With India refusing permit, census team heads for remote Darchula villages on footIndia refused to provide entry passes for enumerators to use the Indian territory to reach Tinkar and Chhangru.
A three-member census team set out on foot for Tinkar and Chhangru villages in Darchula district on Friday after the Indian authorities refused to give entry passes to them to use the Indian territory to reach the villages.
The team will be using an old foot trail within Nepal’s territory to cross into the two villages since neither of the villages is connected to a road network.
Had the Indian authorities allowed the Nepali census team to use their territory, the team would have had easy access to the two villages by road, according to officials.
“A three-member team comprising assistant census officer, enumerator and office assistant have left for Tinkar and Chhangru early Friday morning,” Padam Raj Pandey, district census officer in Darchula, told the Post over the phone. “The possibility of reaching the villages through the foot trail came up during our conversation with top officials from the District Administration Office and Nepal Army on Thursday. The army officials suggested we send the team on foot.”
Tinkar and Chhangru border India in Darchula on the northwestern corner of the country. The region is remote and inaccessible as there is no road connectivity within the Nepali territory. People need entry passes from the local authorities in India to travel to the villages via their territory.
Pandey, however, said that the condition of the foot trail is questionable since the trail is hardly used especially after it was damaged by this year’s monsoon.
According to him, the District Census Office, Darchula has notified the Central Bureau of Statistics, responsible for the population census, about the departure of the team.
“The bureau has assured us that it would try to arrange for a helicopter for the census team to reach the villages,” Pandey said. “If that happens, our team heading to these villages on foot would abort their journey midway and a new team will be flown in. If not, the same team will carry on on foot.”
According to the District Census Office, the three-member team is expected to reach Chhangru in three days and will take another two hours to reach Tinkar. “Our target is to reach there on November 22 and conduct the census,” said Pandey.
The census started on November 11 and will end on November 25.
The Nepali authorities had been seeking entry passes from relevant Indian authorities for the census team to use their territory since the initial phase of the population census.
According to the District Administration Office, it had sent a request to the Sub-divisional Magistrate Office in Dharchula of Pithoragarh, India on November 11, seeking entry passes for Nepali census staff to travel to Tinkar and Chhangru via India.
Initially, the Indian side had given verbal assurances to Nepali authorities about the availability of entry passes for the census team soon after the magistrate, who is busy with administrative arrangements for a fair in Jauljibi, attends the office.
Jauljibi, on the Nepal-India border, is a small town in Dharchula of Pithoragarh in India and is known for the historical trade fair it has been organising for decades.
The fair, said to have been observed since 1911, was not organised last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This year it is being observed from November 14-24.
“On Wednesday, we received a response from local Indian authority citing damages on the road section leading to the two villages as reasons for their inability to provide entry passes for our Nepali census staff,” Jyotsna Bhatta Joshi, assistant chief district officer of Darchula told the Post over the phone from Darchula.
“The letter also states that the local Indian authorities have sought instructions from higher authorities regarding the matter and notified us that they will keep us informed,” said Joshi.
According to officials, the Indian authority had provided entry passes for the supervisors to go to the two isolated villages via India to conduct the listing process between September 15 to October 4.
“The listing process showed there are 113 households in Tinkar and Chhangru,” said Pandey. During the listing, supervisors count houses, households and members of each family before the actual census which is currently underway.
Nepali officials are now wondering why the Indian side refused to provide entry passes for Nepali census staff for the main census.
“Our guess is that India may have feared that Nepali enumerators might also conduct a census in the disputed regions of Kalapani, Lipiyadhura and Lipulekh through informal contacts with Nepali officials,” said Pandey.