After the Council and the opposition did not agree to ratify the agreement 

The government yesterday withdrew the Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN) Motor Vehicle Agreement from the agenda for the upcoming Parliament session. The decision to withdraw the agreement was announced at the preliminary agenda setting session of the National Assembly after the joint parliamentary committee met on April 20 to discuss the agreement.

A joint parliamentary committee was formed to iron out the differences between the government, the National Council and the opposition on the motor vehicle agreement involving Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN).  With the agreement discussion dropped, the committee will now be dissolved.

The committee could not come to an agreement after both the Council and the opposition remained unconvinced, members of the Council and opposition Kuensel spoke to said. Kuensel learnt that there no member of the opposition supported the agreement and except for two, no Council members were also for the agreement.

Had the motor vehicle agreement been ratified, it would allow cross-border movement of passengers, personnel and cargo vehicles on authorised routes within the sub-region.

The chairman of the newly formed committee, MP Ritu Raj Chhetri, said the meeting reviewed the 15 point resolution of the Council that was passed in the last session against ratifying the agreement. The house of review rejected the agreement, saying that implementation of the agreement would adversely affect Bhutan’s environment and sovereignty.

“I explained the benefits of the agreement to the members of the opposition and the Council,” MP Ritu Raj Chhetri said. “The BBIN agreement does not harm Bhutan’s national interests but will accelerate economic developments in the region.”

After endorsing the agreement, the National Assembly submitted it to the Druk Gyalpo last year for Royal Assent for deliberations in a joint session after the Council voted against ratifying it. As per parliamentary procedure, the bill was supposed to be introduced in the joint session next month.

However, even as efforts were on to convince the opposition and Council members, the government was not confident that it had enough votes to endorse the agreement. The government, which has 33 MPs, needed 48 votes to endorse the bill in a joint session.

This means that the government required 15 votes from the opposition and the Council combined.  The opposition recently held a meeting to discuss its stand on the issue and reaffirmed its determination to oppose the agreement. Only five council members had voted for the ratification of the bill last year.

The official stand of the Council is that the BBIN agreement should be rejected.

In its session in December 2016, the Council passed a resolution stating that it raised questions on the country’s sovereignty.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Meet the Press session on April 14, information and communications minister DN Dhungyel had said the member countries including Bhutan and India are working out an option for the motor vehicle agreement. He however, did not elaborate on the option being explored.

“The BBIN agreement may or may not go to Parliament,” he said, adding that the BBIN agreement will be dropped if the Council and the opposition do not support it and if they find the option more viable.

“We have not finalised the plan yet but if we find the option viable then the BBIN agreement will not go to Parliament,” Lyonpo DN Dhungyel said. “We will explore options. Home works are being done.”

The minister said he was not optimistic that many Council and opposition members would support the bill.

The opposition said the government ought to go by the mandate of the people. “The people think it will not benefit Bhutan but harm catastrophically,” a member of the opposition said. “What we expressed at the Parliament reflected the views of the people.”

Proponents are of the view that BBIN’s trade potential is a critical component of economic prosperity and sustainable development of the four countries. India, Bangladesh and Nepal have already ratified the agreement.

During the visit of Bangladesh’s PM Shiekh Hasina to Bhutan, the two governments held a meeting on the BBIN among other areas of cooperation.

At a press conference on April 19, foreign minister Damcho Dorji had said that the BBIN agreement was a good initiative. “The BBIN motor-vehicle agreement is very important for connectivity in the region, which is one of the non-tariff barriers for trade,” he said. “For Bhutan, a landlocked country, we know the value of connectivity and therefore have been supportive of the BBIN agreement.”

MB Subba