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Tags Current Affairs

Lipu Lekh pass controversy and strategic importance

Date: 18 May 2020 Tags: India & World

Issue

Army Chief General M M Naravane said that Nepal’s protest against a newly built Indian road in Uttarakhand, up to Lipu Lekh pass on the China border, was at “someone else’s behest”.

 

Background

His statement has been widely taken to mean that Nepal was acting as a proxy for China, at a time when tensions have spiked sharply on the LAC between the Chinese PLA and the Indian Army at Ladakh.

 

Details

  • The road is far from the present scene of tension in Ladakh. It is on the route of the annual Kailash Mansarovar Yatra, which goes through Uttarakhand’s Pithoragath district.

  • The 80 km road goes right up to the Lipu Lekh pass on the LAC, through which Kailash Mansarovar pilgrims exit India into China to reach the mountain and lake revered as the abode of Siva. The last section of 4 km of the road up to the pass still remains to be completed.

  • The new road is also expected to provide better connectivity to Indian traders for the India-China border trade at the Lipu Lekh pass between June and September every summer.

  • The India China Border Roads as they are known were conceptualised in the late 1990s by a consultative group called the China Studies Group, cleared at the highest level of the Cabinet Committee on Security, and given the go-ahead for construction in 1999.

  • But the deadlines were movable targets, and it was only in the wake of the 70-day Doklam stand-off with China in 2017, that India realised with shock that most of those roads had remained on the drawing board. In all those years, only 22 had been completed.

  • Nepal’s objection has been inclusion of Kalapani in the map, in which it is shown as part of Uttarakhand. The area falls in the trijunction between India, China and Nepal.

  • The Nepal-India border was delineated by the Sugauli Treaty of 1816, under which it renounced all territory to the west of the river Kali, also known as the Mahakali or the Sarada river. The river effectively became the boundary.

  • Nepal’s case is that the river originates from a stream at Limpiyadhura, north-west of Lipu Lekh. Thus Kalapani, and Limpiyadhura, and Lipu Lekh, fall to the east of the river and are part of Nepal’s Far West province in the district of Dharchula.

  • New Delhi’s position is that the Kali originates in springs well below the pass, and that while the Treaty does not demarcate the area north of these springs, administrative and revenue records going back to the nineteenth century show that Kalapani was on the Indian side, and counted as part of Pithoragarh district, now in Uttarakhand.

  • In view of all this, Kalapani and the approach to Lipu Lekh has only grown in strategic importance for India, especially as relations between the two countries have remained uneven over the last few years, and China has upped its game for influence in India’a neighbourhood.

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