Nepal India Eminent Persons’ Group (EPG)- burdened with tough assignments

Members of the Eminent Persons Group on Nepal-India Relations attend the third meeting, in Kathmandu, on Wednesday, April 5, 2017. Photo: RSS

By Hari Prasad Shrestha

In accordance with 1950 treaty Indo-Nepal border is open; both nationals may move freely across the border without passports or visas and may live and work in either country. If Indians arrive in Nepal with a plan in excessive numbers to settle and acquire citizenship easily, they can subvert anything in Nepal, and the country could find itself inundated by Indian people.
The border and migration report of 1983 prepared by the taskforce led by late Dr. Harka Gurung made a big hue and cry in the Tarai region of Nepal. The report had recommended regulation of India-Nepal border and the provision of compulsory work permits for Indians. The report was an indication from the Nepali ruling authorities that the government was not happy with the unequal, vague and stiff provisions of the 1950 treaty signed between Nepal and India. In Nepal, there has always been a demand to review this treaty as most people believe it to be unequal and an encroachment on the national interests and development of Nepal.

India compelled Rana Prime Minister Mohan Shumsher to ink the treaty of 1950, in a deal to save Rana regime; on contrary while India was supporting the democratic movement, which overthrew Rana regime within three months of the treaty signed. India succeeded in its ill intention; Mohan Shumsher was deceived, and Nepal suffered badly after that treaty. Had the Indian leaders been an honest friend of Nepal, they should have waited for restoration of democracy to ink the same.

Since 1951, after abolition of autocratic Rana regime, the governments and people of Nepal have been continuously opposing the 1950s treaty asking either its abrogation or review as Nepal has big concern over some articles including unregulated open border with India and provision to import weapons informing India and equal national treatments for people of both countries, but the India never wanted to hear this Nepali agenda and voices.

Neither the 1950 treaty nor any other treaty between the two countries has stated any measures for the regulation of the Nepal-India border. The trade agreement has identified fixed routes for mutual trade. But there is no agreement on routes for the movement of people. Thus, citizens of both the countries have been moving freely into each other’s territory from any point of the 1,751km open border.

According to the 1991 census of Nepal, the hill population has declined to 53.3 percent from 64.8 percent, while—because 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 are almost equal, which suggests that after a couple of decades the population of the Tarai would certainly surpass that of the hills’.
India’s influence over Nepal increased after the 1950s. The Nepalese Citizenship Act of 1952 allowed Indians to immigrate to Nepal and acquire Nepalese citizenship with ease—a source of huge anger in Nepali people.

When Indian-Nepali relations appeared to be undergoing motionless and complex, Nepal’s prime minister Man Mohan Adhikary visited New Delhi in April 1995 and insisted on a major review of the 1950 peace and friendship treaty. Consequently, two countries issued a 22-point statement highlighting the need to review, adjust and update the 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship, amongst other agreements.

After long efforts by the government and people of Nepal, India in 2014, agreed to revise and adjust the treaty to the reflect the current realities. India accepted to form Eminent Persons’ Group (EPG) with Nepal after it witnessed strong opposition in Nepal regarding the treaty of peace and friendship of 1950.

The EPG created to consider Nepal-India ties and to review all bilateral treaties between the two countries. It was envisioned during the third Nepal-India Joint Commission meeting held in July 2014 in Kathmandu. At least, after that discussion and deliberation started formally on every facet of the 1950 treaty and other pertinent issues.

There are members Bhekh Bahadur Thapa, Nilamber Acharya, Rajan Bhattarai and Surya Nath Upadhyay from the Nepali side, and Bhagat Singh Koshyari, Jayant Prasad, BC Upreti and Mahendra P. Lama from the Indian side in the EPG.

It will get two years to come up with a comprehensive report on provisions that need to be amended in all bilateral treaties. It is a golden opportunity for both the countries to sort out their differences, including the contentious open border issues.

On the one hand, if the historical, cultural and traditional relationships between border communities of Nepal and India have been eased by the open border, on the other hand, both the countries also complain about the problems arising from the open border. Nowhere in the world does such an open border exist between two countries. Nepal is concerned about the open border, but India does not want to regulate the open border but has a concern that Nepal has become a haven for anti-Indian elements and a new transit point for smuggling fake Indian currency notes into the Indian territory. The Nepali side argues that being a small nation, Nepal cannot accommodate an excessive number of Indian immigrants, who easily acquire Nepali citizenship certificates due to the administrative loopholes in the Nepali bureaucracy.

