On 7th May 2020, India’s Defence Minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated the road from Tawaghat to Lipulekh in Pithoragarh Distt of Uttarakhand via a video conferencing. The road is passing through extremely difficult terrain which has reduced the arduous trek of the pilgrims going to Kailash-Mansarovar from three weeks to one week. Earlier there was road existing till Tawaghat (in military parlance Road-Head) i.e about 15 Km ahead of Dharchula and thereafter only foot/mule track existing uptill Lipulekh running parallel, west of Kali River the boundary between India and Nepal. This road has taken a considerable time to be made operational and has a strategic flavour too by reaching forward right up to the Himalayan watershed between India and Tibet.
From Lipulekh onwards there was a road / vehicular track existing on China’s side right upto Kailash-Mansarover. The road now constructed from Tawaghat to Lipulekh has followed same alignment of earlier existing track and was to be completed in five years by 2013 by Border Road Organisation. But due to hazardous terrain, sheer rock faces of the gorge of the Kali River and road passing through altitude ranging from 6000 to 17000 ft the progress on the construction was extremely slow.
However, from 2019 onwards Chinook helicopters were pressed in, to ferry heavy equipment and machinery which proved to be game changer and hastened up the speed. This road is not only important to India for movement of pilgrims to Kailash Mansarover, tourism and trade but has significant strategic importance for logistic build up and fast induction of troops against China.
Nepal Government has raised objection on this project claiming that road is passing through their territory and action of India is unilateral, possibly on egging by China and also to satisfy hyper nationalist ego of domestic population and of ruling communist party. Resolution has recently been passed by Nepal Government in the cabinet that Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura are all part of Nepal and should be taken back at all cost including using diplomatic and political means.
Accordingly, political map to this effect has also been released by them. Nepal also claims that India clandestinely has shown these areas as part of India in their Political Map released late last year. Whereas Indian Government is very firm that this Road has been constructed well within Indian territory and has followed same alignment of the existing track used by pilgrims visiting Kailash- Mansarover. India feels that Nepal has never earlier in the past raised any objection /observation on this Road / track being used by pilgrims visiting Kailash Mansarover or when the road was being constructed for last more than 10 years.
India strongly feels that this is being done due to pressure exerted by Chinese and also to keep the fragile unity in ruling communist party intact. Political map which was released last year by India was necessitated due to bifracation of J&K State in two UTs after abrogation of Article 370 and 35 A and did not alter in any way the existing boundary with Nepal. India pointed out that Nepal’s artificial enlargement of it’s claims are not backed by historical facts and advised Nepal to respect the Territorial Sovereignty of India.
In the past, India and Nepal has resolved most of the border disputes except Kali River and Lipulekh area in frank and friendlier manner. Both the countries are claiming that Kali River, Lipulekh Area and Limpiyadhura falling in their territory.
Nepal advocates that complete area falls in their Dharchula Distt and claims to have historical evidence ie 1816 Treaty of Sugauli entered with British India in this regard where as India reitrates that tri- junction between India, Tibet and Nepal in this area is well to the East of Lipulekh Pass. This road runs west of Kali River and falls in Pithoragarh Distt of India. Nepal is India’s most important neighbour in South Asia with historical, cultural, religious and social ties. With about 15,000 Gorkha soldiers serving in various regiments in Indian Army at any point of time the relations transcends such farcical issues. Approximately 1,35,000 pensioners (over 95,000 of the Indian Army and 40,000 of the Central and State Governments as well as para-military) draw pensions from the offices of Defence Wing of the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu. Nearly 30,000 get their pensions directly in their bank accounts. Such short-sighted ill considered actions will have unbounded long term repercussions.
There is well established protocol and mechanism existing between both the friendly countries to resolve such boundary issues diplomatically and politically. Therefore, relation between both the friendly countries should not be allowed to go downhill but should have meeting at Foreign Secretaries level to resolve the issue amicably at the earliest, taking all the aspects into consideration, in the spirit of mutual respect and friendship. Keeping the bondage of friendship existing between both the nations in mind, lets hope the matter is resolved on priority to the satisfaction of both of them.