ET Explains: Why Nepal is upset about the maps India just released

A new political map of India has got its neighbour, Nepal, all riled up. The bone of contention: A 35-square kilometre area within Uttarakhand, which Kathmandu claims has been misrepresented.

On November 2, last year, India released new maps of the country to account for the newly formed Union Territories of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh. Nepal claims that the Limpiyadhura, Lipulekh and Kalapani areas shown in India’s maps lie within its territory.

Nepal’s top court has ordered the government to submit, within 15 days, the original map exchanged with India during the signing of the Sugauli treaty in 1816.

India has rejected allegations of change in the border with Nepal in the new map issued. “Our map accurately depicts the sovereign territory of India. The new map has in no manner revised our boundary with Nepal,” said Raveesh Kumar, spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs, in response to Nepal’s claims.

The genesis of the conflict:
The Kalapani region lies in a junction bordering three countries – India, Nepal and China. Nepal and India both claim this region as part of their respective territories; India as part of Uttarakhand and Nepal as part of Darchula district. Complicating the matter is the Sugauli Treaty – signed between the East India Company and Nepal in 1816 – which marks the Mahakali river as the western border of Nepal.

Subsequently, a number of British surveyors showed a different point-of-origin for the Mahakali river.

While India maintains that the river begins in the village of Kalapani, Nepal claims that it begins from Lipulekh Pass. The contention here is that if the Mahakali river – considered the border between India and Nepal – had a different point-of-origin, the areas under the countries’ respective borders would be skewed.

If the river began at the point Nepal claims – the Lipulekh Pass – then the Kalapani river would stretch longer, thereby affording a lengthier border between India and Nepal and giving India’s neighbour rights over the village of Kalapani.

India claims the ridge line towards the east of the Kalapani territory, and hence includes it in the Indian Union.

The importance:
The strategic position of the 35-square kilometre region plays a huge part in this tug-of-war. India’s surveillance of Chinese movements are aided by the height of the Lipulekh pass.

Alok Kumar Gupta – writing for The Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies – says that, “Nepal has laid claim to all areas east of the Lipu Gad, a rivulet that joins the river Kali on its border. The Nepalese contention is that the Lipu Gad is, in fact, the Kali river up to its source to the east of the Lipulekh 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”.

The Times of India has quoted Nepal’s ambassador to India, Nilambar Acharya, as saying that Nepal wanted a foreign secretary-level mechanism for resolving issues related to its borders, including the Kalapani issue.

(With inputs from Aditya Kakkar)