Tuesday, September 8, 2020

The Unnecessary Controversy of Lapthal and Sangchamalla

Chinese Map of 1962 showing Lapthal
and Sangchamalla as a contiguous place
I continued with my study of the Central Sector.

Here a list of the previous posts on the subject.

In August 1980, SN Gopalkrishnan, Senior Research Officer of the Historical Division of the Ministry of External Affairs explained once again the factors on which are based a border's delineation.
Referring to the meetings of the Officials of India and China in 1960, he noted: “The Indian side brought forward clear and conclusive evidence to show that the alignment as shown by them in the Middle Sector had, throughout its length a traditional and customary basis reaching back through many centuries, and that, in addition, this boundary had been recognized by Chinese Governments and been confirmed through diplomatic exchanges, treaties and agreements. The Indian side also brought forward a large of representative evidence relating to different aspects of administration, to show that Indian Governments had exercised full, continuous and uninterrupted control over all the areas right up to the traditional alignment.”

The Importance of the Watershed 

As important as the customary  basis for the boundary between Tibet and India, the watershed factor determined the location of the border; in this case, a host of passes marked the frontier.
The Report described the area thus: “In the area of Wuje/Barahoti (approximately 79° 58' E, 30° 50' N), Sangcha (approximately 80° 09' E, 30° 45' N) and Lapthal (approximately 80° 08' E, 30° 44' N), the boundary line follows a continuous mountain ridge south of these three places, passes through Ma Dzo La (approximately 70° 55' E, 30° 55' N) south of Niti Pass, skirts the southern side of the U-Dra La River, and arrives at U-Dra La not far south-west of Kungri Bingri Pass.”

The case of Lapthal and Sangchamalla: Hazy Chinese Claims
As I have mentioned in previous posts, here too, the Chinese made hazy claims of pockets of ‘Chinese territory’ south of the main watershed.
One of the strangest cases is Lapthal and Sangchamalla; in the course of the meetings of the Officials, both parties presented their claims for the Central Sector (in today’s Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand).
Nilang-Jadhang area and Barahoti, Sangchamalla and Lapthal were clubbed together for discussion.
At the 15th meeting at Beijing on July 18, 1960, while answering the question of the Indian side, the Chinese suddenly stated that Barahoti (Wu-je), Sangchamalla and Lapthal formed one composite area on the Chinese side of the alignment claimed by them, and there was no Indian territory wedged between these three pockets.
It was a completely new claim which was put forward for the first time; it was contradicting the Chinese earlier official positions.
On September 8, 1959, in a letter to Jawaharlal Nehru, Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai treated Wu-Je, Sangchamalla and Lapthal as three separate areas. In 1960, however, the Chinese suddenly included some 300 square miles of territory belonging to India, into the Tibetan territory.

The Lapthal-Sangchamalla area
I shall go more in details into this case.
Speaking of Nilang-Jadhang area and Barahoti, Sangchamalla and Lapthal, the Report explained: “Although these were separate areas, the Indian side, for convenience, dealt with them together. The Chinese alignment and description as given departed here also from the watershed, which was the natural, traditional and customary boundary in this area, to include the Nilang-Jadhang area and Barahoti, Sangchamalla and Lapthal in Tibet.”
The conclusion was that during the above mentioned meeting,  the Chinese had brought up a new claim on Indian territory: “[it] had been put forward for the first time, and which contradicted even the position of Premier Chou En-lai in his letter of 8 September 1959, wherein he had treated Wu-je, Sangchamalla and Lapthal as three separate areas.”
But China did not seem to know were Lapthal and Sangchamalla were located.

The Chinese Stand in 1958
Worse, at the third meeting of the Barahoti Conference held in Delhi on 24 April, 1958, , the Chinese representative, Counselor Fu Hao had stated that the area the Chinese called Wu-je was "from the south to the north about 15 kilometres approximately and from the east to the west may be a few kilometres less [and] that is, an area of about 200 square kilometres at most. So this area could not include Sangchamalla and Lapthal in fact, these two localities were not mentioned at all by the Chinese side at the Barahoti Conference, and Wu-je was regarded as a wedge of territory claimed by China and flanked on both sides by Indian territory.”
That fact was that Sangchamalla and Lapthal had never been claimed by either the Chinese or the Tibetan Government before; further, the Indian Government had been maintaining check-posts at these two places.
The Report continued: “In the winter of 1958, when according to usual practice, the Indian border check-posts retired south, Chinese patrols for the first time intruded into these two places; in 1959 the Chinese Government put forward a claim to these places; and now for the first time it was stated that Wu-je, Sangchamalla and Lapthal formed one composite area and the Chinese side claimed not merely these three places but also the territory lying between them, even though in the description given at an early stage of the meetings, Wu-je, Sangchamalla and Lapthal were specified as three separate places.”
This is called ‘changing the posts’.
Again the Indian negotiators had to show that the traditional and customary boundary in this sector lay along the watershed range, “on which were the passes of Tsangchok La, Mana, Niti, Tunjun La, Balcha Dhura, Kungri Bingri, Darma and Lipulekh. Nilang, Jadhang and Pulamsumda were in Uttarkashi district (formerly Tehri-Garhwal State), Barahoti in Garhwal district and Sangchamalla and Lapthal in Almora district, in Uttar Pradesh State.”
China was not too interested by these niceties.