Not only the treaty of peace and friendship 1950 but also there are other, so many bilateral issues between two countries need to be sorted out. The other areas, where Nepal is facing inequality are trade and transit, hydropower, irrigation, border encroachments, inundation of Nepal plains by Indian border dams and embankments, human trafficking, killing of Nepalese by entering in Nepal by Indian securities, etc. The Nepal government should make the most of it and make sure that the EPG prepares its report seriously.

On March 23, 1989 after a dispute over how to renegotiate lapsed trade and transit treaties, New Delhi suddenly closed 19 of 21 border crossings with Nepal, cutting links not only to the port but also to northern Indian cities.

The Indians wanted a single pact. The Nepalese wanted two, as they have had since 1978, to separate their important transit rights from trade and commercial ties to India. The two accords were a concession made by a previous Government in New Delhi under Prime Minister Moraji Desai.

Moreover, India hit back by denying port facilities in Kolkata to Nepal, and after the imposition of border blockade for 13 months, Nepal experienced serious deficiencies of important goods such as coal, fuel, oil, medicine and spare parts. Indian dissatisfaction with Nepal’s decision to impose work permits over Indians living in Nepal and Nepal government’s attempt to acquire Chinese weaponry in 1988 played an important role. The Indian government, with the help of Nepalese opposition parties, managed to bring a change in Nepal’s political system, in which the king was forced to institute a parliamentary democracy. According to some Nepalese media, by that time India had proposed a treaty to have control over security and foreign policy of Nepal, but then king refused it. Moreover, according to some publications, before it, late B. P. Koirala returned Nepal from India exile refusing the Indian proposal which was also against Nepal’s sovereignty.
During the December 1991 visit to India by Nepalese prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala, the two countries signed new, separate trade and transit treaties and other economic agreements designed to accord Nepal additional economic benefits.

In 2006, the newly formed democratic parliament of Nepal passed the controversial citizenship bill that led to the distribution of Nepalese citizenship to nearly 4 million immigrants in Nepal’s Tarai. While the Indian government welcomed the reformed citizenship law, a certain section of Nepalese people voiced deep concerns regarding the new citizenship act and feared that the new citizenship law might be a threat to Nepalese sovereignty. The citizenship bill passed by the Nepalese parliament in 2006 was the same bill that was rejected by late King Birendra in 2000 before he along with his entire family was massacred.

The present border between Nepal and India was set after the former’s defeat at the hands of British in 1814 which led to the Treaty of Sugauli with Nepal losing the territories of Darjeeling to the East and Kumaon and Garhwal up to Sutlej river in the West.

The Territorial disputes of India and Nepal include Kalapani 400 km2 and Susta 140 km2 along with others in 52 places. The dispute intensified in 1997 as the Nepali parliament considered a treaty on the hydro-electric development of the river Mahakali. In 2015, the Nepalese parliament objected an agreement between India and China to trade through Lipu-Lekh, a mountainous pass in the disputed Kalapani area, stating that the agreement between India and China to trade through Kalapani violates Nepal’s sovereign rights over the territory.

There are two tri-junctions among Nepal India China border points. One lies in Kalapani-Limpiyadhura-Lipu Lekh area, which we have already lost. Another such tri-junction lies in Jhinsang Chuli of Taplejung district. In Jhinsang Chuli, there is no tri-junction pillar, and since our border pillar (79) has been erected 14 kilometers west of the border, if, in future India and China agree on some infrastructure project there, we might also lose this part of our territory as well.

The other field, where Nepal is facing difficulties due to its landlocked nature is trade and transit with India. Nepal must accept most of the treaty’s contents as prescribed by India. Moreover, contrary to the trade and transit treaty, India imposes tariff and non-tariff barriers, additional taxes, quantity restrictions, quarantine barriers, anti-dumping duty and product disqualification for the Nepali goods. It is almost impossible to develop satisfactorily export trade and industries in Nepal. The great obstacle, India has imposed was the quantitative restrictions through the trade treaty on some Nepali export items. Moreover, destroying Nepalese economy through border blockade and imposing these barriers seems to be it’s another major motto.

The open border between two countries has created the great problem of human trafficking in Nepal. An estimated 100,000-200,000 Nepalese in India are believed to have been trafficked. Sex trafficking is particularly rampant, with as many as 5,000-10,000 women and girls trafficked to India alone each year. The seriousness of trafficking of Nepalese girls to India was highlighted by CNN Freedom Project’s documentary: Nepal’s Stolen Children. Maiti Nepal has rescued more than 12,000 stolen Nepalese children from sex trafficking since 1993.

