by HARI PRASAD SHRESTHA 4 May 2020
The world is fighting against unstoppable Covid19 pandemic. Millions of people are being infected and hundreds of thousands have been killed by this deadly virus. There is no medicine or vaccination available, till date to treat this disease. Our country, Nepal is also suffering from this pandemic, and considerable numbers of people have been infected by this virus here too. People are surviving in the state of terror and it has ruined entire economy as well.
Nepal’s two giant neighbors, India and China are also suffering from this endemic. China, the originate place of virus has brough it under control, up to great extent, whereas India is still experiencing severe attack of virus, infecting thousands of people and death of above a thousand.
There are Himalayas and controlled border between Nepal and China and possibilities of spreading disease from China to Nepal is minimal. However, Nepal and India have open border and during normal times, hundreds of thousand people from each other countries cross the open border daily. Around a million of Nepalese and Indians work in each other countries. During the Covid19 pandemic, before and after lockdown of international border, hundreds of thousand people crossed the international border, in uncontrolled manner. Majority of them gone to many districts and villages in Nepal and only small numbers were kept in Covid19 quarantine stations.
After government of Nepal initiated Covid19 lab tests on some of these arrived people, it found a considerable number of people were infected by the Coronavirus.
The article 7 of Treaty of Peace and Friendship between India and Nepal of 31st July 1950 has clearly mentioned, “The Government of India and Nepal agree to grant, on a reciprocal basis, to the nationals of one country in the territories of the other the same privileges in the matter of residence, ownership of property, participation in trade and commerce, movement and other privileges of a similar nature.”
Since many years, in Nepal, big debates are going on non-stop to cancel or amend this treaty at least regulating the open border between two countries. Majority of people in Nepal have a strong concern, citing this treaty as an intrusion on the security and development of Nepal. Moreover, there has always been a demand to review 1951 treaty with India as most people believe it to be unequal, and an encroachment on the national interests and development of Nepal.
Being a poor, landlocked and highly dependent nation, Nepal’s position has always been fragile and almost all its national affairs have been severely affected as result of open border. From problems of human trafficking, refugees problem to security, economic dependency, citizenship and employment, open border has been an immense blight for Nepal.
As per Nepalese concerns, the central government of India also opined that open border could be more problematic as fake currency, criminal activities, anti-social elements get shelter in each other’s country, which is going to be a big problem not only to Nepal but also to India In future.
Only after continued opposition from Nepal, India became ready in January 2016 to form Eminent Persons Group (EPG), with the mandate to review various aspects of the bilateral relations including Nepal-India Friendship Treaty 1950.
However, the formation of EPG was not interest of India, the strong opposition in Nepal regarding the treaty of peace and friendship of 1950 was a reason for its formation. Moreover, the border blockade of Nepal in 2015, which severely damaged India’s image in Nepal was one of the several measures espoused for damage control by India for formation of the EPG.
According to the 1991 census of Nepal, the hill population has declined to 53.3 percent from 64.8 percent, while—as a result of increased immigration—the Tarai population has increased to 46.7 percent from 35.2 percent from 1952 to 1991. And during 1981-91, due to communal disturbances in India, Muslim population increased by 38 percent in Nepal. Currently, the population of the Tarai and the hills is almost equal, which suggests that after a couple of decades the population of the Tarai will certainly surpass that of the hills. The open border with India is also one of the causes for this demographic imbalance in Nepal.
According to World Bank’s bilateral remittance flow indicators 2019 [HPS1] – India received US$ 3.16 billion remittances from Nepal and Nepal received US$ 1.25 billion remittances from India in 2017.
Moreover, there are considerable numbers of Indian workers, businessperson and high-level personnel employed in private sector in Nepal, while low level of Nepalese labors is working in India. Indians working in Nepal are residing in certain localities of the Tarai, Kathmandu and big cities, where economic opportunities are high and better organized. But Nepalis that migrate India for work are scattered in small groups all over the country working low-paying jobs, bring vey low remittances to Nepal
If we include Indian working in informal sectors in Nepal like – garbage collectors, small business, hair dresser, plumbing, electrician, building construction etc., who send money from Nepal to India through informal hundi, the remittance from Nepal to India could be higher than the above stated amounts.
There is employment problems in Nepal, but the current problem of Nepal is not lack of jobs for Nepalis, but the real problem is that most jobs in Nepal have been secured by cheap and efficient Indian labors due to their free entrance in Nepal and Nepalese are unemployed in their own county, going abroad in search of jobs
Under the circumstance, Nepal could provide jobs to its citizens in considerable numbers, who are returning from abroad during and after Covi19 pandemic subject to properly regulate the India Nepal border and allow entrance only through selected border points by implementing the EPG report.
After the Coronavirus pandemic in both the countries, hundreds of thousand people working in Nepal and India, have come back to their respective countries. The virus pandemic has completely changed the global migration scenario. And, now, the migrant communities would love to stay in their home country.
As result of such situation, and even after slowdown of pandemic, in days to come it would be difficult for Indian workers to find job in Nepal and vice versa and people’s movement for employment in each other country would be in minimal level.
The joint EPG report is ready to present to India prime minister thereafter to prime minister of Nepal. And, it is appropriate time to receive the report by both the countries to regulate the open border between two countries. As per sources, the EPG has recommended use of smart cards for the people crossing either side of the open border to control terrorism, smuggling of fake-currency, regulate employments, human trafficking and other illegal activities before it spreads like Covid19.