Bhutan’s announcement that it is unable to proceed with the Motor Vehicles Agreement with Bangladesh, India and Nepal is a road block, and not a dead end, for the regional sub-grouping India had planned for ease of access among the four countries.
How it came into existence?
The sub-grouping, BBIN as it is referred to, was an alternative mooted by the government after Pakistan rejected the Motor Vehicles Agreement (MVA) at the SAARC summit in Kathmandu in 2014.
What does BBIN aim to do?
It seeks to allow trucks and other commercial vehicles to ply on one another’s highways to facilitate trade.
What all countries are party to it?
Of the other SAARC members, Sri Lanka and the Maldives are not connected by land, and Afghanistan could only be connected if Pakistan was on board.
Down to just three countries now after Thimphu’s decision, India, Nepal and Bangladesh will have to decide whether to wait for Bhutan to reconsider or to press ahead with a truncated ‘BIN’ arrangement.
Why did Bhutan opt out of BBIN?
The main concern expressed by Bhutanese citizen groups and politicians is over increased vehicular and air pollution in a country that prides itself on ecological consciousness.
What should India do?
Despite the setback, New Delhi must go on with its efforts because:
1. Bhutan’s objections are environmental, not political, and its government may well change its mind as time goes by.
2. Dry runs have been conducted along the routes, and officials estimate the road links could end up circumventing circuitous shipping routes by up to 1,000 km.
3. Bhutan’s concerns may be assuaged if India considers the inclusion of waterways and riverine channels as a less environmentally damaging substitute.
4. A similar initiative for the Asian Highway project under the BCIM (Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar) corridor got a boost as countries moved to upgrade the dialogue to the governmental level.
Connectivity is the new global currency for growth and prosperity as it secures both trade and energy lines for countries in route, and India must make the most of its geographic advantages.
(Adapted from The Hindu)