India-Nepal Tensions Escalate: 5 Key Developments

Nepal has decided to publish a new political map asserting its claim over the Kalapani region

4 min read

India and Nepal are engaged in a war of words over India’s road to Lipulekh Pass. Following this, for the first time, Nepal has deployed armed police in the areas under dispute between India and Nepal. This deployment is the latest episode in the escalation of tension in the dispute over Kalapani, Lipu Lekh and Limphuyadhara areas.

This dispute is decades old, however, the recent tensions have been attributed to India including these areas in its maps and constructing an 80-km link-road near the Pass.

Here are the latest developments in this border dispute.


1. Nepal Deploys Armed Police in Disputed Region

An Armed Police Force (APF) has been set up near Kalapani at Chhangru, on the Nepalese side of the border. The Nepal government has set up a post almost 18km from the Lipulekh Pass, reported The Times of India.

According to another report in The Wire, a team of 25 AFP personnel led by inspector Lili Bahadur Chand has been in the area since Wednesday, 13 May. The troops were transported to Chhangru by a Nepal Army Mi-17 helicopter, and they have been patrolling the site regularly.

2. The Link Road in Disputed Territory

The troop deployment by Nepal is in response to India’s construction of a strategically crucial link road in Uttarakhand, connecting the Lipulekh pass along the border with China.

On 8 May, India opened this 80-km road from Ghatiabgarh in Uttarakhand to Lipulekh Pass, near the India-Nepal-China tri-junction and just 5 km short of the Line of Actual Control (LAC). This road reduces the travel time for Indian pilgrims going to Kailash Mansarovar.

Soon after, on 11 May, the Nepal government had summoned the Indian envoy to express disappointment and protest over this construction.


3. Army Chief Says Nepal is Protesting at Someone’s Behest

Nepal has decided to publish a new political map asserting its claim over the Kalapani region
Chief of Army Staff Gen M M Naravane during the annual press conference in New Delhi.
(Photo: PTI)

Following these developments, hinting at China's possible role, Indian Army Chief General M M Naravane said there is reason to believe that Nepal's recent objection was "at the behest of someone else".

The Indian Express reported that while speaking at a webinar organised by the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA), the army chief said that the Nepalese Ambassador has mentioned that the area east of the Kali river belongs to them.

“There is no dispute in that whatsoever. The road which we made is in fact to the west of the river. So, I don’t know what they are agitating about. As we go ahead, it literally shows as to where the tri-junction should be. There have never been any problems on this score in the past,”
Chief of Army Staff MM Naravane.

4. Nepal's President Hits Back

In response to India’s reaction, Nepal has decided to publish a new political map asserting its claim over the Kalapani region, reported The Hindu.

Addressing a joint session of Parliament, Nepal's President Bidhya Devi Bhandari said Nepal would issue a new political map incorporating these areas.

“Lipulekh, Limpiadhura and Kalapani are an integral part of Nepal, and concrete diplomatic steps will be taken to reclaim them,” she said.

The announcement of a new map is being viewed as a response to India’s publication of a new political map in 2019, which depicted the newly formed Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh. The same map had triggered the border row with Nepal as it showed the tri-junction territory of Kalapani as part of the state of Uttarakhand.


5. Nepal’s Political Turmoil

While the Indian Army chief is hinting at China’s involvement in the controversy, according to a report in The Kathmandu Times, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli was in midst of a political trouble in last week of April, as a number of senior party leaders are likely to ask him to step down.

In an article for The Quint, analyst Tuneer Mukherjee write that ever since a unity government formed by a merger between the various communist factions of Nepal claimed power in May 2018, China has been particularly interested in ensuring its stability.

This also revived the border dispute with India.


What is the Kalapani Dispute About?

The contestation is over three issues: the source of the Kali (also called Mahakali) river, the location of Lipulekh Pass , and the India-China-Nepal tri-junction. The earliest the Nepalese go back on Kalapani is to 1816, the Treaty of Sugauli whose Article 5 reads: ‘areas east of Kali river belong to Nepal’. The origin/source of Kali river determines whether the Kalapani area, which is around 35 sq km, lies in India or Nepal.

Kathmandu claims the source of the Kali river is Lampiya Dhura and not Kalapani as avowed by India, which contends that beyond Kalapani, the boundary follows the watershed to the northern border encompassing the area bound by Lipu Gad (Kava Khola) and the watershed. If Lampiya Dhura is accepted as the source of river Kali, nearly 400 sq km of territory including Kalapani and Lipulekh Pass would go to Nepal.

But the Indian interpretation of the flow of Kali river puts the 35 sq km of Kalapani area on its side. The Indian Army says that the military posts at Kalapani – where there is a Kali temple – and Navidang patrol regularly till Tinker Post near Lipulekh Pass. Nepal’s territorial claims emanate from the river Kali originating from Lampiya Dhura, making Kalapani and the Lipulekh Pass theirs.

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