Thimphu rejects India-initiated BBIN road plan

  • motor vehicle agreement
- Post Report, Kathmandu

Nov 19, 2016-

An ambitious road connectivity plan involving Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN)—proposed by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi—has a hit a roadblock after Bhutan’s upper house voted against ratifying the Motor Vehicle Agreement (MVA) under which the sub-regional transport initiative was taken. 

Nepal’s Parliament has already endorsed the agreement. A statement issued by Bhutan’s 25-member upper house, or the National Council says, “The House voted on the agreement following thorough deliberations after its’ Legislative Committee pointed out its general as well as specific reservations on the agreement. Of the 20 members present during the voting, one voted in favour, 13 against and five abstained.”

One major concern that could have resulted in rejection of the agreement could be the environmental aspect. 

During deliberations in the Bhutanese parliament, seven members had sought raised concerns about issues related to the protocol, impact assessment of the agreement, conflict with domestic laws, preparedness of the government, infrastructure and relevant stakeholders and environmental aspect. The deal was signed in Bhutanese capital Thimphu on June 15, 2015 in the spirit of the 18th Saarc Summit held in Kathmandu “to deepen regional integration for peace, stability and prosperity in South Asia by intensifying cooperation, inter alia, in trade, investment, finance, energy, security, infrastructure, connectivity and culture; and implementing projects, programmes and activities in a prioritised, result-oriented and time-bound manner.” 

Nepali officials said it is too early to say what the future of this initiative will be, as Bangladesh and India too have a large stake in it.

A Nepali official privy to the matter only said the Bhutanese move is a “setback”. “No official position has been made [by Nepal on the matter],” he said.

This is the second time the Indian government’s sub-regional road connectivity plan has faced a setback. Earlier, Pakistan had thrown a monkey wrench into Saarc MVA by refusing to come on board. 

While laying stress on the need for regional connectivity in South Asia at the 18th Saarc Summit in Kathmandu in 2014, the Indian prime minister had announced “the process would go through Saarc or outside it, among all of us or some of us”, in an indication that Islamabad might not be part of the model. As a result, India brought Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal on board and reached an agreement to remove restrictions on vehicular movement in the subcontinent. As far as Nepal is concerned, with the implementation of the agreement, Nepal would have an easier access to not only the Kolkata port but some other deep sea ports like Paradip and Vishakhapatnam on India’s eastern shore.

The proposed network aimed to connect Kolkata, Agartala, Siliguri, Guwahati, Shillong and Agartala of India; Benapole, Chittagong, Dhaka and Sylhet of Bangladesh; Phuentsholing and Paro of Bhutan and Kakarbhitta of Nepal.

But with Thimphu pouring the cold water on the plan, the sub-regional connectivity has been thrown in a limbo, at least for now.

Published: 19-11-2016 07:37

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