EPG Report Shelved Indefinitely

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As the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) report gathers dust, India's reluctance to accept it sheds insight into how India approaches Nepal-India problems. Despite Nepal's repeated calls to accept the EPG report prepared by members from both nations, India has so far snubbed it. Though the EPG's recommendations are not legally obligatory on either side, they are meant to serve as a model for strengthening Nepal-India relations in the twenty-first century. The report's significance stems from its ability to address historical concerns, resolve relationship stresses, and explore new areas of collaboration, all of which can contribute to enhancing Nepal-India bilateral ties. 

The recommendations have the potential to allow open and productive discussion between two nations, developing a deeper understanding of each other's viewpoints and concerns. Seven years have passed since the inception of the Nepal-India Eminent Persons Group (EPG), which was tasked with assessing and enhancing bilateral ties by making suggestions in light of changing circumstances. The EPG was founded in 2016 by an understanding between Nepal and India after ties between the two close South Asian neighbours frayed following the adoption of our constitution in 2015.

Embargo

In response to its displeasure with the new constitution, which it said was discriminatory towards the Madhesi people, India imposed a six-month-long economic embargo on Nepal to get things done in its favour. The embargo had then become an irritant in bilateral relations, prompting Narendra Modi and the then-Nepali administration to decide to assemble a panel comprised of notable people from both countries. The panel was entrusted with offering recommendations for enhancing bilateral ties in the wake of worsening relations. India's decision to create the group was apparently made to keep the relationship from deteriorating further.

According to Nepali observers, India's unwillingness to embrace the report appears to be due to our southern neighbour's misplaced conviction that the report's adoption would provide no tangible advantages to it. If this is not the case, India should not have taken so long to respond to EPG members' appeal to accept it. Meanwhile, no Nepali government official has dared to debate the EPG findings with their Indian counterparts. For example, during our Prime Minister's official visit to India in June, he did not raise the issue with his Indian counterpart, irritating many people back home, including many Nepali members of the EPG. 

So far, no Nepali government or authority has been successful in convincing or cajoling the Indian side to accept the report. As a consequence, the report that seeks to strengthen bilateral relations with India by resolving many anomalies in existing treaties, understandings, and agreements, as well as other issues has remained in limbo. According to observers, some of the recommendations in the group's report include scrapping the 'lopsided' Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1950, border encroachment issues, criminal and cross-border terrorism occurring due to porous borders, water-sharing, energy production and sale, and the access of landlocked Nepal to Indian and other ports based on international rules. 

The Nepali side has frequently called for the cancellation of the 1950 treaty with India, which was signed by the then-autocratic outgoing Rana Prime Minister Mohan Shumsher. Several Articles in the treaty go against sovereign Nepal, an independent member country of the United Nations. If these issues are rectified, Nepal will undoubtedly profit, thanks in large part to the EPG's recommendations. However, the Indian side has allegedly stated that several aspects mentioned in the EPG report are confusing to them, hence their hesitation to receive it.

It is interesting to note that numerous communist parties and their leaders have regularly emphasised the problem of the imbalanced treaty and the need for its abolition by the Nepali side. However, even after assuming government office, the same communist parties and leaders often remain silent on the pact. Several previous foreign ministers and EPG members have recently expressed their dissatisfaction with the report's stagnant status and stressed the need for the Nepali government to take ownership of the report and submit it to India, or make it public through the Parliament if India remained reticent to accept it.

Moral pressure 

If the Nepali members of the EPG are successful in convincing our government or even our foreign ministry to formally receive the report, it would place some moral pressure on India. Both nations then can work on the implementation aspects of recommendations made in the report. If the Nepali side accepts the report, the Nepali people will be made aware of the issues that have hampered the smoothening of bilateral ties. In reality, citizens in both countries have the right to know about the content of the report, and authorities of both nations may serve their respective people by making the contents public.

The EPG's suggestions and conclusions would serve as a foundation for both governments to address long-standing difficulties and challenges, creating the stage for better and more productive partnerships. It can also assist to find chances for cooperative initiatives, regional cooperation, and people-to-people interactions, all of which can help strengthen connections between the two bordering nations. At last, the EPG Report provides an opportunity to develop a stronger relationship based on understanding and trust. Therefore, Nepal and India should embrace this report to open the door to friendship and cooperation that is necessary in these evolving times. As a bigger and more prominent country, India must demonstrate its generosity by unreservedly receiving the report and implementing its recommendations. 

(Upadhyay is former managing editor of this daily.)

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