India has supported Bhutan in practically all areas of development. It is visible especially in infrastructure development such as roads and bridges.
After decades of investing in building roads, the country today has a fairly good internal road network. However, a hurdle remains, in accessing the wider network to enhance import and export, especially export. The opening of four international trade routes that link to Indian ports, therefore, comes as a major boost to landlocked Bhutan.
While much of our trade is with India, Bhutanese have found a lucrative market in Bangladesh. There are products that mountainous Bhutan can export to the country. Boulders once even topped the export list before it was cut short by many factors, including the speed bumps on the road to Bangladeshi sea or dry ports.
Opening Agartala in Tripura as a new trade route will facilitate Bhutan’s trade with Bangladesh through India. As Bhutan and Bangladesh do not share borders, the goodwill on the government of India’s part to let Bhutanese exporters use the two riverine ports at Jogighopa and Pandu, Assam, is a testimony of the relations the two countries enjoy. It is a new milestone in the time-tested relations between the two countries at a time when many countries are shutting borders due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Effective and efficient transportation systems are vital to prosperity. And because transportation facilities extend beyond local jurisdictions, it is essential to include them in regional development strategies. The government of India recognised this. It will chart out a new path towards economic progress. Bhutanese traders are aware of the benefits the increasing efficiency could bring to them and the country. There will be saving in terms of both time and cost.
In the words of exporters, the opening of the routes is literally a new route to improved trade and commerce. Opening Jogighopa, which is being developed into a logistical park, brings Gelephu and Nganglam closer to the Bangladeshi market.
The government of India agreeing to open the routes would also help in solving the problem of harassment of Bhutanese truckers passing through Indian territories of Assam and North Bengal. Extortion of payment on various pretext by local goons are extremely common along the Indian highways.
A way has been paved with official announcement of the opening of the international routes at the government level. The local governments should be called in to iron out differences along the routes. There is a unique relation between people living along the borders. In fact, the people along the borders share a better relationship given the proximity and the interdependence.
India giving access to its ports and railways opens Bhutan’s access to the entire region. It is a new phase of economic development for Bhutan. For the region an opportunity for greater stability and peace through close economic cooperation.