Embankment row highlights urgency of settling border issues with IndiaNepal urged to strengthen its own embankments on Mahakali and immediately take up the matter with India.
Another sad incident in Darchula district on Sunday was indicative not just of the Indian state’s callousness towards its small neighbour but also exposed Nepal’s lack of preparation in safeguarding its border settlements.
The incident involved people on either side of the border pelting stones at one another across the Mahakali River, injuring four Nepali nationals including a minor.
“The Ministry of Home Affairs has on Monday written to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs requesting a long-term solution to the recurring disputes in Darchula,” Basanta Bhattarai, deputy spokesperson at the Home Ministry told the Post.
On the basis of the report received from the District Administration Office, Darchula and similar past incidents in the district, we have asked the foreign ministry to initiate talks with India to seek a long-term solution, said Bhattarai.
Darchula has reported several border-related issues in the past and the government has sent two diplomatic notes to India, but the southern neighbour has generally snubbed such concerns.
A senior foreign ministry official confirmed to the Post that his office received the communication from the home ministry, but due to time constraint, they could not communicate the concerns to the Indian side.
“We received a letter from the home ministry after office hours and we are yet to go through it. We will study it on Tuesday and then write to the Indian side,” the official added.
The Darchula incident also figured prominently in the meeting of the ruling coalition on Monday. After the meeting, Minister for Communication and Information Technology Gyanendra Bahadur Karki said the government would resolve the incident through diplomacy.
Meanwhile, the chief district officer of Darchula Dirgha Raj Upadhyaya told the Post that his office on Sunday and Monday informed the home ministry about the incident and that the government should work seriously to find a permanent solution to the dispute.
Officials said the situation on the Darchula border at Khalanga turned tense on Sunday evening after police used force to disperse Nepali demonstrators who had closed the Jhulaghat bridge across the Mahakali River to protest India’s unilateral construction of embankment on its side. Several Indian traders who were stuck on the Nepali side following the bridge’s closure were also injured.
Earlier in the day, Nepalis and those on the Indian side had chanted slogans against each other and pelted stones. A child on the Nepali side was injured after he was hit by a stone from the Indian side.
At the root of the dispute is the ongoing construction of the embankment.
On June 16, 2013, a swollen Mahakali river changed its course and submerged the Khalanga Bazaar, the district headquarters of Darchula. Due to a change in the river’s course, a piece of Nepali land came to fall on the Indian side. And about two years ago, before the river could return to its original course, India started building an embankment, which would result in Nepal permanently losing the piece of land. Nepal has so far not taken any initiative for the land’s return.
On July 30, 2021, Jaya Singh Dhami, 33, from Khangdang Mal of Byas Rural Municipality-2 in Darchula fell into Mahakali while crossing the river using an improvised cable crossing. Eyewitnesses said Dhami fell after Indian security personnel untied the cable before Dhami had reached the other side. The government took up the matter with India through diplomatic channels, urging the Indian side to take action against those involved in the incident. But the Indian side is yet to take any action and Dhami’s whereabouts remain unknown to date.
This March, Nepalis in Khalanga staged a protest against the Indian attempt to embank the river and permanently divert the river to the Nepali side.
In October, nine years old boy Pawan Mahara of the same district died after being hit by a stone that flew from a blast carried out for the widening of the Tawaghat-Lipulekh road by India across Mahakali. Later the Indian construction company, Garg and Garg, provided Rs1.6 million in compensation to Mahara’s family and agreed to pay for the education of his sister, who was also injured in the incident.
Locals fear India’s “unilateral” embanking of the river will permanently change the river’s course and hence the repeat scuffles, said Upadhyaya, the Darchula CDO.
Earlier, there had been an agreement between Nepali and Indian officials whereby both sides would refrain from constructing embankments along the disputed parts of the river.
“But the Indian side kept building the embankment and as a result the locals in Darchula protested on Sunday,” a Home Ministry official said, adding, “We have instructed the district administration to take up the matter with the Indian side immediately to prevent such incidents.”
On Sunday and Monday, chief district officer Upadhyaya held talks with his Indian counterpart in the Uttarakhand district of Pithoragarh in an attempt to resolve the dispute. He said the Indian side had agreed to halt embankment construction for the time being.
Upadhyaya also suggested that Nepal should also embank its side before the monsoon to prevent further erosion by the river.
“The decrepit embankment on our side is no match against monsoon currents. We should immediately start building good embankments on our side. We need a permanent solution to the problem,” Upadhyaya said.
Foreign policy experts and diplomats said that despite India’s reluctance to discuss the issue, Nepal should keep pressing for a solution.
“Nepal should also start building a strong embankment on its side of the river in order to protect its land and people, just as India does,” said Arun Subedi, foreign relations adviser to the Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba.
“If we don’t have funds to build the embankment, we should not hesitate to ask India for the same. Embanking the river has become necessary. Locals also should refrain from pelting stones; that does not solve the problem,” said Subedi.
Some experts advised Nepal to immediately take up the matter with Indian authorities.
Former Nepali envoy to India, Nilamber Acharya, said the two countries should sit for talks and ensure that no side manipulates the river flow.
“We should regularly monitor our borders and address problems before they become serious. We should also continuously raise our border-related concerns with India so that they too are under pressure to address our concerns,” said Acharya, who served as Nepali ambassador to New Delhi from 2018 to 2021.