Print Edition - 2014-08-03  |  Free the Words

Border business

  • Initiatives to secure the open border must not come at the cost of genuine Nepali and Indian travellers
- Buddhi Narayan Shrestha
Border business

Aug 2, 2014-

The Nepal-India border has been open for centuries as part of tradition and culture. However, there is no agreement in black and white that talks in detail about the situations arising from an open border. India, nonetheless, seems mindful of potential consequences as it semi-regulates the border with more than 45,000 Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) soldiers, who have been deployed to check cross-border crimes and the smuggling of fake Indian currency notes.

Existing reactions

As far as the reactions on the open border are concerned, newly elected Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on May 27, while meeting Nepali Prime Minister Sushil Koirala informally after the swearing in ceremony in New Delhi, that ”Nepal and India should be mindful of mutual security concerns as they share an open border.”

Recently, Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said on 28 July, “The open border has been misused for criminal activities in the border areas, such as human trafficking, import and export of illegal drugs, smuggling of fake Indian currency notes, etc.”

Indian Ambassador to Nepal Ranjeet Rae, in an interview with The Post on February 17, said, “In any close relationship, especially between neighbours with open borders, there will be irritants from time to time. But it will be resolved through dialogue, co-operation and understanding…

We have to set up our cooperation and coordination to ensure that the benefits are maximised and the problems are minimised. Unfortunately, open border has been misused by people who do not have the best interests of the two countries at heart. Terrorism-related cases, fake Indian currency smuggling, gold smuggling and trafficking of protected species are specific areas of concern India has with Nepal.”

Advantages and problems

As such, an open border holds both opportunities and challenges for both countries. It is a convenience as it facilitates cross-border movement without any hassle. It is also useful in facilitating  quick responses during hazards and natural calamities. For example, on June 6, 2011, there was a great fire in Ilam district. A fire brigade was instantly deployed from Darjeeling in India to put out the fire.

Cross-border medical services also allow thousands of Indian frontier inhabitants could visit the Sagarmatha Choudhary Eye Hospital in Lahan for treatment without any obstruction. Similarly, Indian labourers from Arariya come to Nepal for paddy cultivation and harvest without any restriction. There is a facility to supply food grains whenever there is a shortage on other side. Local produce like vegetables, fruits and fresh milk from one frontier can be sold in markets of the other side there and then. All these are possible due to the open border regime.  

On the other side of the coin, there are many challenges arising from the open border. These include cross-border terrorism and criminal activities, trafficking of narcotics, smuggling of goods and machinery, illegal transaction of small arms and ammunition and trans-border theft, robbery.

Abdul Karim Tunda, one of India’s most wanted Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists, was arrested on August 16, 2013 and Yasin Bhatkal, co-founder of the Indian Mujahideen, a militant group banned in India, and also one of India’s most wanted terrorism suspects, were arrested by the Nepal Police near the Indian border on August 28, 2013; they were both handed over to India unofficially.

Indian criminal Bablu Dubey, guilty of 36 crimes in India, had sneaked into Nepal through the open border. He was arrested by the Nepal Police on May 29, 2013. Aasin Miya was arrested with Rs. 6.9 million Indian fake currency notes on May 28, 2012 from the Bara district border. Similarly, Nepal Police arrested Amit Sarraf of Raxaul, an Indian national, with smuggled gold in Parwanipur from a bus bound for the Indian border on May 19, 2014.

On the other hand, Nepali industrialist Ganga Bishan Rathi was abducted from Biratnagar, taken to Siliguri in India and killed on January 10, 2013 after 23 days in captivity. Maiti Nepal, a social organisation, rescued 264 girls and women (15-28 years olds) in 2013 alone from the Belahia-Sunauli border crossing point. They were reportedly being taken to be sold in Indian brothels.

Securing the border

In the context of these challenges, some alternative measures should be implemented to maintain the internal and external security system, and to make the Indo-Nepal border safe and secure. In the first phase, a mechanism should be developed to monitor the border crossings through CCTV cameras. Such cameras should be installed in a long but narrow corridor, and travellers should walk through that room speaking their name with caste, address, purpose of crossing the border and number of days they are travelling. There, the travellers’ face, posture, dialect, way of walking, sequence of speaking, etc can be studied on a computer monitor from inside the corridor. Suspicious travellers can be interrogated or held in custody for further inquiry. If they are genuine travellers, they should be allowed to cross the border without any delay.  

Another alternative would be to implement an ID card system on a phase-wise basis in some border crossing points. Introducing an ID system is pragmatic for Nepal and India for security reasons. Travellers should produce IDs while crossing the border. The cards can be scanned and the passenger let through immediately. If this system was introduced, it could have been easily identified the Nepali passengers who died last year in a landslide in India. It is commendable that an ID card system has been introduced for air-route passengers since October 1, 2000, after the hijacking of an Indian Airline aircraft from Kathmandu to Kandahar. IDs were implemented after a decision from both countries.

Ultimately, the border should be fenced, with 360 exit/entry points, so that the inhabitants of both the frontiers can reach exit points by travelling one to two kilometres. This would add to the safety of the frontier people. However, a visa system should not be introduced from the perspective of the age-old friendly ties between the governments and peoples of India and Nepal.

For security reasons, the Nepal-India international border must be controlled and checked. It is important to stay vigilant and secure sensitive areas. However, these measures should not come at the cost of genuine travellers who wish to cross the border freely and without any hindrance.

Shrestha is a former Director General of the Survey Department

Published: 03-08-2014 09:39

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