With Fuel Blocked at Border, Nepal Plans Talks with India

By Binaj Gurubacharya & Aftab Alam Siddiqui 16 October 2015

BIRGANJ, Nepal — The line of parked cargo trucks stretches at least 30 kilometers from the Nepalese border. Some have been waiting on the Indian side for 45 days.

On the other side, hundreds of ethnic Madhesis are protesting against Nepal’s new constitution. With them blocking the road, Indian truck drivers say they’re stuck

The border impasse—now in its third week—has halted the majority of shipments into Nepal and left the Himalayan nation hobbled by a shortage of fuel and goods. Nepal said Thursday one of its newly appointed deputy premiers, Kamal Thapa, was invited to go to New Delhi on Saturday for talks to resolve the stalemate.

Nepal has accused India of imposing an economic blockade to support the Madhesis, who have strong links with India, in their demand for more constitutional representation. But India insists the problem is Nepal’s, and that Indian truck drivers won’t resume their deliveries because they are afraid to cross into the middle of a protest camp.

There, the Madhesis have erected tents and set tires alight. On Wednesday, some 1,500 were rallying at the camp, and no Indian or Nepalese police or border guards were patrolling anywhere nearby.

“You cannot fight for your rights without suffering any pain,” 57-year-old protester Prem Babu Patel said. “There is no fuel, very little food and the prices for everything have shot up…but we have to fight to get our rights as Nepalis.”

Several checkpoints dot the 1,700-kilometer border, but most shipments into Nepal go through this checkpoint at the northern edge of the Indian state of Bihar.

Indian Oil Corp.—which supplies all of Nepal’s fuel—has said only 6,000 tons of gasoline and diesel had been delivered in the first half of October—not even a quarter of the usual two-week supply of about 30,000 tons. The company has yet to assess its losses.

The largest Madhesi group, called the United Democratic Madhesi Front, has vowed to continue agitating until the government agrees to their demands. They have argued that the new constitution unfairly divides Nepal into seven states with borders that through the Madhesis’ ancestral homeland in the southern plains. The Madhesis, along with several other small ethnic groups, also want the states to be larger and to be given more autonomy over local matters.