For the past few days, trucks carrying everyday supplies have not entered Nepal from major checkpoints at the Indian border. Many Nepalis, including government officials have called this an “unofficial economic blockade” imposed by India.
Here is what I was able to find out based on a couple of calls this afternoon.
Mitra Lal Regmi, head of customs for Nepal government at the Birgunj-Raxaul border — it accounts for more than half of the trade between Nepal and India — says he last spoke to his Indian counterparts on Thursday, after which not a single truck has been allowed to pass through into India. Indian officials, according to him, say customs agents on Indian side have not been coming to work since they do not feel safe because of the ongoing protests. So, there is no one to clear those trucks and allow them to enter Nepal.
About those protests on the border that Indians say are causing disruption: Just hours after India released a second statement on Nepal’s constitution on Wednesday — India for the first time hinted at difficulties at the border, even though protests were ongoing for past couple of months — Indian customs officials stopped doing their paperwork at the border, according to Bhusan Yadav, reporter for The Kathmandu Post in Birgunj, who lives about 4 kilometers away from the border. However, by that evening, they allowed trucks coming from Nepali side to enter India, Yadav told me.
Then on Thursday, a few hundred Madhesis who had been protesting against the constitution showed up at the border and staged a sit-in near a bridge, which falls under “no man’s land” between India and Nepal. Nepali police used microphone to ask agitating parties to clear the bridge, saying they were obstructing incoming trucks, which was creating problems at the customs. At this point, according to Kathmandu Post’s Yadav, protesters told Nepal police that they had no jurisdiction on “no man’s land” and should go away. When Nepal police fired tear gas, the crowd dispersed, and then the group of 400-500 people fled across to the Indian side of the border.
Since then, these protesters, including Madhesi leaders like Rajendra Mahato, have been sitting on the Indian side and blocking the passage of trucks that need to enter Nepal. When I asked Indian embassy spokesperson Abhaya Kumar why India wasn’t clearing protesters on its side of the border, he said the embassy is not aware of any such sit-ins on the Indian side of the border and that it is actually the truckers who have complained and expressed reluctance on entering Nepal fearing their safety.
“There is no official or unofficial blockade by India, the blockade is being caused by protesting Madhesis,” Kumar said. “For the first couple of days, we even asked the truckers to cross the border but as protests intensified, we have stopped forcing the truckers to drive into Nepal.”
Nepali petroleum tankers have been allowed to fill up at a handful of Indian oil depots but when they arrive at the Indian border, Indian customs officials have repeatedly cited security risks and stopped them from passing through. Abhaya Kumar at the Indian embassy also said that Indian television station that have sought to report on the protests in Madhesh and the border areas have been denied entry by Nepali police at the border.
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Indian customs officials echo Indian embassy’s statements. Kamlesh Kumar, the head of customs on the Indian side told Kathmandu Post’s Yadav that they are unable to send trucks into Nepal because of the protesters.
However, according Ram Sharan Mahat, Nepal’s finance minister says that the Nepali government has guaranteed full security of trucks and tankers entering Nepal. “We haven’t had any reports of a single supply vehicle entering Nepal that was damaged or has been under threat from protesters,” Mahat said.
The Kathmandu Post has reported that empty Nepali tankers that have crossed into the Indian side to refuel without any problems have been denied refueling.
A handful of trucks have been allowed to enter Nepal, but thousands of trucks and tankers simply haven’t been allowed to pass. Nearly 900 trucks come into Nepal everyday through India at the Birgunj-Raxaul border — they carry diesel, petrol, raw materials, food, vegetables, fish, fruits which go as far as Kathmandu and Pokhara. On Sunday, 2 trucks carrying potatoes, 1 truck carrying tomatoes and 3 tankers with diesel fuel entered Nepal at the Nepalgunj border.