Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ambitious sub-regional road connectivity plan involving Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN) has hit a roadblock with Bhutan withdrawing the agreement from the agenda for its upcoming Parliament session.
Bhutan took the decision, which threatens to further delay the project, on April 21.
The four countries had signed the motor vehicle agreement aimed at allowing seamless movement of passenger and cargo vehicles through each other’s territory at Thimpu in June 2015. However, all the nations involved have to ratify the pact for it to become operational. So far, only India, Bangladesh and Nepal have done so.
“The BBIN motor vehicle agreement is not likely to become operational anytime soon due to the Bhutan government’s latest move,” said a senior Union road transport and highways ministry official.
While India currently has bilateral motor vehicle agreements with Nepal and Bangladesh, a multilateral pact would go a long way in strengthening trade and tourism across the region.
Sources said that with Bhutan not playing ball, India is now mulling over making a truncated version of the original pact with Bangladesh and Nepal operational. “The ministry of external affairs has suggested that we start the process of signing the BBIN protocol with Bangladesh and Nepal,” said an official.
Indian officials said Bhutan took the decision after it became clear that the agreement wouldn’t pass muster in its Parliament. “Stakeholders across the board raised concerns that a large number of vehicles entering the country, once the pact is ratified, will play havoc with the country’s environment,” said an official.
He claimed that the neighbouring country’s economic interests would be affected in the long run if it does not come onboard. “The BBIN pact would have boosted trade and economic opportunities for a land-locked country like Bhutan,” the official added.
The decision to roll out the sub-regional road connectivity plan involving Bhutan, Bangladesh, Nepal and India was taken in 2014, after Pakistan scuttled plans for a larger South Asian road-and-rail connectivity project. “With Pakistan not coming on board to sign the SAARC motor vehicle pact, India tapped its eastern neighbours to boost regional connectivity. But now there is uncertainty over the BBIN’s implementation as well, with Bhutan failing to ratify the pact,” said a government official.