Miffed by New Delhi’s constant demurral, stakeholders in Kathmandu press for making EPG report public

From former Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli to former foreign ministers to the EPG members from Nepal side, prominent leaders have called for persuasion and pressure to make governments of Nepal and India accept the report.

EPG members (right) and former foreign ministers of Nepal (left) discussing the EPG report in Kathmandu.

Mahabir Paudyal

  • Read Time 6 min.

Kathmandu: EPG report is a subject of discussion in Kathmandu again. 

At a time when the officials in New Delhi are reportedly snubbing requests from Nepali side to secure time with Prime Minister Narendra Modi to make him accept the final report prepared by the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) formed by both the governments of Nepal and India, stakeholders in Nepal have expressed deep concerns over the lack of enough prodding on the part of government of Nepal to persuade Indian side to accept the report, while at the same time also questioning the intent of the government of India and Prime Minister Narendra Modi for paying no heed to acknowledge the report prepared by India-Nepal group of experts after two years of intense research and deliberations.

From former Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli to EPG members from Nepal side to former foreign ministers and politicians, all have raised the urgency for pressuring the leadership in Kathmandu and New Delhi—prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal and PM Narendra Modi— to accept the report.  If neither government is ready to accept it, they said, Nepal’s federal parliament should demand the EPG report from the government and make it public.

The Eminent Persons Group (EPG) report that was jointly prepared by a team of experts from India and Nepal in July 2018  has been gathering dust in a cupboard of Ministry of Foreign Affairs office in Singha Durbar for over five years now after the Indian side showed reluctance to receive the report that, experts claim, have recommendations to address all outstanding issues between the two countries. 

The members in EPG included Bhagat Singh Koshiyari (who led the team), former Indian ambassador to Nepal Jayant Prasad, Professor Mahendra P Lama, and BC Uprety from India’s side. EPG panel from Nepal was led by Dr Bhekh Bahadur Thapa with Nilambar Acharya, Suryanath Upadhyay and Dr Rajan Bhattarai as members.

The EPG members were to hand over the report to their respective PMs at the same time as per the Terms of Reference (ToR). Constituted in 2016 when KP Oli was the prime minister in Nepal, EPG finalized its report in July 2018, which at the moment lies locked inside a cupboard in Singha Durbar because apparently the Indian government has refused to accept it, while the government of Nepal has failed to persuade Indian side to accept the report. “The report is in the cupboard of the foreign ministry office. I have the key with me but I don’t want to carry this burden,” said Dr Bhekh Bahadur Thapa, EPG coordinator from Nepal side, adding that he would hold consultations with other members and government and decide what to do with the report.

Looked up to as a vital document that could help sort out nearly all thorny issues–including by reviewing the controversial 1950 treaty of friendship–in Nepal-India relations, it is feared that neither New Delhi nor Kathmandu will own up the report they themselves worked to bring out. Given the reluctance from the Indian side to accept the report and fatigue shown by Nepali leaders even to raise the matter with the Indian side, Kathmandu is watching with concern.

After returning to Kathmandu from his visit to India in June, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal said he did not raise the issue of EPG with his Indian counterpart because he did not want to spoil the environment.

Opposition party leaders and scholars have taken strong exceptions to this remark by PM Dahal. 

Addressing a program in Kathmandu on Saturday,  UML chair and  former Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli chastised Dahal for deliberately skipping the EPG issue during his India visit. “He had to raise this matter [EPG report] with India. He was told to do so but he did not do so,” Oli said of Dahal. “What’s the point in leading a delegation to India if you cannot even raise genuine issues of the country?”

When asked why the government led by him failed to submit the report, Oli said that, back then, it was decided that the report would be submitted to both the government and the date to submit the report was being fixed. “We were clear that recommendations of the EPG report would be implemented, and the dates of submission were being discussed.”

EPG finalized its report in July, 2018. Oli was the Prime Minister for the second time from February 2018 to May 2021.

Kathmandu calling

Former PM is but one of the prominent Nepali politicians to speak out for the EPG report in Nepal. Earlier on Friday, in a program organized by the Tanka Prasad Acharya Memorial Foundation in Kathmandu, former foreign ministers who played a crucial role in the formation of EPG said people have the right to know what is there in the report.

Former Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Kamal Thapa, who was the one to take initiative to form the EPG, said if the Indian government does not want to accept the report, EPG members should submit it to the Nepal government. “If the Indian government does not want to accept the report and therefore the Indian EPG members do not submit it to the Indian government, from our side you should submit it to the government of Nepal,” Kamal Thapa told the EPG members from Nepal side who were present during the discussion.

Also see: Long read | Nepal-India EPG dilemma: To receive or not to receive the report

“It is up to the government whether to make the report public or not but to not to accept the report on its part for the last five years also reflects poorly on the capacity of the government of Nepal,” he said. “Our government should have been able to convince the Indian government to accept the report.”

He heavily criticized Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal for not taking up the matter of the EPG report with Indian counterpart during his New Delhi visit in June. “The Prime Minister said he did not talk about the EPG fearing that India would be angry. Is this the official position of the government?”

Nilambar Acharya, a member of the EPG from Nepal, shared his experience of lobbying for acceptance of the EPG report while he was the ambassador of Nepal in India. He revealed that PM Modi had also once said the report would be accepted. “High level officials admit that the report should be accepted but they always make excuses,” said Acharya.  He said that EPG was formed through the decisions of the governments of Nepal and India and it is the responsibility of the respective  governments to receive the report. “India neither accepts the report, nor says it will not accept the report.” Acharya further said that there is nothing to fear about the report because it is in the best interest of both Nepal and India. “The EPG report is neither anti-Nepal, nor anti-India. The report is in the best interests of both India and Nepal.”

Another EPG member Dr Rajan Bhattarai called on all political stakeholders to be united on implementation of EPG recommendations.

Former Foreign Minister and member of National Assembly Dr Bimala Rai Paudyal argued that the EPG report could be received by foreign ministry level mechanisms if the heads of governments do not accept it.  “As a last resort, the parliament can ask the government for that report and discuss it in house and let the people know what is in it,” said Paudyal.

EPG member Surya Nath Upadhyay attributed the unwillingness on India’s part to receive the report to the gap between India’s attitude towards Nepal and the aspirations of Nepal to redefine its relations with India in the changed context. “India treats Nepal like its satellite state,” he said. “The honest implementation of the recommendations of EPG could benefit both the countries.”

Former Foreign Minister Dr Prakash Chandra Lohani expressed surprise over the silence of Nepali MPs about EPG. “Why do no MPs raise this issue in parliament? Why does the opposition UML not raise the issue? MPs should speak up,” he said.

Former Foreign Minister Pradeep Gywali argued that India’s unwillingness to receive the report indicates either of the two things: That there are no issues between the two countries or that there are issues between the two countries but they do not want to resolve them at all. “The former cannot be true,” he said. While arguing that there is no alternative to redefining Nepal-India relations to reflect the changed political reality, Gyawali suggested that EPG members should seek Prime Minister Dahal’s official stance on the report and submit it accordingly. “There is no point waiting indefinitely to submit the report just because one side expresses its unwillingness to receive it,” he argued.

Gyawali also deplored PM Dahal’s remarks over EPG. “So you will allow your neighbor to stump on your feet and still bear the pain because you fear him?”