India set to roll out rail pact with four nations

India set to roll out rail pact with four nations

India is set to start negotiations with Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal for a pact on cross-border movement of trains among the four nations – much on the lines of proposed Saarc Regional Railways Agreement, which could not be inked due to opposition by Pakistan.

The move for BBIN (Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal) railways agreement is in sync with New Delhi’s push for sub-regional connectivity in the wake of Islamabad playing spoilsport in South Asian nations’ pursuit for greater regional connectivity.

India on June 15, 2014 inked a sub-regional motor vehicle agreement with Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal to ease movement of passenger, personal and cargo vehicles among the four countries.

Officials in New Delhi said that a decision to start negotiation for the quadrilateral rail agreement had been taken during a meeting of the BBIN Joint Working Group on Transit and Connectivity in Dhaka on Thursday. The rail agreement would strengthen trade and economic linkages among the four nations and would thus supplement to the seamless road connectivity envisaged by the already-inked motor vehicle agreement, an official told Deccan Herald. 

The Saarc leaders were close to ink three pacts during the 18th summit of the eight-nation bloc in Kathmandu in November 2014 – a Framework Agreement for Energy (Electricity) Cooperation, a Regional Railways Agreement and a Motor Vehicle Agreement for Regulation of Passenger and Cargo Vehicular Traffic. But only the pact on energy cooperation could be signed, as Pakistan’s Prime Minister M Nawaz Sharif maintained that his government had not yet completed internal procedure for inking the agreements for cross-border movement of trains and motor vehicles.

New Delhi has since been focussing more on sub-regional cooperation, particularly on India’s connectivity with Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal. If signed by all the eight countries, the Saarc Motor Vehicle Agreement for Regulation of Passenger and Cargo Vehicular Traffic would have made it possible for vehicles registered in one country to move into another member country of the bloc without any hassle. Similarly, the Saarc Regional Railways Agreement would have made it possible for passenger and cargo trains from one country to move into another within South Asia.

The BBIN railways and motor vehicle agreement are also intended to “facilitate safe, economical, efficient and environment-friendly rail and road transport” in the sub-region, comprising the four nations, officials said in New Delhi.

“As sub-regional cooperation among India, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Nepal gains momentum; the message is loud and clear to Pakistan – either stop playing spoilsport or get isolated, as other nations in South Asia would anyway continue to pursue connectivity projects,” another official aware of India’s connectivity projects with its neighbours said in New Delhi on Thursday.

India has limited rail connectivity with Bangladesh and Nepal. New Delhi, however, has been working on projects to expand it with both the neighbouring nations, apart from embarking on another project for establishing rail link between India and Bhutan.

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