They plan to sell off their vehicles if the agreement gets implemented 

Transport: Lately, the Phuentsholing truck parking area has become a debate stage for truckers across the country. The Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Nepal (BBIN) motor vehicles agreement (MVA) has not infused motivation in them.

According to the truckers, implementing the BBIN MVA could distress their business in the domestic market.

Without an experience of driving on the roads of the three neighbouring countries, truckers said there would be no option for them than to return to the fields back home.

Today, trucks from India are allowed to ferry goods until Phuentsholing within a range of five kilometres. The goods are then lifted by local trucks and transported to the rest of the country.

Truckers charge Nu 1,000 a tonne of loads to reach the capital. The trucks can carry 10 tonness in each shipment.

The heavy-duty trucks from India carrying large machineries, which trucks at home do not have capacity to carry, are permitted to travel into the country. However, with the BBIM MVA endorsed, trucks from India, Bangladesh, and Nepal would ferry throughout the country and this has left the truckers worried.

A committee of truckers and other drivers anticipate numerous inconveniences the vehicular agreement could bring into the country if endorsed.

One of the truckers, Tshering Wangdi, 25, from Wamrong is worried if he would still have his job when a large number of trucks start entering the country.

“I started working in 2010,” the professional driver said, adding he is married and needed to ensure for his child and wife.

Tshering Wangdi draws Nu 8,000 a month. According to him, driving trucks into the roads of neighbouring countries looking for business would be a Herculean task for him and his fellow drivers even if the agreement allowed Bhutanese truckers to ferry  goods in India, Bangladesh, and Nepal.

Keeping in mind the difficulty Bhutanese truckers face today, another trucker, Lhaba, said competing with trucks in these three neighbouring countries would mean returning to the fields in Paro for a livelihood.

Local truckers said highways along Alipurduar, Birpara, and roads in Assam were the best they knew and without experience, they will suffer driving beyond these routes.

The truckers also pointed out that they pay INR 1,500 a month at Srirampur, Assam highway as goods tax. Exploring in vastly extended highways in newer destinations could mean more tax.

Another trucker, Tashi Dorji, 35 said he has studied until grade VI and could not do business other than driving.

“It is a good initiative but if a large number of vehicles are allowed, our business is doomed,” he said, adding he is also worried about the loan he has taken recently to buy a new truck.

Should the agreement get implemented, a truck owner, Ugyen from Haa said Bhutanese truckers would be at the losing end.

“The government must do something,” he said, explaining he has to make ends meet for his family. “They must show us a way.”

Some truckers suggested the government must buy their trucks to help them recover the expenses made so that they could return to the fields in their villages.

The truckers committee comprising of 24 members said that a trucker today makes a maximum of five to six journeys delivering goods across the country every month. Members said that with increased number of trucks in the country today, some vehicles only manage a trip or two.

As the goods imported are dropped at Phuentsholing by trucks from India, local truckers also mentioned about the commission they pay to brokers across the border town in finding loads. A broker charges Nu 500 to Nu 1,000 each for a deal.

“Brokers at times go to the extent of canceling our loads if we do not pay the commission,” a 42-year-old driver Karma said. “We have to pay the commission anyway.”

As per the BBIN MVA, the contracting parties will allow cargo vehicles such as trucks and trailers that could carry containerized cargo for inter-country cargo and third country cargo. The agreement also includes allowing passenger vehicles for both hire and reward, and personal vehicles.

According to the agreement, the crew members ferrying would need to carry passports or relevant accepted documents, which will be issued to facilitate frequent endorsements and will be granted multiple entry visa valid for at least a year by the contracting parties.

Committee members like Tshering Nidup and DB Tamang said issues related to environment and security must be considered.

“Our roads, bridges, and traffic may get affected,” the drivers said adding that pollution would increase in the country. “There may be social impacts with security threat.”

Tshering Nidup also said local truck drivers may resort to illegal activities in desperation. “Although we respect the decision our government would, make truckers are still disheartened,” he said.

Most truckers said they plan to sell off their vehicles if the BBIN MVA is implemented.

Rajesh Rai, Phuentsholing