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Why Kalapani is a bone of contention between India and Nepal

Both India and Nepal claim Kalapani as integral part of their territory — India as part of Uttarakhand’s Pithoragarh district and Nepal as part of Darchula district.

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New Delhi: India has upset Nepal after a new map it released last week showed the disputed Kalapani area as a part of Uttarakhand. Nepal was quick to issue a statement, saying it was “absolutely not acceptable”.

Responding to Nepal’s statement, Raveesh Kumar, spokesperson for India’s Ministry of External Affairs, said Thursday, “Our map accurately depicts the sovereign territory of India. The new map has in no manner revised our boundary with Nepal. The boundary delineation exercise with Nepal is ongoing under the existing mechanism.”

ThePrint looks at what the Kalapani border dispute between India and Nepal is all about.

Where is Kalapani? 

Kalapani is a 35 square kilometre area, which is claimed by both India and Nepal. River Mahakali, earlier known as river Kali, flows through Kalapani, which is situated on the eastern bank of the river.

Both India and Nepal claim Kalapani as an integral part of their territories — India as part of Uttarakhand’s Pithoragarh district and Nepal as part of the Darchula district. 

Kalapani is also a tri-junction point, where the Indian, Nepalese and Tibetan (Chinese) borders meet. The region has been manned by the Indo-Tibetan Border Police since 1962.

What is the dispute?

In essence, the source of river Mahakali is at the heart of the dispute between the countries.

The 1816 Treaty of Segauli, signed between British India and Nepal, defined river Mahakali as the western border of Nepal. River Mahakali has several tributaries, all of which merge at Kalapani.

India claims that the river begins in Kalapani as this is where all its tributaries merge. But Nepal claims that it begins from Lipu Lekh Pass, the origin of most of its tributaries.

“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,” writes scholar Alok Kumar Gupta for Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies. 

Lipu Gad is one of the major tributaries that merge into the main river at Kalapani. “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,” adds Gupta.

The Indian side contends that river Mahakali begins where Lipu Gad meets the Kalapani springs.

How have the two sides backed their claims?

In its effort to back its territorial claims, India has presented administrative and tax records dating back to the 1830s. According to New Delhi, these records show that since then Kalapani was part of the Pithoragarh district.

India has also shown surveys of the upper reaches of river Mahakali conducted by the British Indian government during the 1870s. They presented a map from 1879, which showed Kalapani as a part of British Indian territory.

Nepal has presented similar maps from 1850 and 1856, showing that river Mahakali begins in Kalapani.

Politics of Kalapani

While the origin of the dispute goes back to the early 19th century, politically it emerged as a contentious issue between India and Nepal after the two countries signed the Treaty of Mahakali in 1996. 

This is when the Nepalese government was forced to take up the issue given the pressure from rising Nepali nationalism, according to Leo E. Ross of the University of California, Berkeley.

The two countries had formed the Joint Technical Boundary Committee in 1981 to resolve the dispute. Though the committee managed to resolve a large part of the dispute, they failed to reach a final settlement.

Eventually, the issue was referred to the foreign secretaries of the two countries and they have been trying to find a resolution to the dispute.

Also read: India only cares about national interest. And Nepal has been at the receiving end of it


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