come to play, primarily Nepal's geographical location, which acts as a borderland and buffers state against China's possible aggression. The Geography, history, and economy make India and Nepal a natural home to share a vital interest in each other's freedom, integrity, and dignity. Both nations must enhance the diplomatic talks over a border dispute. We must also look forward to arranging cultural exchange programs with Nepal to improve its relations since both countries are part of BIMSTEC and BBIN initiatives. India should focus on the Multifaceted relationship and not interfere in Nepal's internal issue, but being a responsible neighbour must guide the nation towards an inclusive democracy.
Another aspect that should not be ignored is the mindset of the current ruling party in Nepal. Nepal's present ruling party is influenced by a communist ideology, which is also prevalent in China. Likewise, Nepal believes that China provided them with the mechanism to follow their version of non-alignment, and China also considers Nepal as an essential element in growing its South Asian footprints. Due to the similarity in ideologies, Nepal’s politics seem to be highly influenced by China, which can certainly be harmful to India.
However, the India Nepal relationship is deep, wide-ranging, and unique yet complicated. The two nations not only share an open border but also ties of Hinduism and Buddhism. Now there is an urgent need to stop these territorial politics, and both countries should treat this border dispute as minor and look above it as there is a wide range of opportunities for both nations to emerge as a pillar of the world.
This article has been authored by Aditi Singh, a learner at Symbiosis Law School NOIDA