India mulls ‘sub-regional connectivity’ without Bhutan

India mulls ‘sub-regional connectivity’ without Bhutan

SAM Report,
Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi addressing the National Assembly in Thimphu, Bhutan, on 16 June 2014

Bhutan’s opposition to the BBIN (Bhutan-Bangladesh-India-Nepal) motor vehicles pact has raised a wall against Indian plan to ‘isolate’ Pakistan and move ahead with the sub-regional connectivity. This may force the Indian government to consider alternative options which will involve only Bangladesh and Nepal.

Bhutan has reportedly conveyed to India that the pact cannot be ratified in its parliament since there is opposition and the Tshering Tobgay government, which is heading for polls next year, does not want to take the political risk at the moment.

Bhutanese legislators fears that the BBIN plan may cause environmental and security trouble for their country. It may also create job losses if vehicles from the other three countries are allowed to ply freely.

Indian media has disclosed that the Bhutanese PM Tobgay conveyed to his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi through diplomatic channels earlier this week about his inability to push through the legislation. Rather, he suggested that India, Bangladesh and Nepal could go ahead with the project for now, and Bhutan would join at a later date.

“Recognising the importance of connectivity for expansion of economic cooperation, the transport ministers of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal signed the motor vehicles agreement for regulation of passenger, personal and cargo vehicular traffic between BBIN on June 15, 2015 in Thimphu,” said Bhutan, in a statement issued on Thursday (27 April).

Also Read: Bhutanese transport operators against BBIN deal

The statement further said that “to facilitate early implementation of BBIN MVA”, Bhutan government “has decided to give its consent for the entry into force of the agreement among the three member states (Bangladesh, India and Nepal) without any obligation to Bhutan. The agreement will enter into force for Bhutan after its ratification process is completed.”

The Bhutanese government took the step after it realised that it does not have the numbers in parliament in case of a joint sitting. A clear majority of the apolitical National Council or Upper House and the opposition party in the National Assembly have already voted against BBIN.

Tobgay told the Bhutanese parliament last week, “Yes, we have withdrawn from BBIN for now as it would be better to have something where there is a harmonious position among the people. Currently, the environment is not right for it with entrenched positions.”

Now, Delhi ‘is considering the option of moving forward with Bangladesh and Nepal,’ said a Times of India report on Friday (28 April).

India proposed the BBIN connectivity project in early 2015, after the SAARC motor vehicles agreement was objected by Pakistan at the SAARC summit in November 2014. The BBIN Motor Vehicles Agreement (MVA) was signed on 15 June 2015 at the BBIN transport ministers meeting in the Bhutanese capital Thimphu.