Kalapani forms the easternmost corner of Uttarakhand's Pithoragarh district. The region is placed in the Limpiyadhura, Lipulekh, and Kalapani Issue between Nepal-India and China (Tibet). Situated at 3600m, it is on the banks of the river Kali. The other border is Nepal's Sudurpaschim Pradesh.
Kalapani Issue - Overview
The Almora District Gazetteer (1911) says "Kalapani" (literally, "dark water") is the name of a distinctive group of springs found near the Kalapani village. The Gazetteer says the river, bearing the name "Kalapani River," is made of two different streams. Socio-culturally as well as politically and historically, the two countries have had cordial relations and there is free visa-less movement allowed between them. The Kalapani issue seems to be one of the few bones of contention.
India and Nepal Dispute
The basic premise of the dispute or 'issue' is that there are several interpretations about where the river originated, with all its tributaries slicing through the mountains and the adjoining areas. Nepal says the region is theirs, and India insists it is theirs, with the river named after Kali. The whole conflict began when India published a revised political map in November 2019, delineating the union territories of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh. The area of Kalapani has since been in the control of the Indo-Tibetan Police and nearby areas since the Indo-China war of 1962.
Disputes between India and Nepal need to be sorted amicably as the countries have a lot of cultural and historical ties. Besides, there is a growing presence of China on Nepal's borders and that needs to be countered. With the permission of free movement between Nepal and Indian borders, Nepal has great strategic relevance from the point of view of India's national security. The bilateral treaties of the two countries also must take into account the shifting of the Himalayan rivers and the various ecological concerns. Therefore, the two countries need to take practical steps to resolve disputes, in ways that work well for each stakeholder.
FAQs on Kalapani Issue
Q.1) Where is Kalapani?
The Kalapani territory falls under India, in the Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand, but since 1997, Nepal claims it's theirs, lying in the Darchula region. It is at an altitude of 3600-5200 meters. The Kalapani valley is part of the Indian route to Kailash-Manasarovar, which is a holy pilgrim site of India. The river is the natural boundary between India and Nepal. But India insists that the headwaters of the river do not get included in the boundary.
Q.2) What is the history of the place?
Nepal says the region is theirs and the boundary was set up by the Treaty of Sugauli. This treaty was signed between the Gurkha rulers of Kathmandu and the East India company. This was after the Gurkha War or what is called the Anglo-Nepal war of 1814-16. This treaty was ratified in 1816. The treaty lays down that the regions of Kumaon and Garhwal forming the west flank and Sikkim the east did not belong to Nepal anymore. The King of Nepal, per Article 5, forfeited his claims over the region that lay to the west of river Kali. This river originated in the High Himalayas, flowing into the plains of India.
Q.3) What efforts were made to settle the dispute?
To settle the dispute, a joint committee of Indian and Nepalese officials has deliberated over the issue since 1998, but to no avail. India opened the Darchula-LIpulekh pass link road on 8 May 2020, categorically cutting right through the Kalapani area. As recently as 20 May 2020, Nepal released a new map of its territory, adding another 335 square kilometres, including Kalapani, Lipulekh, and Limpiyadhura, without any explanation. This caused a lot of outrage in Indian diplomatic circles. India - China Lipulekh agreement of 2015 revived India's Mansarovar pilgrimage connection.
The issue has been a proverbial thorn in the generally cordial relations between India and Nepal and has devolved to be a territorial dispute, acquiring several political dimensions.
Q.4) Why is the Lipulekh Pass so important?
The Himalayan region connected through the Lipulekh pass has been a Hindu and Buddhist pilgrim site for centuries. The region also has various passes connecting the Gangetic region with the Tibetan plateau. The Lipulekh Pass is very strategically located, being the nearest to the National Capital Region (NCR) of India.