Bhutan in dilemma over endorsing BBIN deal

Bhutan in dilemma over endorsing BBIN deal

SAM Staff,

The government of Bhutan has engulfed in a crisis after it had failed to ratify the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal [BBIN] motor vehicle agreement, a sub-regional initiative in South Asia. The crisis has emerged as the National Council [NC], the upper house of the parliament, rejected the four-nation deal.

The country’s Foreign Minister DamchoDorji, on Monday, spent one and a half hours in the NC explaining the merits of the deal, but to no avail. Most of the NC members denied giving a nod to the agreement.

As per the agreement, passenger and cargo vehicles from these four countries will be allowed to travel within certain boundaries provided they have a permit.

Except for Bhutan, the other three member countries have already ratified the agreement. The Bhutan NC is now the main barrier to take forward the deal, despite the country’s National Assembly [NA], lower house of the parliament, okayed the bill.

However, the agreement received only five votes in favor, while 13 voted “No”. It was just the number of “Yes” votes required to pass the agreement, said in a report by the country’s online newsportal Kuensel.

Earlier, the country’s legislative committee presented a review report on the agreement to the NA. It was deliberated during the 6th session of the NA,but not endorsed. The government retabled it in the next session. The house ratified the deal and forwarded it to the NC. The NC assigned the legislative committee to conduct another review.

Chairman of the legislative committee SonamWangchuk said the demerits of the agreement outweigh the benefits. The committee also found the agreement in conflict with national laws such as the immigration act.

Sonam felt that the agreement could affect the country’s culture, religion and economy and even pose security risks.

“There is a risk that a lot of people would enter Bhutan and we would not know what purposes some of them come for,” he said.

Moreover, there are no basic infrastructures such as bridges and integrated checkpoints required for implementation of the agreement, found the committee.

The committee placed its observation about the “principle of reciprocity” on which  the agreement is based. Due to the principle of reciprocity, Bhutan will be able to ask other members to stop their vehicles on the border or take in fewer vehicles than what it will be allowed to enter their territory.

The agreement is not helpful for the Indo-Bhutan relations, some members in the committee observed. They said that India faces security threats and that the implementation of the agreement would provide opportunity for militants to enter Bhutan.

While opposing the BBIN agreement, some members highlighted the causes like the Rupee crunch in India. It is the result of ‘rapid liberalization’, they observed.

India proposed a SAARC [South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation] Motor Vehicle Agreement during the SAARC Summit in Kathmandu in November 2014. Due to objections from Pakistan, an agreement could not be reached.

Later, India pursued a similar agreement with the four countries.

Respective governments of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal signed the agreement on 15 June 2015.