There will be no hordes of regional tourists and vehicles swamping Bhutan. The government will not introduce the BBIN motor vehicle agreement for discussion in the upcoming session of Parliament.
The opposition remained unconvinced and support was also lacking from the House of Review. Anticipating that the agreement would be shot down in Parliament, the government has withdrawn the agreement.
This is a victory for the democratic process. The people have spoken. The government has heard. And the agreement has been withdrawn.
The questions remain. Would the BBIN agreement have allowed Bhutan to be swamped by overwhelming numbers of tourists and vehicles overburdening the country’s limited road infrastructure, leading to unprecedented levels of pollution, local transport businesses being crushed, a decrease in security and thus an undermining of the country’s sovereignty.
We would like to believe that no elected government would allow for such an agreement to be endorsed. It would be safe to assume that no elected government would even pursue such an agreement.
Therefore, the only explanation is that the government of the day failed to make the public understand the present situation and how the BBIN agreement might have improved it.
The current unofficial arrangement with India, which allows for unlimited cross border movement of non-commercial vehicles of both countries would have remained the same under the BBIN agreement. Commercial vehicles, except for Indian trucks with large carrying capacity not available in Bhutan, would have still been required to stop at the border and tranship their goods or passengers. Cross-border traffic between Bhutan and India would have remained at the same level of increase, unfettered by the BBIN agreement.
Therefore, the concerns are with the extra traffic that may have been generated with Bangladesh and Nepal. Again, the government was attempting a rather unique arrangement which would have allowed for Bhutanese commercial vehicles like trucks and busses to enter the two countries, but have their commercial vehicles stop at the Bhutanese border. On private traffic, the government argued that there may not be that much demand in the two countries to travel to Bhutan and that in fact, there may be more Bhutanese travelling to the two countries instead.
Additionally, the government argued that a protocol would be developed to place a limit on the number of private vehicles that could enter Bhutan from Bangladesh and Nepal.
The government’s arguments made sense. There would be limitations, in fact, there would be limitations in favour of Bhutan.
But the problem is that information on whether these limitations or protocols were finalised or on the verge of finalisation were not shared, at least to our knowledge. If we were well aware of the economic opportunities and limitations in our favour, perhaps, there may have been more proponents.
The failure lies in the sharing of information and the addressing of public concerns.
Now that the BBIN agreement is scrapped, there will be no Bhutanese truck that enters Bangladesh with a load of apples and returns to Bhutan with clothes, while a Bangladeshi truck may still have been required to stop at the Phuentsholing of Gelephu border.
We got the agreement scrapped, but the question is whether we may have lost an economic opportunity, one that we could have enjoyed without losing anything we feared we would. We may never know.