An Esoteric View of The BBIN Zone

“The South Asian Subcontinent consists of seven countries, which include India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Maldives. The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was founded in 1984 to achieve economic development of these countries through mutual cooperation. Though the South Asian Subcontinent was one region in early days, new states were created through its political division.”

The BBIN Zone, which comprises of Bhutan, Bangladesh, India and Nepal, is a system for sub-zonal cooperation. This system mainly aims at achieving economic development through mutual cooperation. Connectivity in the zone is at the core of core of it. The system envisages at connecting roads, railway networks and harbours with each other and achieving economic development through that connectivity. Besides, the system has been designed to build close ties at all level among these four countries in the South Asian Sub Region. This is a new model. BBIN Corridor is a sub-zonal system linked with economic cooperation and connectivity between India, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Nepal. Bhutan and Nepal, which are land locked developing countries, are going to be largest beneficiaries of BBIN. The corridor will definitely boost the economical, cultural and mass connectivity, among the four BBIN member countries, thereby giving a major thrust to the mutual cooperation. Since the concept of creating a BBIN zone is going to turn into a reality through connectivity, the Motor Vehicle Agreement that was signed by the four countries in 2015 is a vital part of the BBIN zone. The agreement will result in augmenting cross-border transport of goods, vehicles and people besides increasing the contact among people. As a result, the economic transactions and trade too will multiply. Implementing the concept of creating such a zone is indeed a challenging job, but nonetheless it can be achieved with strong political will. India needs to take initiative for this.


The South Asian Subcontinent consists of seven countries, which include India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Maldives. The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was founded in 1984 to achieve economic development of these countries through mutual cooperation. Though the South Asian Subcontinent was one region in early days, new states were created through its political division. Myanmar separated from India in 1935. In 1947, there was another partition in the subcontinent and separate nations of India and Pakistan were created. Later on in 1971, Bangladesh separated from Pakistan and became an Independent nation. Though these are independent nations, their citizens face similar economic and social problems. Nature of various issues  faced by these countries like population explosion, social backwardness, poverty, unemployment, starvation, difference in standards of life, atrocities against women, malnutrition is similar. South Asian Subcontinent is second most backward region in  the world, Sub-Saharan Africa being at the top of  the list. Though densely populated, it has achieved less development. Therefore, SAARC was founded with the aim of enabling the seven member countries rise above the bi-party political issues and come together to find solutions to the common issues faced by them and achieve common goals.

Reasons Behind Failure Of SAARC

The journey of SAARC has been at a snail’s pace over the period of the last 34 years from 1984 to 2018. Though the SAARC Summits are expected to be held annually, its inadequate frequency can be gauged from the fact that only 19 SAARC Summits have taken place so far. This has been because of following three main reasons:

  1.  Among the member countries of SAARC, India and Pakistan are the only two nations, which are strong financially and otherwise as well as geographically large. However, these two largest nations have been at loggerhead with each other due to political conflicts between them and lack of mutual trust. The conflicts and strained relations between these two large nations have often proved to be hurdles, causing obstructions in implementation of decisions arrived at by the SAARC.
  2. India is largest nation among SAARC member countries when it comes to every aspect including the size of its economy and geographical expanse. Because of this, there is a latent feeling of fear of India across the subcontinent and especially among the member countries of SAARC. Of the total expanse of territory covered by the member countries of SAARC, India alone covers 70 per cent under its jurisdiction. India is viewed as the ‘Big Brother’ in the South Asian Subcontinent. The member countries of SAARC are afraid that if their economies are opened for a large country like India, their indigenous businesses and industries would perish. For example, Bangladesh produces jute in large quantity. Similarly, huge quantity of jute is produced in North East region of India too. Similar conditions prevail about production of tea too. If Pakistan and Bangladesh are leading producers of sugar, India too produces sugar in ample quantity. Resultantly, these countries have a latent, though unwarranted, fear that if they open up their economies, goods and products produced in India would reach there and dominate the local market.
  3. These five member countries of SAARC, except for India and Pakistan, have not developed the resources that are essential for increasing their trade. Connectivity in these countries has not developed much. The frequency of flights between India and Pakistan was just once a week. The length of shared border of India and Bangladesh is a whopping 4,000 kilometres. However, 60 per cent of the trade between these two countries takes place using sea route. This means the land resources have not been developed much. Nepal and Bhutan are landlocked countries. They do not have any seashore. They have giant countries like India and China are their neighbours. The resources connecting these countries with India and China too have also not been developed much. To some extent, Nepal is connected by bus service. However, such connectivity has not been developed with other countries. Resultant, lack of resources of connectivity is a major issue plaguing the member countries of SAARC. The mutual trade between the SAARC member countries too is almost negligible. The total annual turnover of this trade is only Rs 25 billion dollars, which is as low as 0.6 per cent of the total annual turnover with other countries worldwide. On the contrary, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the other larger regional grouping in Southeast Asia that promotes economic, political, and security cooperation among its ten members, was also founded at the same time as SAARC. However, the mutual trade of the ten member states of ASEAN is around 250 billion dollars, which is around 30 per cent of their total trade worldwide. Trading activity among SAARC countries did not increase in leaps and bounds the way it increased in ASEAN countries.

