close relations can be easily strained. The cordial people-to-people and government-level ties and the open border between Nepal and India connect the two countries in a way few other neighbors are bound together. Yet the sheer disparity in their sizes and populations also means they can never have a truly reciprocal relation. One marker of this disparity is what crosses (or does not cross) the open border on a daily basis.
In 2015-16, nothing did, as India seemed determined to teach the Nepali leaders a lesson for not honoring its wishes about the new constitution. Today, even though Indian pesticide-laden fruits and vegetables have been found to be harming the health of Nepalis, they are entering Nepal unhindered. Initially, following a recommendation of the Ministry of Commerce, the government had stopped their import. But after pressure from the Indian Embassy, which accused Nepal of imposing ‘non-tariff barriers’ on its goods, the trucks carrying the greens have been allowed back in. (It remains to be seen whether the latest Supreme Court ruling on resuming mandatory testing is enforced.)
India’s business-like approach to this humanitarian concern is deplorable. In the name of protecting its businesses, it is literally playing with the health of millions of Nepalis. Highhanded gestures like these do grievous harm to Nepal-India ties. To be fair, it was always going to be tough on any Nepali government, however strong, to resist the Indian pressure. Even so, the easy cave-in of the Oli government on this life and death issue was disappointing.
There seems to have been no prior consultations with India on the matter. The new provision mandates that all imported foodstuffs be tested for their pesticide levels. Yet there are few functional laboratories on the Nepal-India border areas to do so. The foodstuffs imported from India had started rotting on the stranded trucks. Ideally, Nepal should have first fully equipped these labs before stopping the edibles from India. But there was also no time to think things through as the health of millions of Nepalis was on the line. Now, rather than pointing fingers at each other, the two sides should sit down and find an amicable solution—and soon. After only just coming back on an even keel, Nepal-India relations cannot afford another rupture. Nor is it right to force people to keep consuming poison
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