Nepal passes Controversial map bill, India reacts
KATHMANDU/NEW DELHI: Nepal’s parliament today voted on a constitutional amendment bill in a special session to update the country’s map, which includes a stretch of land high in the mountains that India claims as its own.
The move is expected to further strain relations between the two South Asian neighbours at a time when tension has flared on the border between India and China over disputed territory in Ladakh.
The passage of the bill by all 258 members of the House from all parties was a show of unprecedented unity across Nepal’s political spectrum, and brought together Nepalis for a common cause. All the 258 votes were in favour and the house has a total strength of 275, so the amendment bill was passed by a two-third majority.
Now that it has been passed, it will be sent to the National Assembly where it will undergo a similar process.
In a reaction Saturday, spokesman Anurag Srivastava of India’s Ministry of External Affairs said that ‘the artificial enlargement of claims is not based on historical fact or evidence and not tenable. It is also violation of our current understanding to hold talks on outstanding boundary issues.’
“We have noted that the House of Representatives of Nepal has passed a constitution amendment bill for changing the map of Nepal to include parts of Indian territory. We have already made our position clear on this matter,” India’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said today.
“This artificial enlargement of claims is not based on historical fact or evidence and is not tenable. It is also violative of our current understanding to hold talks on outstanding boundary issues,” he added.
Last month, Nepal’s ruling party had cleared the map, drawing fierce reaction from India, which described the move as “unilateral” and not based on historical facts. The opposition Nepali Congress had said it would vote in favour of the amendment, amid friction with India over the issue.
The new map – made public last month – shows a sliver of land on the east of river Kali, jutting out from the northwestern tip of Nepal. The area includes the Lipulekh Pass in Uttarakhand and also Limpiyadhura and Kalapani, which are highly strategic areas which India has been guarding since the 1962 war with China.
The major opposition parties, including Nepali Congress (NC), Rastriya Janata Party-Nepal (RJP-N) and Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP), voted in favour of the government bill to amend Schedule 3 of the Constitution to update the national emblem by incorporating the new controversial map.
On June 9, the Parliament unanimously endorsed a proposal to consider the Constitution amendment bill to pave way for endorsing the new political map amid the border row with India.
The bill will now be sent to the National Assembly where it will undergo a similar process. The ruling Nepal Communist Party commands two-thirds majority in the National Assembly. The National Assembly will have to give lawmakers 72 hours to move amendments against the bill’s provisions, if any.
After the National Assembly passes the bill, it will be submitted to the President for authentication, after which the bill will be incorporated in the Constitution.
The government on Wednesday formed a nine-member team of experts to collect historical facts and evidence related to the area. Diplomats and experts, however, questioned the government’s move, asking why the task force was formed when the map has already been released and approved by the Cabinet.
Just two days ahead of voting, Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Anurag Srivastava had sidestepped all questions regarding the voting or reaching out to Kathmandu by just saying “we have already made our position clear” and went on to elaborate on the “civilisational, cultural and friendly relations with Nepal”.
This despite the fact that Nepal PM KP Sharma Oli just one day before this statement said that if India showed more willingness for dialogue, a solution could be found. India had also stressed on a diplomatic dialogue in the May 20 statement but foreign secretary-level talks still remain pending between the two sides.
Most significantly, he emphasised that “government of India has also ensured that there is no untoward disruption in trade and supply of essential goods to Nepal, despite the lockdown on both sides”.
Oli is perceived to be leaning towards Beijing. His disagreements with India are not new. In his earlier stint as PM, he had accused India of toppling his government in 2016.
However, his return to power in 2018 was marked by renewed efforts from both sides to improve equations. India also stepped up cooperation in the oil and gas sector.
A 69-km pipeline with a capacity of 2 mmta connecting Motihari in India to Amlekhgunj in Nepal was jointly inaugurated by PM Modi & Oli in September 2019. It was the first cross-border petroleum products pipeline in South Asia and the cost of constructing the pipeline Rs 324 crore was borne by Indian Oil Corporation Limited. The project was completed by IOCL way ahead of the schedule too.
The latest friction occurred after India inaugurated the 80-km-long link road on the Kailash Mansarovar route in Pithoragarh in Uttarakhand. Nepal objected to it, saying it falls in their territory, a claim India instantly refuted saying the entire stretch is well within India territory. Army chief General Naravane had indicated that Nepal’s move comes at the behest of China.
(Media Reports with Agencies inputs).