INTERVIEW with Kunta Sharma

'Indians have grabbed our land'

Kunta Sharma, a CPN-UML lawmaker, is team leader of the High-Level Parliamentary Committee formed to study the reported land encroachment by India in the Susta area. Her team recently returned from a field visit to Susta and is soon presenting a report of its findings to Parliament. She talked about her observances in a recent interview with Kamal Raj Sigdel of The Kathmandu Post.

Excerpts:

Q: Your parliamentary team has just returned from Susta. What did you see there?

Sharma: As reported in the media, our lands have been encroached on. The local people have been rendered homeless. We observed the occupied Nepali lands from a distance as the Indian SSB was standing guard there. The local people pointed to us the area that was occupied in the latest incidence of encroachment on November 22, 2007. It was really pathetic. They wailed before us demanding that their lands be restored. I felt ashamed of myself and my government. I was deeply hurt.

Q: You might have spent some time with the locals of Susta. What did they say?

Sharma: They are both sad and angry that they have been made stateless. They said, "Either declare that Susta is a part of India and deny that we are Nepalis, or show the guts to stop the Indians. If we are Nepalis, Nepal should secure our property and lives. How does a Nepali feel when his farm is ravaged and confiscated in broad daylight? Where does our government exist? Who are we? Are we nomads? Aren't we Nepalis?"

Q: Why has such a serious issue been ignored for so long?

Sharma: In 1972, King Mahendra had established a settlement in the Susta area. At that time too, the government had attempted to carry out a survey of the region; but Indian security forces chased away the Nepali survey officials. In 1977, a big flood changed the course of the Narayani River, and the displaced people were brought to Triveni under the condition that they would return. But the people never went back as there was no bridge to cross the river. There was no basic infrastructure such as schools and health posts. And the Indians started encroaching on the land in 1985.

In 2005, the two countries reached an agreement to maintain the "status quo". But the Indians kept violating the accord. It is hard to believe that seven of the nine wards of Susta VDC have been lost to India.

Q: If you are aware of all these things, why can't you pressure the government? What are the MPs doing to save Susta?

Sharma: We've been quite serious on this issue. A parliamentary panel, under my leadership, recently visited the Susta area. We'll prepare a report. We'll call the government and direct it to solve the issues as soon as possible. We've asked the concerned departments to search for the old maps and locate the areas that have been encroached on. The local people say they know where the border was originally; they can tell everything. We will finalize our report within two-three days and present it.

Q: Based on your recent visit, what do you personally think should be done to solve the problem?

Sharma: The prime ministers of the two countries should solve it through talks. They should bring border experts and mark out the original boundary. We've heard that there is one map of the time of the Sugauli Treaty in Britain. We must get that. We should gather all the documents and finalize the matter.

We should not provoke innocent people of the two countries to fight and disturb the tranquility by leaving the border dispute pending. We're not an Indian colony. We're a sovereign and independent country. The government should understand this and talk to India.

The government says that scientific mapping of 98 percent of the border has been completed. But why should we leave out the remaining 2 percent then?

Q: You're soon going to present your report of the visit. What are you going to recommend to the prime minister and the government?

Sharma: We'll submit our report to Parliament. And our committee will call the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister before Parliament. We will tell them to resolve the disputes as soon as possible. We'll ask them why it is being delayed. What's the problem that's stopping them from taking action?

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