In a strategically crucial development, Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Friday inaugurated the Kailash-Mansarovar Yatra Route connecting Uttarakhand’s Dharchula town till the Lipulekh Pass at the India-China border. Constructed by the BRO (Border Road Organisation), the 80km stretch will provide connectivity from Dharchula to Lipulekh at an altitude ranging from 6,000 feet to 17,060 feet. It is an extension of Pithoragarh-Tawaghat-Ghatiabagarh road. While this road link via Lipulekh Pass will provide a faster route to Indian pilgrims to reach Kailash Mansarovar, it has been approximately a five-year-old border dispute between Nepal and India.
Responding to the development, Nepal’s former Deputy Prime Minister took to Twitter and condemned the actions of the Indian government. In his tweet, he maintained that Limpiyadhura/Lipulekh is a sovereign Nepali territory. He further questioned India’s construction of link road, saying that instead of removing its military forces from Nepal territory, the country has brought a new link road for public use. Condemning the Oli government’s silence on the matter, he urged the administration to take necessary steps for the same.
In November 2019, Indian Home Ministry released a new edition of its political map following the August 2019 bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir. In the new map, India showed the controversial Kalapani territorial region inside its borders as part of Uttarakhand’s Pithoragarh district. However, Nepal raised objections to the new map, reiterating that the Kalapani region lies in the Darchula district of its Sudurpashchim Pradesh. The Himalayan nation has been claiming the southern side of the Lipulekh Pass known as Kalapani territory. There were several protests in Nepal after the Indian authorities released the map. While the Nepal government expressed disagreement with India over its new political map saying it was not “not acceptable”, the administration still has been facing a lot of flak for failing to press India against its actions.
What is the dispute?
The 35-sq km Kalapani territory is a tri-junction between Nepal, India, and China. Lipulekh Pass in the Kalapani territory is a strategic-point for India where the Indo-Tibetan Border Police has been manning the border since 1962 to surveil the movements of the Chinese forces. The dispute relates to the 1816 Treaty of Segauli signed between Nepal and British India which states that river Mahakali under the western border of Nepal. Kalapani is the merging point of several tributaries with the river. Lipulekh Pass is at the top of the valley of Kalapani, forming a route for Indians to Kailash Mansarovar site, which lies in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) of China.