Today deserted village of Milam

Travelers’ Accounts
The Indian officials cited Manson, who in The Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal wrote that he had visited Milam and the Unta Dhura Pass in 1842 and said that there was ‘two days' journey “from Melum to the Pass (Unta Dhura) and from thence four days to Neetee [Niti]; two alternate days no village to encamp at; the whole road within our own boundary.”
The road from Milam passes through Sangchamalla; and Lapthal is south of Sangchamalla; it meant that both places are in India.
About his visit to Milam in 1848-49 Strachey wrote: "Girthi is a deserted village on the stream which is named from it, about halfway between Topidhunga and Malari, on the Dhaoli in Garhwal; near it are said to be lead and copper mines but they are only occasionally worked, and then on the most insignificant scale. The Government, which possesses the proprietary right in all the mines of these mountains, has, I understand, not often made a larger sum than five rupees per annum from the Girthi workings.”
This also showed that the Girthi valley, lying south of the Tunjun La Pass was part of India.
The conclusion was that Sangchamalla and Lapthal were (and are) located south of Balcha Dhura; when Strachey who visited the Rakas-Tal and Mansarowar Lakes in 1848, he also stated that he set out from Sangcha on September 7, 1848 and ascended the summit of the Balcha ridge.

Chinese not sure about Sangchamalla and Lapthal
Till July 18, 1960, the Chinese Government had regarded Barahoti, Sangchamalla and Lapthal as separate areas; this was clearly shown by the fact that they had always been listed separately and enumerated singly. Even in the Chinese statement of August 30, 1960, Barahoti was referred to at one point as a place and not an area of considerable size, although later, the claim became a large area of about 300 square miles.
The Report mentioned that in the final Chinese statement on November 7, 1960, “they were uncertain as to what exactly they were claiming, for in the same paragraph reference was made to both a composite area and a number of areas.”
The Report observed: “while they referred to evidence which they believed would support their claim to parts of these three pockets of Barahoti, Sangchamalla and Lapthal, brought forward no evidence that would cover the whole composite area.”
The Indian negotiators, on the other hand, provided solid evidence to show that the whole area right upto the watershed had always been a part of India.
The Report concluded: “Sangchamalla and Lapthal have always been a part of Kumaon and the traditional pasture grounds of the people of Milan.”
The Indian negotiators did not accept the Chinese assertion, made without any evidence, that in 1941 that certain Tibetans rented these pastures to other Tibetans.
The Chinese negotiators had quoted a passage from Strachey who said that Lapthal was more accessible from Tibet: “But comparative accessibility has never been a criterion in the determination of a boundary.” 

In any case Strachey had also said that “from Sangchamalla he had proceeded north towards the boundary of Tibet. Lapthal was to the south of Sangchamalla and, therefore, the evidence about Sangchamalla covered Lapthal.”

Milam Village on the way to Kungri-Bingri pass

The Traditional Boundary
Sangchamalla and Lapthal are grazing grounds of Milam village in Patti Malla Johar of Pargana Johar, in the Almora District of Uttar Pradesh. Malla Johar is the northernmost Patti and Milam its principal and northernmost village.
According to The Gazetteer of Almora District of 1911: “The principal line of water-parting along the Tibetan frontier is a ridge of great altitude-the watershed is throughout a greater part of its length, a simple longitudinal range.”
From these official accounts, it is clear that the northern boundary of Milam is the Sutlej-Ganges watershed, and Sangchamalla and Lapthal lie south of this watershed. Malla Johar was included in the Chand Kingdom of Kumaon and paid taxes which “besides land revenue, included taxes on profits of trade, mines, looms, produce of jungles, musk, hawks and wild beehives. Taxes were to be paid in gold dust, but were often received for the sake of convenience in silver and kind. The revenue was imposed on the area in one sum and detailed assessments were left to the village headmen.”


The Report concluded that as far as Sangchamalla and Lapthal were concerned, the evidence submitted by India was conclusive: “The Gazetteer Map clearly showed the pasture grounds of Sangchamalla and Lapthal as the northern most parts of the Patti Malla Johar of the Almora District and Milam was the northernmost village in the Patti. It was, therefore, clear that Sangchamalla and Lapthal were included in the traditional boundaries of Milam. The revenue settlements for Milam and the census taken in the area had also included Sangchamalla and Lapthal. The area upto the border had been regularly visited by Indian officials.”
The Indian side noted “a change in the Chinese conception of their boundary, even during the course of these discussions. In the description of the Chinese alignment provided to the Indian side, it was alleged that in the Middle Sector, eight places of Chinese territory were under Indian occupation and that the boundary skirted these places on the south side. Lapthal and Sangchamalla were individually listed and mentioned as distinct from Barahoti (Wu-je).”
It further mentioned that earlier in the correspondence between the two Governments (as well as during the 1960 discussions), Barahoti, Lapthal and Sangchamalla had always been mentioned separately: “However, the answers given by the Chinese side to some of the questions of the Indian side seeking clarification of the Chinese alignment raised the suspicion that the claimed alignment did not just (as had been stated) skirt these places, but ran much further to the south and east of them and that these places were much nearer the traditional Indian boundary than to the line now claimed by China.”
The final conclusion was the Chinese claim was inflated “after the commencement of these discussions. As far as the Indian side was concerned, they contested the claim to these three pasture and camping grounds even when the area involved did not amount to more than ten to fifteen square miles.”
According to the Report, the Indian negotiators were most concerned that “the area, as finally claimed, was a sizeable one and, incidentally, included the Niti and Kungri Bingri Passes, which are border passes explicitly mentioned in the 1954 Agreement and where for decades India has exercised her traditional jurisdiction.”

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