India, Bangla, Nepal, sans Bhutan, in connectivity move

India, Bangladesh, Nepal move to facilitate vehicle movement within three nations, leaving aside Bhutan

MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar. (PTI Photo)

India, Nepal, and Bangladesh on Saturday decided to go ahead to implement a four-nation agreement inked almost five years ago to facilitate hassle-free movement of vehicles within the three nations, in spite of dilly-dallying by the pact's fourth signatory – Bhutan.

The officials of India, Bangladesh, and Nepal met in New Delhi and agreed to ink a trilateral Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), which would be similar to the four-nation pact signed on June 15, 2015, but would be effective only for movement of vehicles within the three nations without any obligation for Bhutan. They also agreed to work fast on two separate protocols, which, once finalized, would govern the movement of passenger and cargo vehicles among the three nations.

Bhutan also sent its officials to take part in the meeting hosted by India but as observers.

A press-release issued by the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi noted that India, Bangladesh and Nepal had decided to start facilitating movement of cargo and passenger vehicles within the three nations only after getting the go-ahead from Bhutan.

The BBIN (Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal) Motor Vehicles Agreement (MVA) for Regulation of Passenger, Personal and Cargo Vehicular Traffic was inked on June 15, 2015.

New Delhi took the lead in negotiating the four-nation agreement, which, if implemented, would have made it possible for vehicles registered in one of the four countries to move into or transit though the other three nations without any hassle.

India was keen to ink such an agreement to promote sub-regional connectivity as similar initiatives involving all the eight nations in entire South Asia region could not move ahead due to the reluctance of Pakistan.

Bhutan – like India, Nepal and Bangladesh – did sign the agreement, but the upper House of the tiny nation's Parliament – National Council – declined to ratify it. The members of the National Council had apprehension that Bhutan's unspoilt environment and culture would be in peril when such a large number passenger and cargo vehicles from Bangladesh, Nepal and India would be allowed to roll into the tiny Himalayan Shangri La.

The BBIN motor vehicle pact was conceived after a similar agreement proposed within the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was blocked by Pakistan in November 2014.

Bhutan's failure to get the nod of its National Assembly stalled implementation of the BBIN Motor Vehicle Agreement. It was a setback for India, which was keen to implement the four-nation agreement even as Pakistan has been persistently playing spoilsport in South Asian nations’ pursuit for greater regional connectivity.

New Delhi has been exploring the possibility of resolving the stalemate and start implementing the sub-regional connectivity initiative, initially within India, Nepal and Bangladesh and leaving aside Bhutan. It finally succeeded on Saturday, when Bangladesh and Nepal agreed with it to move ahead even without Bhutan - the fourth signatory of the 2015 agreement.

Sources in New Delhi said that when Thimphu would be able to get its National Council to ratify the original Motor Vehicle Agreement inked five years ago, Bangladesh, Nepal and India would implement the 2015 four-nation pact along with Bhutan.

The delegations from Bangladesh, India and Nepal on Saturday agreed upon the need to expeditiously finalize the Passenger and Cargo Protocols for implementation of the BBIN MVA (Motor Vehicle Agreement). “The meeting agreed to endeavor to revert by May 2020 on the process of internal consultations by respective countries based on the discussions of the meeting,” MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said. 

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