“The mandate is for completing the project within the next two years. The project includes, among others, an upgrade of the 122-km Siliguri-Mirik-Darjeeling ($15 million) and the widening of the 60-kmNational Highway-35 (Kolkata-Bangaon) on the border with Bangladesh ($130 million). It also includes a new 123-km road to connect with Diamond Harbour, on the outskirts of Kolkata, at the cost of $250 million. Besides, two highways are going to come up in Manipur — 115-km Ukhrul-Tolloi-Tadubi ($230 million) and a 138-km split, four-lane road between the Kohima-Kedima Kring-Imphal section of National Highway-39 ($280 million). Apart from the works under the $1 billion project, a 600-metre bridge and an 110 km road in the Imphal-Moreh stretch of Manipur are also being planned under the broader BBIN road initiative.”

SAARC engaged in South Asian Preferential Trade Agreement (SAPTA) in 1994 to promote trade and connectivity. Later in 2004, the South Asian Free Trade Agreement was also signed. However, these two agreements could not be implemented because each of the member countries of SAARC has imposed huge taxes on import-export of goods and products. The burden of these taxes does not allow trading activity take place without hitches. Besides, communication network for development of resources could not be developed among member countries of SAARC due to the lack of mutual confidence among them. Pakistan was especially responsible for defeating all efforts in this direction. Moreover, India was a member of SAARC since its formation. However, since India’s economic condition was not as sound as it is today, she could not provide the required funds or leadership initiatives. This caused hurdles in the progress of SAARC.

Organisations like ASEAN, European Union have not faced impediments the way SAARC has faced. The hurdles are being witnessed only in the case of South Asia and SAARC. Therefore, there has been no change in the economic conditions of these countries despite formation of SAARC. The very purposes for which SAARC was founded have been defeated.

There is one more factor, which was responsible for the failure of SAARC. In the case of European Union or ASEAN, the member countries of these two organisations were separate countries initially, but later on, they came together and formed these organisations. However, South Asia Subcontinent was one unified subcontinent previously with no boundaries of sovereign countries demarcated in it. The independent sovereign countries were formed later on. Now these nations are trying to come together through SAARC. Such phenomenon has not been witnessed in any other continent. Coming together after separation is an extremely difficult process. The SAARC is facing these difficulties. Constitutions of ASEAN or European Union have certain provisions. According to these provisions, in case there is conflict between two nations over any issue, all other remaining member countries take initiative to redress that issue. In short, all member countries attempt to solve bilateral issues. Constitution of SAARC has no such provision in it. As a result, in case there is a conflict between India and Pakistan over an issue, other member countries of SAARC do not use the forum of SAARC to address that issue. SAARC cannot be used as a forum to discuss political issues. The forum provided by ASEAN is used to discuss such issues. For example, bilateral conflict between Vietnam and China is discussed at the forum provided by ASEAN. Such discussions do not take place in SAARC. This restriction has proven to be a major impediment in progress of SAARC. Though SAARC was founded to address economic interests and increase in trade and commerce, importance is given to political interests of member countries in it. As a result, the member countries do not provide any cooperation to each other.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had taken the initiative and laid emphasis on the connectivity in the 18th SAARC summit held at Kathmandu in 2014. He had underlined the need to develop the connectivity between member states. The need to develop connectivity between member countries of SAARC through roads, railway lines and airways is of vital importance. However, as usual, Pakistan opposed to this and the issue highlighted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi went on the backburner.