Due to excess movement of people across borders of two countries, it is creating problems in the border areas. Being a big brother, India border security personnel violets by entering Nepal border and making harassment to the border people. The latest example of cruelty was killing of a Nepalese national by Indian securities entering Nepal. On 9 March 2017, Indian border security personnel gunned down a Nepali national named Govinda Gautam at Punarbas-8 of Kanchanpur district entering 800 meters inside Nepalese border. On 2nd June 2017, Indian Police entered western hill district Doti without informing Nepal Police and abducted a Nepali national. Later the Indian Police personnel including a DSP were detained for a day.

There are other numerous areas, where Eminent Persons Group of Nepal must seriously deal and come up with a solid conclusion with their India counterparts.
The Indian government has constructed dams and embankments near the Nepal-India border in contravention of international law. This has been a huge disaster for Nepal as it faces floods and inundation every monsoon and Nepalis are helpless as Nepal government has remained a mute spectator.

India has erected about 18 dams and embankments along the southern border to stop the natural flow of rivers from Nepal. During the rainy season, these structures have caused inundation and high flood in Nepali plain areas.

Border people in Nepal are raising this issue every year that Nepal government should request India to destroy those dams and let the rivers of Nepal flow their natural courses and demand proper protection for locals residing in the Tarai and safeguarding of their lands.

While the locals face displacement because of the Indian embankments, India agrees to various terms and conditions to pacify the Nepal government by providing some monetary assistance.
The other important sector, Nepal has a strong concern in its hydropower sector. Power planners in Nepal are more suspicious and have started to say that India is not a strong market for Nepali and foreign power producers. India is continuously only capturing Nepal’s major rivers for irrigation purposes; and there is no preference for electricity export there, produced by non-Indian investors in Nepal.

Mahendra P.Lama, a member of the Eminent Persons Group from India, wrote in an article published in the Kathmandu post on 2017 /7/12 –
“The Nepali nationals coming to India through the open border under this treaty unintentionally diluted the Indian identity and nationality of Gorkhas in India because of similar cultures, ethnicities, and language. Indian policy makers, governance actors and the people at large did not maintain a distinction between the two groups—they put both the Nepali nationals and Indian Gorkhas in the same basket of “people from Nepal.”

The 10-12 million Indian Gorkhas living in various parts of India have been demanding the abrogation of this treaty or special provisions to protect them. They even burnt the 1950 Peace and Friendship Treaty during the violent Gorkhaland movement in July 1987. ”

This saying of the EPG member from Indian side seems his desire to dismiss or review the treaty of 1950. Nonetheless, he is also creating confusion that Nepal EPG members have not forwarded any concrete proposals for the revision of the 1950 Treaty. However, Nepal official involved in the EPG meeting says that Nepal has already forwarded its view on a review of the treaty by providing details of amendments and reviews in the articles of the treaty, but India side has not yet given any response on Nepal’s proposal.

EPG members of both the countries should not bring any contradictory arguments, and they should be transparent and bring only authentic statements in the people. During a meeting with Nepal EPG members, Nepali experts and politician advised abrogating the treaty of 1950 between Nepal and India because there is no provision for review and amendment. They advised that it need to be replaced by the new ones in the spirit of changed domestic, regional and global dynamism.

According to the sources, Nepali EPG side has concern over the article of the treaty related to bring weapons to Nepal through Indian territory and India should be informed about. The next article of the treaty, where Nepal wanted to review is the equal treatment of the nationals of each other’s national for free movement.

India, for its part, is not happy with the violation by Nepal of Article 7 of the 1950 treaty and India does not want to review the provision of equal treatment to nationals. This article states 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.” Nepal fears, not unjustifiably, that if all restrictions on Indians are removed, the country could be swamped by people from across the border. India thus wants to retain this provision while Nepal wants to junk it summarily. But the discussion is underway that there could be a compulsory provision of identity cards for Indians and Nepalis traveling by air, and deliberations were underway for a similar provision for those traveling via land routes.

We should not forget that only signing the treaty by replacing old one does not mean for small and weak countries that they would be treated as per treaty. For example, India re-negotiated the 1949 treaty with Bhutan and signed a new treaty of friendship in 2007. The new treaty replaced the provision requiring Bhutan to take India’s guidance on foreign policy with broader sovereignty and not require Bhutan to obtain India’s permission over arms imports and security. But, in practice, India is still controlled foreign policy and defense of Bhutan. Let us ensure that unlike Bhutan, Nepal is not cheated while revising the 1950 treaty.

Moreover, the provision of EPG is not machinery between government to government; it is a study group formed by the governments of both the countries only to study and recommend the findings to the governments. Therefore, implementation of its recommendations is not binding. Thus, the two governments may choose to ignore the final report of the joint EPG team completely. There is a strong belief in Nepali people that most treaties and agreements with India were not favorable to them as the previous records indicate this. This time with EPG, we should wait and see; a lot depends on the persuasive skills of Nepal’s EPG members.

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