Behind closed doorsEPG should hold public consultation on how to review all bilateral treaties and agreements
The Nepal-India Eminent Persons Group (EPG) is mandated to provide recommendations on how to review, replace and update all bilateral treaties including the 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship. The expert panel is required to produce a comprehensive report within two years, and one year has already passed. Nepali and Indian members of the EPG have not spoken about the progress made in the past year. The Indians have been more close-mouthed. They say that if issues under discussion are made public, it will affect their work. Their standard responses are ‘the task is progressing’, ‘discussions on key issues are advancing’ and ‘in principle, both sides are ready to review the treaty’.
In reality, the EPG’s performance has not been satisfactory. The Indian side has been asking Nepal to prepare a draft of a revised 1950 treaty. They say that since Nepal has been proposing to amend the treaty for a long time, it should prepare the first draft. The Nepali side has presented its views on how the pact should be amended, and several discussions have been held. But chances of reaching an agreement on some key issues like security, border and water resources appear to be slim. The last meeting held in India largely focused on water resources, and there were many differences of opinion.
Provisions related to security are likely to be major sticking points. According to the 1950 treaty, Nepal is required to inform India when importing defence materials from third countries. Other issues being discussed are trade and transit and social and cultural relations. Another important issue is related to the EPG’s working procedures.
There is broad agreement in Nepal and India that the framework of bilateral relations laid out by the 1950 pact should be revisited, and that a new basis should be created to move forward. As both sides have agreed to review or replace the treaty, more debates, discussions and consultations are required. There is no doubt that the EPG’s internal discussions and tasks should be kept a secret, but there should be public discussions on how to review the bilateral relations, treaties and conventions.
Maximum intellectual input
What is needed is wider public consultation on how to review all bilateral treaties and agreements. EPG members should solicit views from the general public as the treaty is directly related to them. There have been discussions about the regulation of the border, but this has not been defined properly. The issue of border regulation is directly related to the citizens of both countries. EPG members should visit the border areas and ask people on either side how they view the 1950 treaty and what changes should be made to it. Many common people do not know that there is an EPG mandated to suggest ways to re-frame bilateral relations. Similarly, there are millions of Nepalis working in India on the basis of the 1950 treaty.
The EPG should ask Nepali citizens residing in India for suggestions on how to review bilateral relations. Ask Nepali migrant workers in India and Indian workers in Kathmandu how the treaty should be modified, and how their concerns should be accommodated in it. In this context, the tasks of the EPG are not like a secret discussion or deal. This is a body formed to make recommendations after conducting a detailed study of a wide range of issues. The body is not going to replace old treaties with new ones either. Its job is to provide maximum intellectual input on all issues on the basis of which the two governments will sit together, negotiate, review and replace bilateral pacts.
And providing maximum intellectual input means it needs to adopt a wider and more public and inclusive approach. There have been no public discussions on how to review the 1950 treaty either in Nepal or India. In India, very few intellectuals and leaders who have an interest in Nepal know about the existence of the EPG. Its members may forge a consensus on bilateral issues, but consensus within the EPG is not enough. The EPG should prepare a draft of a revised treaty and take it to the public for discussion. The EPG should organise a series of public discussions among experts and intellectuals both in Kathmandu and Delhi.
Merely a political tool
EPG members say that there are some complex issues related to the 1950 treaty which Nepal wants to modify. Obviously, EPG members from both sides are in consultation with their respective governments and political parties regarding crucial issues. Is that sufficient? Obviously not. The 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship is the central issue of the EPG. No discussions have been held in Kathmandu or Delhi on behalf of the EPG regarding the treaty. The EPG is in consultation with leaders, experts and other stakeholders, but what is needed are wider discussions before it concludes it report.
The EPG should prepare a report on the progress made in the past one year and present it to the public. Without sufficient consultations among the people, it will be very difficult to replace the 1950 treaty. Nepali members in the EPG should propose holding wider discussions and debates as it is a matter of great interest among ordinary citizens and political parties in Nepal. Otherwise, it will always remain a political tool and issues will remain unresolved. Without wider public consultations, Nepali EPG members cannot submit a report. There are already questions about inclusive representation while selecting Nepali members, and there is no wide political ownership. Therefore, Nepali EPG members should propose a different type of functioning for the EPG considering the domestic situation.
Bhattarai is The Kathmandu Post’s Delhi correspondent