It was then India envisaged the concept of developing a sub zonal system. Interestingly, the concept of developing a sub zonal system was put forth on the forum of SAARC. This sub zonal system is called BBIN Corridor. This corridor is a sub zonal cooperation system, the idea of which came forth in 2014. This sub zonal system has been created under the already existing trade and commerce organisation of SAARC. The constitution of SAARC permits founding a sub zonal system of such nature. India took the vital decision based on that provision and put forth the concept.

Benefits of BBIN Zone

The BBIN Zone will benefit all four member countries including India, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal. Especially it will benefit Nepal and Bhutan. Since both these countries are land locked, they do not have any market available for the goods and products produced by them. They are slated to find a major market in India, thanks to the BBIN.

The BBIN Corridor would provide several benefits to member countries. A few prominent benefits are following:

  • Exchange of goods and trade would become easier.
  • The BBIN corridor would enable ‘People to People’ contact thereby connecting people with each other.
  • The sub zonal organisation would benefit India too. India has not been able to achieve development in its North East States due to the lack of basic infrastructure. Consequently, if a network of roads and bridges is built under the BBIN, it would benefit the North East states of India. For example, if the corridor is implemented successfully, the distance between the North East states of India and Kolkata harbour would reduce by thousands of kilometres. Besides, the North East states of India would be able to use the Ashuganj port, Chittagong harbour and Mongla port in Bangladesh.
  • The BBIN corridor would enable Nepal and Bhutan to conduct trade with Bangladesh just the way they would be able to trade with India easily.
  • The BBIN corridor would also give a boost to cross border tourism.
  • The BBIN corridor would also facilitate cooperation in various fields such as power, health and education.
History Of BBIN Corridor

First steps to bring the BBIN corridor into reality were taken on June 15, 2015. Four countries including India, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal signed an agreement of vital importance on that day. That agreement is called Motor Vehicle Agreement. This agreement can be termed as the first major success of the concept of BBIN Corridor. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) will finance development of roads in all four countries, which will be done under this agreement. Thanks to the development of these roads, markets would become available for all four countries.

However, the system is facing a few challenges. Most importantly, the trade and commerce between these countries will not increase merely by building roads. Reducing taxes like octroi on exchange and transport of goods is of vital importance for the purpose.

Advantages Of BBIN Zone For India

Besides helping achieve the objectives, which have yet not been achieved due to the failure of SAARC, the BBIN would provide some added advantages. The China has launched its ‘One Belt One Road’ (OBOR) project at international level. China intends to use the road and railway connectivity increased under the OBOR project for expanding its trade and commerce. Besides, China has launched its China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project involving investment of 42 billion dollars with Pakistan. Basic infrastructure like roads and railway lines would be developed under that too. It is of vital importance for India to take initiative at a time when her neighbour country is taking such steps. India’s ambitious ‘Look East’ policy would also give a major thrust forward to the BBIN because basic infrastructure would be created in North East states through involvement of Bangladesh. The same corridor can be extended further to Myanmar and Thailand. Therefore, development of the road is of utmost importance.

Challenges Faced By BBIN Zone

The BBIN zone faces many a challenges. The other three member states have a latent fear of India because of her geographical expanse and size of her economy. Consequently, there is trust deficit too. Special consideration needs to be given to overcoming the trust deficit. When SAARC was founded, India was not economically sound. However, now India is trying to lead SAARC economically. In 1996, during the tenure of the then Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral, India charted out her ‘Principle of non reciprocity’ under which the policy was to assist South Asian countries without expecting any returns. India has been assisting SAARC countries too under this policy. This can be used responsibly to overcome the trust deficit. Reduction in the duty and taxes on import of goods will also have to be considered. Countries like Bhutan have latent fear that if BBIN Corridor is developed, products manufactured in various countries will reach there and that would jeopardise the local industry. India is also facing the challenge of addressing this concern of smaller countries. In short, India’s initiative to overcome these challenges is as important as development of this corridor is.

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