Bhutan’s gross national happiness philosophy seems to have put the ambitious sub-regional road connectivity plan involving Bangladesh, India and Nepal on a bumpy turf.
Concerns over a large number of vehicles entering Bhutan after it ratifies the pact have given rise to many stakeholders protesting against the Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN) initiative.
The BBIN initiative is a sub-regional architecture to formulate, implement and review quadrilateral agreements across areas such as transport, water resources management, connectivity of power, and infrastructure.
Environment protection is one of the four pillars of Bhutan’s gross national happiness, with sustainable development, promotion of cultural values and good governance being the others.
The pact passed the important legislative hurdle of lower house of the Bhutan parliament, National Assembly, with some difficulty last month. The upper house, National Council, is expected to debate it in November.
In a bid to placate the opposition, transport operators and vocal citizens, Bhutan Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said the pact will not allow free flow of foreign vehicles into the country but regulate the cross-border movement of vehicles in the sub-region.
But it may be a bumpy ride ahead for the pact, which has been ratified by the three other countries.
Though certain restrictions are allowed in the pact, any other exemptions need to be ratified by all stakeholders.
Under the BBIN agreement, the “contracting parties” will allow cargo vehicles for inter-country cargo, including third-country cargo and passenger vehicles or personal vehicles, to ply in the territory of another contracting country “subject to the terms of the agreement”.
All vehicles, however, will require a permit for plying through the other country.
“The larger objective is the seamless flow of people and goods in the region. Any restrictions, which are beyond the reasonable, can bring trouble for any such agreements,” said a government official. “Then all these changes need to be agreed upon by all the four countries.”
After Pakistan scuttled plans for a South Asian road and rail connectivity plan, India moved to a sub-regional format to roll out the integration plan.
Officials familiar with the developments say Bhutan has been pushing for a cap on vehicles entering its territory for some time. These issues were discussed during the transport officials meeting in Dhaka in March.