Kalapani Land Dispute between India and Nepal: Origin, Challenges and Resolution | UPSC


  • Nepal has recently put a map on its Rs 100 currency note showing certain areas administered by India in Uttarakhand as part of its territory.

Kalapani Land Dispute

  • The territorial dispute is about a 372-sq-km area that includes Limpiadhura, Lipulekh, and Kalapani at the India-Nepal-China trijunction in Uttarakhand’s Pithoragarh district. Nepal has claimed for long that these areas belong to it both historically and evidently.
  • The region is strategically significant due to its location near the Lipulekh Pass, which is used by Indian pilgrims to access Mount Kailash in Tibet.

Kalapani Land Dispute

a) Historical Context:

  • The dispute dates back to the 1815 Sugauli Treaty between the British East India Company and the Kingdom of Nepal. According to the treaty, the river Kali was established as the boundary, but the exact source of the river was not clearly defined, leading to differing interpretations by India and Nepal.
  • India considers the Kali River’s source to be at Kalapani, thus placing the Kalapani region within its territory. Indian maps have shown Kalapani as part of its Uttarakhand state since the 1960s.
  • Nepal claims that the river’s source is at Limpiyadhura, which lies further to the west, thus including Kalapani within its territory. Nepalese maps historically included this area as part of Nepal’s Darchula district.

b) Recent Developments:

  • In 2019, India released a new political map following the reorganization of Jammu and Kashmir, which showed Kalapani within its borders, sparking protests from Nepal.
  • In response, Nepal published its own map in 2020, including Kalapani, Limpiyadhura, and Lipulekh within its borders.
Susta Dispute

Location: Susta is located along the Gandak River in the Terai region, which lies between India’s Bihar state and Nepal’s Nawalparasi district.

Cause of Dispute: The shifting course of the Gandak River over time has led to territorial ambiguities. Rivers in the region often change course, which can result in land that was originally on one side of the border ending up on the other side.

Diplomatic Efforts and Current Status

  • Both countries have attempted to resolve these disputes through diplomatic channels. Joint border committees have been set up, and various rounds of talks have been held.
  • Despite these efforts, the disputes remain unresolved, partly due to nationalistic sentiments and historical legacies on both sides.
  • The disputes occasionally flare up, especially during times of heightened political sensitivity in either country. However, both India and Nepal have generally maintained that they seek a peaceful and negotiated settlement to these issues.

Strategic and Political Implications

  • These border disputes are not just about territorial control but also have strategic, political, and economic implications. The regions in question are significant for security, trade routes, and local communities.
  • The India-China rivalry also plays a role, particularly in the Kalapani region, which is close to the Lipulekh Pass used by India to access Tibet.

Importance of resolving the India-Nepal border dispute

  • The early resolution of the border dispute between India and Nepal is crucial for several reasons, benefiting both countries in terms of security, economic development, diplomatic relations, and regional stability. Here are the key reasons:

a) Preventing Escalation:

  • Unresolved border disputes can lead to tensions and potential skirmishes, which can escalate into larger conflicts. Early resolution can help maintain peace and stability in the region.

b) Countering External Influences:

  • An unresolved dispute can be exploited by external actors, potentially straining India-Nepal relations further. Resolving the dispute would strengthen internal security and reduce the risk of external interference.

c) Economic Development

  • India and Nepal share extensive trade relations. A clear and agreed-upon border would facilitate smoother trade and transit, benefiting the economies of both countries.
  • Infrastructure projects, such as roads and railways, can be developed more efficiently with a resolved border, enhancing connectivity and economic growth.

d) Strengthening Bilateral Ties:

  • Resolving the border dispute would remove a significant irritant in India-Nepal relations, paving the way for stronger political, cultural, and economic ties.
  • Enhanced cooperation and trust would allow both countries to collaborate more effectively on other regional and international issues.

e) People-to-People Relations:

  • The communities living along the border have deep cultural and familial ties. A resolved boundary would improve their lives by reducing uncertainties and fostering better cross-border cooperation and understanding.

f) Regional Cooperation and Geopolitics

  • Both India and Nepal are members of regional groupings such as SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) and BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation). A resolved dispute would contribute to regional stability and cooperation.

g) China’s Influence:

  • Nepal’s strategic location between India and China makes it crucial for India to maintain strong relations with Nepal. Resolving the border dispute would counterbalance China’s growing influence in Nepal, ensuring that India maintains a friendly and cooperative neighbor.

Challenges in resolving the India-Nepal border dispute

  • Resolving the border dispute between India and Nepal presents several challenges, rooted in historical, political, technical, and emotional factors. Here are the key challenges:

a) Historical and Legal Interpretations

  • The interpretation of the Treaty of Sugauli (1815), which delineates the Kali River as the boundary, is contentious. India and Nepal disagree on the river’s origin point, which affects the boundary demarcation in the Kalapani region.
  • Both countries use historical maps and documents to support their claims. However, these documents often have ambiguities and inconsistencies, leading to differing interpretations.

b) Nationalism and Public Sentiment:

  • Nationalist sentiments in both countries can complicate negotiations. Political leaders may face domestic pressure to take a hard stance on the issue, making compromise difficult.

c) Political Instability:

  • Political instability in Nepal often disrupts the negotiation process. Frequent changes in government or political leadership can lead to inconsistent policies and approaches toward the dispute.

d) Strategic and Geopolitical Factors

  • The disputed areas, especially Kalapani, have strategic importance due to their proximity to China. Both countries have security and strategic interests in these regions, complicating resolution efforts.
  • The influence of external actors, particularly China, can affect the dynamics of the dispute. Nepal’s growing relationship with China adds a layer of complexity to its negotiations with India.

Resolution of the border dispute between India and Nepal

  • Resolving the border dispute between India and Nepal requires a multifaceted approach that emphasizes diplomacy, technical precision, and mutual trust. Here’s a recommended way forward:

a) Diplomatic Engagement

  • Regular high-level dialogues involving foreign ministers and prime ministers should be conducted to maintain political will and momentum toward resolution.

b) Reactivation of Joint Boundary Committees:

  • The Joint Technical Level Boundary Committee should be reactivated with a clear mandate and timeline to resolve the remaining issues. This committee should include experts in geography, cartography, and international law from both sides.

c) Joint Technical Surveys:

  • Conduct comprehensive joint technical surveys of the disputed areas using modern technology such as satellite imagery, GPS, and digital mapping. These surveys should be transparent and their findings shared openly between both nations.

d) Historical Document Review:

  • Establish a joint historical review committee to examine and reconcile historical maps and documents. This committee should aim to create a shared understanding of historical boundaries.


  • In summary, the border disputes between India and Nepal are rooted in historical treaties and the natural shifting of river courses. They remain a sensitive and unresolved issue, requiring careful diplomatic negotiation to avoid further escalation.
  • Building trust, fostering political will, and leveraging international best practices are crucial for achieving a lasting resolution. Both India and Nepal need to prioritize dialogue, compromise, and cooperation to overcome these obstacles and find a peaceful solution.

Practice Question for Mains

  • Topic: International and Bilateral Relations (GS Mains Paper 2)
  • Q . Discuss the origin of the Kalapani land dispute between India and Nepal, the challenges it poses to bilateral relations, and propose viable resolutions to address the geopolitical and diplomatic concerns arising from this conflict. (Answer in 250 words)
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