Borderline disorder


When Nepal signed the Sugauli Treaty with British India in 1816, parts of the demarcated border  followed the courses of rivers. Since then, the sediment-heavy rivers flowing down from the mountains have changed course many times. The Kosi itself now flows 120km west of where it was in Bihar when the treaty was signed two centuries ago.

Since 1994, India and Nepal have decided to follow the Fixed Boundary Doctrine, meaning the border line does not change even if the river alters course. Though survey teams from the two sides are supposed to work together to keep track of the border, it is a difficult task during the monsoon flood season.

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This year has been no different. Many pillars along the 1,880km Indo-Nepal border have either been washed away or are submerged. Of the 8,554 border pillars, 2,105 are actually located within rivers, and more are along floodplains that are submerged in the monsoon. Among them, 452 pillars have either been removed or lost – half of them because of floods.

The big flood of 13 July washed away many of the remaining pillars. Among them were four that were reinstalled just last year in Bijaynagar of Kapilvastu district (one of them, pictured above).

Survey Department staff themselves admit that the design of pillars located on riverbeds must be changed from cement to steel structures bolted to concrete foundations to withstand floods.

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Nepal has deployed 15,000 Armed Police along the Indian border, with outposts every 20-30 km. These bases are supposed to keep track of the state of the pillars and keep the Home Ministry updated on their condition.

However, experts say that increased sedimentation in Tarai streams due to deforestation and quarrying in the Chure Range, as well as poorly-designed roads and embankments, will make floods worse in coming years.

“The solution is for India and Nepal to work jointly not just to repair border pillars, but also to stop blaming each other for floods every monsoon and forget about it after the rains,” Birganj-based writer Chandra Kishore says. “Nationalism is not going to prevent future disasters.”

Meanwhile, all along the India-Nepal border this rainy season the state of the border pillars are a stark reminder of the inability of the two countries to work together to reduce their mutual risk from floods.

Ramu Sapkota with Gopal Bhandari in Kapilvastu