Transport: The Trucker’s Association of Bhutan say they face a lot of problems while plying in India, and now  want the government to include these problems in negotiations on the Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN) motor vehicle agreement.

Although the four governments have signed the agreement, they are yet to negotiate and finalise the protocol for the implementation of the BBIN agreement.

The Truckers’ Association of Bhutan will raise its issues with members of the National Council, which is currently consulting with various stakeholders on the BBIN agreement. The Council’s legislative committee was scheduled to hold discussions in Gelephu with various stakeholders including the regional immigration office and the business community, yesterday.

The delegation from the Council was scheduled to travel via Assam, and meet the Truckers’ Association in Phuentsholing on August 10. However, the meeting was cancelled.

Nonetheless, the Truckers’ Association is hopeful that the meeting will be called again. “We want to reiterate our stand to the Council during the meeting,” said a member of the association, BB Tamang.

The association will also raise issues facing the truckers and other transport operators while plying in India.

Truckers say that owners of most of the Bhutanese cars that get destroyed in conflicts in Indian states do not get compensation. They say that the main challenge for Bhutanese drivers who encounter problems in India is dealing with authorities there.

These sorts of problems, they say, have been happening for a long time in West Bengal, Assam and the Bangladesh border area. They say they often face harassment while crossing checkpoints in India.

According to truckers, collection of “gunda tax” is rampant in Indian states. Locals there also collect money from drivers for various reasons.

Truckers say they also pay “goods tax” for passing through a gate. And there are dalals or middlemen to pay for various reasons. Truckers want all these problems to be brought to the table with India during negotiations on the protocol.

A member of the legislative committee and Council member from Samtse, Sangay Khandu, in an earlier interview with Kuensel said the consultation meetings on the BBIN agreement will be completed by September. The agreement was endorsed by the National Assembly during the summer session and will be tabled in the Council in the upcoming winter session.

The truckers will also apprise the Council on the need to improve transport facilities within the country. They say there are no proper goods weighing bridges in the country. There is also a lack of control on over loading.

According to truckers, many Bhutanese vehicles have been sold to Indian nationals but they still carry Bhutanese number plates in India, and Indian police have found a few such cases. “Because of this Indian authorities suspect the same with Bhutanese vehicles travelling in India and we face harassment,” said one transport operator, requesting anonymity for fear of repercussions.

Truck operators are firm on their stand, but are also willing to allow foreign vehicles to travel up to five kilometres within Bhutan. They are of the view that implementation of the motor vehicle agreement will affect their business because of competition from foreign vehicles.

They argue that their income will decline if local transport operators have to compete with vehicles from India, Bangladesh, and Nepal. Transport operators also warn that the country’s security, cultural values and environment could be compromised.

“When we raise environmental issues, the government told us that we should not be worried about it as there is the National Environment Commission to look after the matter,” he said. “If we raise security concerns, then they say that there are armed forces personnel to look after that,” he added.

Transport operators say they have not been able to see the benefits of the agreement to Bhutan. They say that the government’s statements and arguments have been “so vague” that they have not understood the intention of the agreement.

Transport operators are firm on their belief that the motor vehicle agreement will do more harm than good for the country. They argue that the agreement is against the principles of GNH.

“Who will be accountable if the country faces consequences of implementation of this agreement,” he asked.

The transport operators also say that Bhutan’s push for the BBIN agreement belies the Prime Minister’s recent speech at the TED talks, where he stressed the importance of country’s economy in the Gross National Happiness (GNH) context. The Prime Minister had said that economic growth must not come from undermining Bhutan’s unique culture and pristine environment.

The government argues that implementation of the agreement will regulate the movement of vehicles between India and Bhutan. The government has also assured that local transport operators’ interests will be protected despite the BBIN agreement.

If Bhutan fails to ratify the agreement, the government says Bhutan will be at the losing end. The agreement, the government argues, will boost sub-regional cooperation.

MB Subba