BBIN to Boost India’s Sub-Regional Connectivity Plan

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The “Neighbourhood First” policy has been a key component of Prime Minister Narendra Modi led NDA (National Democratic Alliance) government’s foreign policy. Since assuming the Prime Minister’s office in 2014, his focus has been on India’s neighbouring countries – particularly India’s immediate eastern neighbours.

Prime Minister Modi’s neighbourhood diplomacy is not just aimed to ensure friendlier relations among neighbours; it also strives to bring hard infrastructure (road, rail, air) and soft (economic, people–to–people, and digital) connectivity at the sub – regional and regional levels. A range of hard and soft connectivity projects are in process between India and its neighbours.

The BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal) sub-regional connectivity initiative holds significance in meeting such objectives. The stated goal of the BBIN is to ensure seamless connectivity through an effective regulatory mechanism for private and cargo transport vehicles among the signatory countries.

MoU to be signed by India, Bangladesh, Nepal

In that regard, a meeting among the officials of Bangladesh, India, and Nepal was held recently to ensure early conclusion of the Motor Vehicles Agreement (MVA) which would facilitate trans- border movement of vehicles. Representatives of Bhutan attended the meeting in an observer capacity. During the meeting discussions were held on cargo and passenger protocols that would enable the MVA for the regulation of passenger, personal, and cargo vehicular traffic among the participating countries. The meeting holds significance in the light of the fact that it was the first meeting held since the January 2018 meeting held in Bengaluru.

During the meeting it was also decided that participating countries will revert by May 2020 on the outcome of domestic consultations based on deliberations held during the meeting. During the deliberations, a draft Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), to be signed by India, Bangladesh, and Nepal was also discussed. The MoU will enable the BBIN MVA among the three countries without obligation to Bhutan at this stage. India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Bhutan had signed the Motor Vehicles Agreement in June 2015. Bhutan, however, is yet to get the agreement ratified by the Upper House of its Parliament.

The concerns raised among the policymakers in Bhutan with regard to BBIN Motor Vehicle Agreement are related to sustainable development and environmental concerns. Being a small mountainous country with fragile ecology, Bhutan’s concerns are genuine. These are issues that all member countries must closely look at and allay the concerns on part of Bhutan. In order to bring Bhutan in–the other countries could put a cap on number of vehicles permitted to enter Bhutan. India is attentive of Bhutan’s concerns and shares the belief that greater transport connectivity must not be at the cost of sustainable development and protection of environment.

Nepal and Bhutan get access to the sea through India

It may be noted that out of the four participants in the BBIN, two key participants–Bhutan and Nepal, are landlocked countries which have limited domestic and trans–border infrastructural connectivity. Both Nepal and Bhutan get access to the sea through India. The BBIN, when implemented, would not only contribute to enhancing sub-regional connectivity but also facilitate smoother people–to–people linkages, eventually contributing to greater tourist exchanges.
Greater transport linkages would also help in increasing their trade ties and faster movement of trade commodities. This is important as the time taken in transport of trade goods, particularly perishable items, is a key factor influencing trade relations among India and its neighbours. India’s north-eastern and eastern states will also benefit from such an arrangement. While India has bilateral mechanisms in place with all three countries–a multi-country trans-border arrangement will give a big boost to seamless cross-border trade and tourism.

With the decision taken by India, Nepal and Bangladesh to implement the Motor Vehicle Agreement, the three-nation connectivity plan seems close to becoming a reality. It is hoped that Bhutan too would join the bandwagon soon with the ratification in the Upper House of Bhutan.

New Delhi | PBNS Bureau