New Delhi has rejected Kathmandu's protest against the construction of a road to Lipulekh on the border with China, saying the region is "completely within the territory of India" and both sides can resolve boundary issues through diplomatic dialogue.
On Saturday, Nepal expressed regret at the inauguration of the route from Dharchula in Uttarakhand to Lipulekh, with a statement from the foreign ministry contending the road "passes through Nepali territory", reported Hindustan Times.
Defence minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated the 80-km road on Friday to curtail the time taken for the pilgrimage to Kailash-Mansarovar. The road ends at Lipulekh Pass, and will help pilgrims avoid dangerous high-altitude routes through Sikkim and Nepal.
"The recently inaugurated road section in Pithoragarh district in the state of Uttarakhand lies completely within the territory of India. The road follows the pre-existing route used by the pilgrims of the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra," external affairs ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said.
India had improved the road for the ease and convenience of pilgrims, local residents and traders, he said.
India and Nepal have an established mechanism for boundary issues, and the delineation of the border with Nepal is ongoing, Srivastava said. India is also committed to resolving outstanding boundary issues through diplomatic dialogue, he added.
The two countries are in the process of scheduling talks between their foreign secretaries, which will be held after they have dealt with the Covid-19 crisis, Srivastava said.
Nepal's foreign ministry emphasised the country's claim on Lipulekh. It said in a statement: "The government of Nepal has consistently maintained that as per the Sugauli Treaty (1816), all the territories east of Kali (Mahakali) River, including Limpiyadhura, Kalapani and Lipu Lekh, belong to Nepal."
The development comes at a time when Nepal has also been irked by the depiction of Kalapani as part of Uttarakhand in new Indian maps showing the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. Nepal had sought talks to address the Kalapani issue but New Delhi rejected Kathmandu's protest, saying the new maps accurately depict Indian territory.
The statement from Nepal's foreign ministry said Kathmandu had reiterated its claim to all territories east of the Mahakali river several times, most recently through a diplomatic note sent to New Delhi on November 20 last year.
The "unilateral act" of opening the new road "runs against the understanding reached between the two countries, including at the level of Prime Ministers, that a solution to boundary issues would be sought through negotiation", the statement said.
Nepal also said it is committed to a diplomatic solution to boundary issues on the "basis of the historical treaty, documents, facts and maps". The Nepal government called on India to refrain from "any activity inside the territory of Nepal", and pointed out Kathmandu had expressed its disagreement in 2015, through separate diplomatic notes sent to New Delhi and Beijing, when India and China agreed to include Lipulekh Pass as a bilateral trade route.
Nepal's foreign ministry also brought up the issue of a report prepared by the "Eminent Persons Group" of the two sides to recommend measures to elevate existing relations, and said the document should be made public.
"The Group has concluded its task and prepared a consensus report. The government of Nepal is ready to receive the report and believes that it will be in the interest of the two countries to implement its recommendations which will also help address the outstanding issues left by the history...," the statement said.