Beneficial to both

For the past few years, an increasing number of people in Nepal have called for border regulation between Nepal and India, though they may differ over the kind of arrangement. Some Indians, too, see the rationale for such a measure. There is yet another group of people on each side of the border who support the idea of introducing a passport system. Probably their number is small. But most people seem to see merit in the idea of putting in place some system which identifies border-crossers and maintains records of the two-way flow of people. It is good that Nepal and India have now initiated talks on introducing identification documents for crossing the border by Nepalis and Indians. Indeed, identification documents were introduced between the two countries for air travel following the hijacking by Kashmiri militants of an Indian Airlines jet soon after takeoff from Tribhuvan International Airport on December 24, 1999.

The purpose of such regulations is certainly not to restrict the free movement of people between these culturally, socially and religiously close neighbours. At present, no document needs to be shown at the border checkpoint by either Nepalis or Indians to go over to the other side. This has created problems such as the difficulty in tracking down criminals or other anti-social elements. Without any record-keeping of border-crossings, it may be difficult on a number of occasions to make certain important decisions properly, for example, in providing citizenship papers. Criminals or other anti-social elements in one country often sneak over into the other side without any hitch to evade law.

The absence of any regulatory and monitoring mechanism has created a lot of problems for the authorities of both countries. Sometimes, it has even created misunderstanding between the two governments as each thinks that the other side is not doing enough to help. India has for long alleged that the Nepali soil is being used by a third country to launch anti-India activities. Some in the Nepali ruling quarters think that India, on its part, has not done enough to tackle the Nepali Maoists who have found in the Indian soil a ‘safe haven.’ But often there has been much of an exaggeration in such allegations, which hardly help improve the bilateral ties further. At present, there is no record with either country of how many people cross the border from each side every day. There are economic, political, demographic, law-and-order and other purposes that a proper border regulation and monitoring serves, and both India and Nepal will benefit hugely from this mechanism. The two can then tackle any problems that may arise because of the open border more efficiently and more effectively.