They have submitted a petition against the recently passed agreement to the NC

Transport: Expressing dissatisfaction over the Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN) transport agreement that the National Assembly recently passed, taxi drivers in Paro have filed a petition to the National Council (NC) chairperson.

The Assembly passed the agreement amid stiff resistance from the opposition. Of the total 41 members present, 28 voted in favour of the agreement, while 10 voted against and three abstained.

However, for the agreement to be endorsed, the National Council will have to ratify it too. The Council will discuss the agreement in the winter session this year.

The petition, on behalf of some 220 taxi drivers in Paro drafted last week, states that they were not consulted on the agreement although the government reported in Parliament that they did so. “Such untrue statement by the government in Parliament to the nation is upsetting,” the petition states.

The letter further states that taxi operators in Bhutan are from the low-income group who mainly make a living out of taxis. Therefore, if vehicles from the neighboring countries are allowed to ply in Bhutan, they fear that it would further affect the already small market.

“Currently Indian tourists visiting Bhutan travel in Indian registered vehicles affecting our businesses,” the petition states. “If vehicles from the neighboring countries are allowed, it will only lead to more issues.”

Given such issues, taxi drivers requested the Council to disapprove the agreement and to look into the benefits of the low-income groups.

The petition also stated that during the 2013 election campaigning period, Lyonchoen Tshering Tobgay as the party president then, during a meeting with taxi drivers at the taxi parking in Paro pledged that local taxi drivers’ business would be protected. In doing so, Lyonchoen then said that they would not allow Indian taxi drivers to operate in Bhutan.

“Besides, even as the Leader of the Opposition then, Lyonchoen stressed in Parliament that the government must stop vehicles from outside to operate in Bhutan,” the petition states, adding that such a statement and act was contradictory.

While deliberating the BBIN agreement at Parliament, Lyonchoen assured that the agreement would not allow free flow of foreign vehicles into the country but regulate the cross-border movement of vehicles in the sub-region. Emphasising that the agreement was important for enhancing cooperation with neighbours, he also said that the agreement presents an opportunity to regulate movement of vehicles between Bhutan and India.

Information and communications minister DN Dhungyel had said that the four countries signed the agreement because of the failure of all SAARC member countries to sign a similar agreement.

He said the government carried out three rounds of stakeholder meetings to convey the benefits of the agreement.

Despite the argument, transporters across the country are not convinced.

Kinga Dema