Agreement: The National Council (NC) is in consultation with various stakeholders about the controversial Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN) motor vehicle agreement.

The house on Monday held a meeting with officials from the information and communications ministry. The agreement has been assigned to the legislative committee for review.

A member of the committee, Sangay Khandu, said consultation meetings will be completed by September. “The committee will present its report to the house, after which a decision will be taken. Consultation meetings with stakeholders are ongoing,” he said.

The committee has also held a preliminary meeting with National Assembly (NA) members to understand its position. NA passed the agreement recently with 28 ‘yes’ votes.

According to the government the agreement will help regulate passenger and cargo vehicle traffic among the countries without affecting the livelihood of local transport operators.

However, transport operators are not convinced by the government’s argument that the agreement will also help regulate the movement of vehicles between Bhutan and India without any change in the current trade and vehicles arrangement with India.

A representative of transport operators said the government’s stand has not been clear. The transport operators submitted a petition to the NC against the BBIN agreement on June14.

“Some 500 transport operators have signed the petition. It’s a significant number,” he said.

If the Parliament ratifies the agreement, he said Bhutan should negotiate in such a way that foreign vehicles can come within five kilometres of Bhutanese territory. “For that we need dry ports where goods can be unloaded from foreign vehicles and we can take over.”

The agreement, however, will not be implemented immediately after ratification.

To safeguard the interest of the transport industry, the government does not want cargo and passenger vehicles from Bangladesh and Nepal to enter Bhutan. This, according to the government, will be ensured through formulation of a protocol for implementation of the agreement.

However, the agreement prescribes that passenger transportation between two countries will be “operated on a reciprocal basis”. Bhutan wants vehicles from Bangladesh and Nepal to stop at the border.

According to the agreement, the contracting parties will allow cargo vehicles for inter-country cargo, including third country cargo and passenger vehicles for both hire and reward or personal vehicles, to ply in the territory of another contracting country “subject to the terms of the agreement”.

All vehicles will require a permit to ply through the other country.

In what could be objectionable for transport operators, the agreement provides for non-regular passenger vehicles to be permitted on a case-to-case basis for a period of up to 30 days. Transporter operators feel that this will kill their business.

However, the agreement also contains clauses that allow Bhutan to safeguard its interests. The agreement states that a vehicle plying in the territory of one of the countries will have to use authorised routes through authorised immigration check points.

“Any deviation from the route will be treated as violation of the permit conditions and of the relevant customs laws of the contracting parties,” the agreement states.

Sector and the details of routes, location of permitted rest or recreation places, tolls and check posts open for regular passenger or cargo transportation will be specified in the protocol.

The number of vehicles plying on different routes will be fixed after mutual consultations.

MB Subba