Bhutan backs out of motor vehicle pact

Online Desk | Update:

India’s plan for a sub-regional motor vehicle agreement faced a setback on Thursday, as the Bhutan government announced that it is not ready to go ahead with the process at present.

It asked the other members of the ‘BBIN’ grouping — India, Bangladesh and Nepal — to continue to operationalise it without Bhutan, reports Indian newspaper The Hindu.

“The Royal government has decided to give its consent for the entry into force of the agreement among the 3 member-states without any obligation to Bhutan. The agreement will enter into force for Bhutan after its ratification process is completed,” an official statement issued by the foreign ministry in Thimphu said.

“The Royal government remains fully committed to the BBIN process, including the BBIN Motor Vehicle Agreement,” it added.

Bhutan prime minister Tshering Tobgay’s decision to step out of the BBIN process comes on the back of severe domestic opposition to the motor vehicles agreement, primarily on fears of vehicular pollution and environmental degradation if trucks from neighbouring countries are given access to Bhutan, a country that prides itself on its “carbon neutrality” and preserving the environment, The Hindu said.

As a result, despite the fact that the MVA agreement was signed on June 15, 2015, and ratified on its second attempt in the lower house in July 2016, the upper house in Bhutan voted it down in November 2016.

The Bhutan government statement signifies that Prime Minister Tobgay had also decided not to use the option of calling a joint house of parliament to push through the ratification, which India, Bangladesh and Nepal have already completed, the report added.

Dhaka’s initiative

A last minute intervention by Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina, who visited Thimphu earlier this month and made a public appeal to pass the BBIN-MVA, also appears to have failed to convince the government, as it heads towards elections in 2018.

“Yes, we have withdrawn from BBIN for now as it would be better to have something where there is a harmonious position among the people. Currently, the environment is not right for it with entrenched positions,” Tobgay was quoted by local newspaper The Bhutanese as saying.

When asked about the official statement on Thursday, the MEA was non-committal about whether India would proceed with the MVA without Bhutan, or go-slow on the process, The Hindu can reveal.

“It is our understanding that all members of BBIN are fully committed to sub-regional cooperation within BBIN framework,” the spokesperson told The Hindu, adding, “However, it is natural that all members cannot move at the same speed on all matters. We continue to consult with the BBIN members on ways and means to foster sub-regional cooperation in areas of common interest.”

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