Out of the 1808-km Nepal-India border, various rivers traverse 650 km and many border pillars have been washed away. But those pillars that are close to human settlements are found to have been removed by the Indian peasants, often in collusion with the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB), the Indian paramilitary force deployed at the border.
The border dispute between Nepal and India has gained prominence following the recent visits to border regions by top leaders of UCPN (Maoist) as a part of the party’s fourth phase of protest programme. Though the party on Friday called off its nationwide strike that was supposed to start on Sunday, it has stressed that its campaign for national sovereignty and civilian supremacy will continue. It is in this heated political climate that Pranab Kharel, Biswas Baral and Kamal Raj Sigdel asked Buddhi Narayan Shrestha, the former Director General of Survey Department, to shed light on various border issues.
You have just visited some of the disputed points on the Indo-Nepal border. India has been saying that 98 percent of the strip map is complete and disputes remain only over Susta and Kalapani.
Shrestha: Nepal and India share 1808-km long border. According to official estimates, 98 percent of this border has been demarcated and 182 border maps prepared. On that basis, 8,553 border pillars have been erected. Regarding the clarity of these border maps, the then Indian Minister for External Affairs Pranab Mukherjee during his official visit to Nepal had stated that since there were some disputes over these maps, they be corrected and forwarded to the plenipotentiaries of both the countries for signature. This also indicates there is some ambiguity regarding the maps. The Constituent Assembly’s (CA) Committee on International Relations and Human Rights visited the border areas from Susta to Tanakpur from Dec. 24, 2009 — Jan. 3, 2010. We had an officer from the Survey Department who had brought the maps of the disputed areas as requested by the CA committee. Upon tallying the maps in some disputed pocket areas, the team could not find the main boundary pillars — though they existed on the map.
Could you give us some specific examples?
Shrestha: The pillar number 706 located at Kushmaghat of the Bhajani VDC in Kailali district was not found. The pillars, which were erected as per the Survey Map of British India, were not found in their location. For example, pillar no 708 at Kauwakhera of Lalboji VDC of Kailali district was found to be 30 metres inside Nepal. But both the local residents and the visiting CA committee concluded that this could have happened because of the change of course of the Mohana river. Secondly, we found some subsidiary (minor) pillars missing. For example, new pillars numbered 407/1, 2 and 3 between Bhajani and Lalbhoji VDC of Kailali district were not found. In other cases, the minor pillars have been broken. Similarly, the 182 maps show half-km no-man’s land on either side of the border. But no-man’s land was not found in places like the Pyaranala area of the Parasan VDC in Kanchanpur district. At some places the Indian side had encroached upon Nepali territories. In other places, Nepal had encroached upon the border. For instance, a few years ago the no-man’s land area at Belahi border of the Rupandehi district was encroached upon by both Indian and Nepali sides. The District Magistrate from the Indian side and the Chief District Officer mutually agreed to withdraw from the encroached area. The Nepali side withdrew within eight months but the Indian side is yet to complete the withdrawal. Similarly, pillars number 62, 63, and 64 of the Chaugoji area of Gulariya municipality indicated Indian encroachment. In fact, the no-man’s land is inside Nepali territory.
You say the border pillars were not in their designated places. Could it be that some of the pillars were washed away by floods and the rivers, which are on the border?
Shrestha: Out of the 1808-km border, various rivers traverse 650 km and many border pillars have been washed away. But those pillars that are close to human settlements are found to have been removed by the Indian peasants, often in collusion with the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB), the Indian paramilitary force deployed at the border.
How were the strip maps finalised? And what has been Nepal’s position with regard to these maps?
Shrestha: Border maps are made on the basis of the earlier maps. However, some of these old maps are not acceptable to India while Nepal rejects some others. Therefore, it is important to identify those maps which are acceptable to both the sides and demarcate the borders on the basis of the chosen maps. The tragedy is that Nepal doesn’t have a rich archive of maps. Hence it cannot produce enough maps to counter Indian territorial claims. During the British rule, they themselves conducted the survey and made maps. Nepal received only a few of those maps.
But even during that time, some maps were not acceptable to the Nepali side. When modern maps are made based on these contentious historical documents, there are bound to be problems. With regard to the strip map, the problem lies with cross holding occupation — in a map, certain areas have been demarcated border areas but in reality those have already been encroached upon. The Indians, we say, are engaged in “cross-holding occupation”. Nepal has to find more about its lands through various land surveys done at different times. Also Nepali authorities could trace the Land Owner Certificates issued by the government after the land reform of 1963-64. Based on the findings, they should sort out the outstanding issues before signing the strip map.
If the strip maps have been prepared after consulting authorities on the both sides, why doesn’t Nepal accept it?
Shrestha: The locals told the visiting CA team that the Nepali surveyors lacked professionalism when it came to demarcating the border. In principle, one side opts for demarcating the even-numbered border pillars while other side has to do the odd numbers. During the demarcation, representatives from both sides should be present. But, according to locals, the Nepali side didn’t bother to turn up when Indians were erecting the pillars.
You say the problem lies with the older erroneous maps on which the current strip map has based. But can’t Nepal through its diplomatic channels get hold of the original maps?
Shrestha: Yes, we can. The Library of Congress in America and the British Museum have the maps. But the authorities should take interest in getting hold of them. But even in those libraries, there are not enough maps. When I visited the British Library in London in 1998, I found that some of maps were already handed to Survey of India, Deharadun in 1928. I asked the map curator whether it would be possible to obtain those maps. He said that if there is an effort from the government level, we might get them.
What could be done to address the border issue immediately?
Shrestha: To prevent encroachment we could deploy a border security force. Currently Armed Police Force is doing the job. They have been deployed in 18 districts of Tarai. We should increase their numbers, say to around 4,500. We should have border observation posts at every four to five kilometre. But most importantly, it is important to build a national strategy on border issues. Diplomatic channels could be used to take up the issue at political level. Also we could opt for Track II diplomacy (using non-State actors) to prepare the required documents.