Indo-Nepal Border Dispute: Kalapani

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Context: Nepal has activated all diplomatic channels with India to resume a dialogue on boundary issues following a row over the new Indian map, which shows the disputed Kalapani area as part of Uttarakhand.  

Prelims: Current events of national and international importance. 
Mains: India and its neighbourhood- relations.

Where is Kalapani?

  • The Kalapani territory is an area disputed between India and Nepal, but under Indian administration as part of the Pithoragarh district in the Uttarakhand state.
  • Kalapani is located at an altitude of 3600m on the Kailash Manasarovar route. It borders Uttarakhand in India and Sudurpashchim Pradesh in Nepal.
  • It is marked by the Kalapani river, one of the headwaters of the Kali River in the Himalayas at an altitude of 3600–5200 meters.
  • The valley of Kalapani, with the Lipulekh Pass at the top, forms the Indian route to Kailash–Manasarovar, an ancient pilgrimage site. It is also the traditional trading route to Tibet for the Bhotiyas of Uttarakhand.
  • The Kali River forms the boundary between India and Nepal in this region.



What is the dispute about?

  • Both India and Nepal claim Kalapani as an integral part of their territories- India as part of Uttarakhand’s Pithoragarh district and Nepal as part of the Darchula district.
  • Kalapani is also a tri-junction point, where the Indian, Nepalese and Tibetan (Chinese) borders meet. The region has been manned by the Indo-Tibetan Border Police since 1962.
  • In essence, the source of river Mahakali is at the heart of the dispute between the countries.
  • The 1816 Treaty of Segauli, signed between British India and Nepal, defined river Mahakali as the western border of Nepal. River Mahakali has several tributaries, all of which merge at Kalapani.
  • India claims that the river begins in Kalapani as this is where all its tributaries merge. But Nepal claims that it begins from Lipu Lekh Pass, the origin of most of its tributaries.
  • Nepal has laid claim to all areas east of the Lipu Gad — the rivulet that joins the river Kali on its border, a tri-junction with India and China. 
  • The Kalapani village is outside the Kalapani territory. It is on the Nepalese side of the Kalapani river, and India has not extended any claim to it.
  • Nepal has another pass, the Tinkar Pass (or “Tinkar Lipu”), close to the area. After India closed the Lipulekh Pass in the aftermath of the 1962 Sino-Indian War, much of the Bhotiya trade used to pass through the Tinkar Pass.
  • The Nepalese protests regarding the Kalapani territory started in 1997 after India and China agreed to reopen the Lipulekh pass.


  • The Treaty of Sugauli signed by Nepal and British East India Company in 1816 defines the Kali River as Nepal's western boundary with India.
  • However, what is meant by the “Kali River” in the upper reaches is unclear because many mountain streams come to join and form the river.
  • British India conducted the first surveys of the upper reaches in the 1870s. 
  • It, however, made no mention of a ridgeline and subsequent maps of the areas drawn by British surveyors showed the source of the Kali river at different places.
  • This discrepancy has led to the boundary disputes between India and Nepal, with each country producing maps including the territory in their own area to support their claims. The exact size of the Kalapani territory also varies in different sources.
  • In the run-up to the Sino-Indian border conflict in the late 1950s, India claimed the watershed of the Kalapani River for strategic and security reasons. This was apparently agreed to by Nepal. The China–Nepal boundary agreement signed on 5 October 1961 states:

The Chinese-Nepalese boundary line starts from the point where the watershed between the Kali River and the Tinkar River meet the watershed between the tributaries of the Mapchu (Karnali) River on the one hand and the Tinkar River on the other hand.

  • While the origin of the dispute goes back to the early 19th century, politically it emerged as a contentious issue between India and Nepal after the two countries signed the Treaty of Mahakali in 1996. 
  • This is when the Nepalese government was forced to take up the issue given the pressure from rising Nepali nationalism.
  • The two countries had formed the Joint Technical Boundary Committee in 1981 to resolve the dispute. Though the committee managed to resolve a large part of the dispute, they failed to reach a final settlement.
  • Eventually, the issue was referred to the foreign secretaries of the two countries and they have been trying to find a resolution to the dispute.
  • The 35 km² of the area between the Lipu Gad/Kalapani River and the watershed of the river is the disputed Kalapani territory. Despite several rounds of negotiations from 1998 to the present, the issue remains unresolved.


How have the two sides backed their claims?

  • In its effort to back its territorial claims, India has presented administrative and tax records dating back to the 1830s. According to New Delhi, these records show that since then Kalapani was part of the Pithoragarh district.
  • India has also shown surveys of the upper reaches of river Mahakali conducted by the British Indian government during the 1870s. They presented a map from 1879, which showed Kalapani as a part of British Indian territory.
  • Nepal has presented similar maps from 1850 and 1856, showing that river Mahakali begins in Kalapani.

Susta Dispute:

  • Susta is an area under territorial dispute currently in Tribenisusta, Lumbini Zone, Nepal and near Nichlaul, Uttar Pradesh, India. The area under dispute totals over 14,000 hectares (140 km2) and is being controlled by India.
  • India has justified its control of Susta on the basis of international law.
  • With regard to Susta, the problem has arisen as a result of the shifting of the course of the river, again a frequent occurrence in rivers shared by neighbouring countries.

Way forward:

  • There are only two ways to deal with this challenge- either to accept a shifting border as the river itself shifts or to agree on a boundary which remains fixed despite changes in the course of the river. The latter is usually the more rational choice.
  • But such matters require friendly consultations aimed at mutually acceptable outcomes not emotionally charged grandstanding.
  • There are six to eight million Nepali citizens living and working in India. They enjoy immense goodwill and a congenial and friendly environment wherever they are.
  • Political leaders in Nepal should reflect on this extraordinary asset their country enjoys built over centuries of benign togetherness. Its thoughtless erosion may prove to be costly for both our countries.

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