by Hari Prasad Shrestha 19 June 2023
During the official visit of Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal to India, from 31 May to 3 June 2023, the unsettled matter of receiving the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) report by the Indian Prime Minister was not included in the official agenda of discussion at the highest level meeting. The EPG India and Nepal report has been gathering dust for many years, after India declined to receive it and during this visit there has been no substantial progress to receive it.
However, Nepal and India signed important economic agreements on construction of power projects, inland container depots, railway line, transmission line, petroleum pipelines, cross border payments and transit agreement with an objective to boost huge imports to Nepal and some exports from Nepal as well. In addition to these agreements, both the prime ministers have announced many commitments in numerous sectors, however these commitments were not officially documented because no joint communique was issued at the end of the visit.
The major issues of the Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura, report of Eminent Persons’ Group and additional high altitude western air routes, which were major concerns of Nepal and Nepali people, received no priority, which were most important compared to economic agreements being signed during the prime minister’s visit to India.
Talking with the Nepali journalists, during his visit in New Delhi Prime Minister Prachand said, “EPG is a matter taken seriously by all of us in Nepal, but now instead of stalling all the work by disputing on this issue, we have to move ahead with the work,” he further said, “This will also work after creating an environment in the future. There has been no talk about EPG and did not raise it to spoil the atmosphere.”
In 2014, Nepal and India had agreed on forming an EPG comprising four members each and in 2016, EPG created to consider Nepal-India ties and to review all bilateral treaties between the two countries including Nepal-India Friendship Treaty 1950.
The EPG took two years to produce a comprehensive report on provisions that need to be amended in all bilateral treaties. After long deliberations and consultations with all stakeholders on outstanding issues between two countries, the EPG finalized the report five years ago to present it to Prime Minister of India, thereafter to Prime Minister of Nepal.
As a result of India’s reluctance to receive the report, the contents of the report has not been made public, however major contents of it are known to the public after coordinators and some members of the EPG revealed it in their interviews and during briefings to the press. As per media reports, the EPG report contains a number of outstanding issues between India and Nepal including border disputes between two countries, especially the issue of Lipulekh, Limpiadhura and Kalapani.
Moreover, the EPG report suggests reviewing the 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship , regulating the Nepal-India open border by introducing provision of identity cards while crossing borders by either side etc.
The tiny country of Bhutan, which is strict in allowing free entry of Indians there, has also a treaty of peace and friendship with India similar with India and Nepal. A visa is not required for Indians to visit Bhutan, however, Indian nationals are required to carry a valid Indian passport and voter identity card to enter Bhutan. Moreover, Indians are required to obtain an ‘Entry Permit’ from Bhutan immigration before they enter there.
Some experts on international treaties are surprised how free movement of people is allowed between Nepal and India. However, neither 1950 treaty nor any other agreement between the two countries provides for free movement of nationals on either side. The word ‘ reciprocity’ has been used according to one’s convenience and a party can not be compelled to provide similar privileges to people of another party without mutual agreements.
A report of the US Department of State, on Terrorism 2021 on Nepal says how dangerous is the open border between Nepal And India, which India does not want to regulate. The report highlights that the open border regime with unregulated movement across the Nepal-India border heightens the risk of international terrorism.
Moreover, due to open borders, for small country Nepal, flow of millions of Indians for business and employment has been unbearable for it, which has been one of the major causes of Nepal’s unemployment and Nepalis have been compelled go to Gulf countries in search of jobs as a result of unstoppable flow of cheap, efficient and unrecorded crowds of Indian workforces in Nepal. Some experts on Nepal India open borders have no confusion that within a couple of years, Nepal’s formal business sector and informal job market will be completely dominated by Indian business people and laborers. However, Nepalis are also working in India mostly as domestic helpers, whose numbers in India can be considered as a drop in the sea ocean.
In this connection, if the major political parties in Nepal could show strong determination to bring unity and consensus in such issues of open border and national supremacy, millions of Nepalis can get additional non-skilled and semi-skilled jobs inside the country and hundreds of thousand Nepalis would get opportunities to start business replacing Indians in Nepal after implementation of regulated provisions on open borders. As previously Nepal had also unilaterally decided to restrict Indians to buy lands and to apply for government jobs in Nepal. The government’s effort to take a stand on regulating open borders would certainly get people’s support as during the border blockade by India in 2015, Nepali people supported the government with open heart.
Moreover, all political parties in Nepal should think seriously and start extensive discussion on the public level on regulation of open borders as the Supreme Court of Nepal in 2021 has already issued a mandamus order in the name of the government to regulate and control the open border between Nepal and India.
The Government of Nepal has been asked to take the initiative to review the agreements and treaties regarding the management and regulation of the open border between Nepal and India, as Nepal’s sovereignty, geographical integrity, national unity, protection of the welfare of the people of Nepal, economic prosperity and border security are government’s significant constitutional responsibilities, reads the mandamus.
The mandamus has also asked the government to keep records of those entering Nepal via land route at the immigration office in the checkpoints under the task of border management for the safety of life and property of Nepalis and to stop the misuse of border and encroachment. Lastly, it would be in favor of long term stability of Nepal to seriously think unilaterally to regulate the open borders by following mandamus of Supreme Court of Nepal, instead of wasting unlimited duration of time for India’s green signal on the EPG report, which has been already gathering dust in the wastebasket.