Three Indian nationals, who had entered Nepal defying the nationwide lockdown enforced by both India and Nepal, were tested positive for coronavirus on Sunday. The National Public Health Laboratory (NPHL) in Kathmandu has confirmed the results. The Indian citizens, who had entered Nepal some 20 days ago, were staying at a Muslim orphanage in Birgunj Metropolitan City-2. As many as 21 Indian nationals are said to have entered Nepal during the lockdown to join a Muslim convention in which thousands of others had also participated. Most of them are known to have come from India’s Uttar Pradesh and Delhi. With this, the number of COVID-19 infections in Nepal jumped to 12 from nine. There have been a couple of other cases like this. Two persons who entered Nepal through the Far-western border had been tested positive earlier this month. Another 65 years old woman who reached Kailali from Birgunj has also been tested positive.
These incidents prove that there has not been strict inspection and control on the mobility of people across the porous border between Nepal and India. Indian nationals are entering Nepal despite the lockdown and Nepali nationals may also be going across the border, through other places if not through official border points. This is going to pose a life and death challenge for both India and Nepal. A single infected person, it has now been proved, can spread the contagion to thousands of people. This can happen within both sides of the border. India and Nepal have both reinforced patrolling along with the border areas. The Government of Nepal has deployed 6,000 Armed Police Force (APF) personnel to stop the flow of people entering Nepal from India. Indian authorities have also mobilized Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) to stop the cross-border movement. These security bodies have to work round the clock to ensure that cross-border movement is effectively controlled. Thousands of Nepalis working in Indian cities are stranded across the border. A number of Indians are stuck in Nepal. Both countries need to ensure that the stranded people are provided proper food and shelter but their movement should be restricted until the lockdown is lifted.
Open border system is a boon for people living along the border regions and it has also been one of the defining features of India-Nepal relations. But the COVID-19 crisis and a number of past cases of cross-border crimes, even terrorism, have amply proved that Nepal and India should not keep their border unregulated. We at least have to have a system of keeping records of people moving across our border. Even such a simple record-keeping system would help control unwanted activities happening along the border region. Come to think of it, the epidemic killed above 3,000 people and infected hundreds of thousands in China, with which Nepal shares its border in the north. But there has not been a single case of infection through cross-border movement because our border with China is strictly monitored. For the future, Nepal and India should sit together and agree on at least some kind of provisions whereby the Nepal-India border remains properly regulated. Both India and Nepal stand to benefit from this.