Not so open

Nepal and India have started implementing the new border regulations they had agreed on a month ago, putting some restrictions on decades of totally open cross-border movement of people as cemented by the 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship. Under the new border regime, citizens of each country will have to produce one of the several documents prescribed for identification — such as passport, voter’s ID, identity card issued by government — in order to be eligible for entry into the other side. From yesterday, the new plan was put into action at the Nepalganj-Rupaidiya border entry-point, to start with. The new arrangement seeks to regulate human traffic not only across commercial border entry-points but also along the entire open border. Indian officials have indicated that the main purpose of the regulations is to prevent ‘undesirable elements’ (which, to many, imply those related to Pakistan) from infiltrating into India and to check ‘terrorism.’

Nepalis first came to know about the agreement from Indian officials or India-datelined news reports rather than from their own government. Indian officials have been clear about the objectives of the strategy, which, as reports suggest, has probably been adopted at the Indian request. But the Nepali side has been rather reticent about how it could benefit from the regulation. That said, many Nepalis have long suggested some sort of border regulation for recording comings and goings across the border for demographic, citizenship and other uses.

But the new arrangements should not create hassles for citizens of these neighbours which have ancient, deep and wide-ranging social, religious, economic and other relations. Tens of thousands of people cross the open border every day, and this means long queues at the check-posts, which, in turn, might give rise to harassment of common people and extortion of money from them by the police and other government employees. Besides, in Nepal, for example, there are many people who may not be able to produce any of the required identification papers, which would make their entry into India particularly difficult. The round-the-clock open border, when closed during certain hours, will also cause considerable inconvenience to people. Therefore, both sides would do well to pay particular attention to these and other related aspects to cut the hassles to a minimum.