NC had written to the govt to revisit its decision on importing second hand e-vehicles

E-cars: Although the Cabinet’s official response to the National Council (NC)’s resolution to stop importing second-hand electric cars has been “very vague”, Finance Minister Namgay Dorji said there is no going back on the government’s decision.

“The government can’t override the Parliament’s decision,” he said. The Parliament in July last year waived off tax on the import of electric vehicles with mileage less than 30,000km, while lifting the ban on import of vehicles altogether.

“We can’t change a decision when somebody doesn’t agree with it,” lyonpo said adding it was just one of the fiscal incentives the government offered to the people in its budget.

In its 13th session, the NC recommended the government to re-examine its decision to facilitate and subsidise second hand electric cars to be used as taxis in light of its efficiency, reliability and eco-friendliness. The Council reiterated the same in its last session.

Lyonpo Namgay Dorji, however, said the government has only offered fiscal incentives for procurement of electric cars and did not ask people to import them. “We import fuel in large quantities and electric cars don’t consume fuel,” he said.

According to Road Safety and Transport Authority records, 35 light electric vehicles, including five taxis, have been imported from July until November last year.

Meanwhile, the finance minister denied that he has received an official correspondence from the Council on its stand regarding second hand e-cars. But, the ministry’s joint secretary Nim Dorji recently wrote to the Cabinet saying that the ministry would submit a note to the Cabinet for consideration after consultation with relevant agencies.

NC’s Deputy Chairman Tshering Dorji said the response from the Cabinet has been unclear. “We were expecting the government to provide us a clear response,” he said.

The Cabinet forwarded the NC’s letter to the finance ministry but the ministry was not clear about the directive and sent it back to the Cabinet.

“Since the finance ministry was not clear on the directives it sought the cabinet’s guidance… However, the ministry didn’t receive further directives from the Cabinet secretariat on the matter,” the finance ministry wrote back to the Cabinet.

Meanwhile, Tshering Dorji lamented that it was only the Council who has been actively raising its voice against the import of second-hand electric cars. “Except for NC, everybody, including the media, is keeping quiet,” he said.

According to findings of the Council, import of second hand cars were outlawed in 1996 in view of emissions and the risk of Bhutan becoming a junkyard for used cars and associated chemical pollution, keeping with the country’s environment policies.

Tshering Dorji reiterated in the House that importing second-hand cars is against the provision of Sales Tax, Customs and Excise Act 2000, and Rules and Procedures for Imports from the Third Countries 2001.

The House is also of view that Section 45 of the Sales Tax, Customs and Excise Act 2000 restricts the import of used or second hand goods, vehicles, machinery and equipment into the country and categorically disallows the sale or transfer to any Bhutanese.

Tshering Dorji said the government’s decision also contravenes the country’s long-standing policy of maintaining pristine environment. “The country will become the dumping ground for such products.”

“Taxis are generally chosen for its reliability and simplicity and unless thorough analysis are undertaken, and learning from experiences around the world, it could work out to be a lot more expensive both for the passenger and taxi drivers as well as environmentally,” NC states.

NC also believes that substitution of petrol cars such as taxis is unlikely to make a meaningful difference to the economy. In keeping with the country’s environmental policy to conserve and promote clean and waste-free environment, the NC says the ban on import of secondhand vehicles has been in place as early as 1999.

Consequently, the essence of the ban has been enacted in the legal provision of “Sales Tax, Customs and Excise Act 2000.” Further, Section 2 of the Rules and Procedures for Imports from Third Countries 2001 includes second hand vehicles in the list of “Negative Goods” which are prohibited for import, according to the NC.

‘Therefore, both the letter and spirit of the law does not allow the import of secondhand cars in the country,” the council stated. “In the case of secondhand electric cars, the damage to the environment could be two folds; degradation of battery pack that are used in electric cars and the car itself.”

By MB Subba