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New road rouses territorial dispute between India and Nepal

Dharvi Vaid
May 10, 2020

Nepal has protested India's inauguration of a new road that passes through disputed territory. Dozens of people were detained for demonstrating outside Indian Embassy.

Students protest against the alleged encroachment of Nepal border by India in far west Nepal
Image: Reuters/N. Chitrakar

Nepal on Saturday raised objections to the inauguration of a road by India that passes through disputed territory. 

The Link Road was opened a day before by Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh. It connects Dharchula in the India state of Uttarakhand to the Lipu Lekh pass near the Line of Actual Control (LAC) — India's border with China.

India says the new road will facilitate the movement of pilgrims to Kailash-Mansarovar, significantly cutting down the duration of the journey.

The southern side of the Lipu Lekh pass, called the Kalapani territory, is a disputed region between India and Nepal.

"The Government of Nepal has learnt with regret about the 'inauguration' yesterday by India of 'Link Road' connecting to Lipu Lekh (Nepal), which passes through Nepali territory," a statement from Nepal's foreign ministry said. "This unilateral act runs against the understanding reached between the two countries including at the level of Prime Ministers that a solution to boundary issues would be sought through negotiation."

Nepal also asked India to cease activities inside its "territory".

"The Government of Nepal calls upon the Government of India to refrain from carrying out any activity inside the territory of Nepal."

India responded later in the day by saying that the new road lies "completely within" its territory.

"The recently inaugurated road section in Pithoragarh district in the state of Uttarakhand lies completely within the territory of India. The road follows the pre-existing route used by the pilgrims of the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra," Indian foreign ministry spokesperson, Anurag Srivastava, told the India media at a press briefing.

Srivastava added that both countries are in the process of planning foreign secretary-level talks, the dates for which will be finalised once the two governments successfully deal with the coronavirus crisis.

Read more: Nepal's delicate balancing act between China and India

The Dispute

A treaty signed between Nepal and British India in 1816 determined the Makhali river, that runs through Kalapani, as the boundary between the two neighbours. However, the river has many tributaries that meet at Kalapani. For this reason, India claims that the river begins at Kalapani but Nepal says that it begins from Lipu Lekh pass, which is the source of most of its tributaries.

Last year saw fresh tensions between the two countries when a new map of India, released in November, showed Kalapani within its state of Uttarakhand, much to the distress of Nepal.

The Lipu Lekh pass also serves a strategic importance for India as a key point to monitor Chinese troop movement.

Saturday saw several people gathering outside the Indian embassy in Kathmandu to protest against the road, despite a nationwide coronavirus lockdown. According to AFP news agency, at least 38 protesters were detained. Many people in Nepal also took to twitter with the hashtag #backoffindia.