Indo-Bhutan relations need to move beyond hydropower

August 10 | Kuensel
By Tshering Dorji, New Delhi

While hydropower and developmental assistance has been the bed rock of the bilateral relation between India and Bhutan, Indian Foreign Secretary, Vijay Keshav Gokhale said both governments have recognized the need diversify its relations from hydro to trade, health, education and tourism that is more sustainable.

Indo-Bhutan relation transcends politics and the governments of both the countries are keen to move the bed of its foundation from hydropower to other sectors. This was the key message passed by the Indian foreign Secretary during a press briefing held in New Delhi, yesterday.

The upcoming visit is the second visit by PM, Narendra Modi to Bhutan. In 2014, when Narendra Modi was elected for the first time, Bhutan was his first destination.

“The government of India extends great importance to India-Bhutan relations,” said the Indian foreign secretary, who prioritized Bhutan as his foreign destination soon after the elections.

Prime Minister Modi will be inaugurating the Mangdechhu project and the ground space station built by Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) to be utilized for communication purposes. The Indian foreign secretary said that this would be mostly used by the Bhutan Broadcasting Service and for disaster management purposes.

The 720MW Mangdechhu Project, which the Indian PM would inaugurate, is the most cost effective project in the entire south Asia, according to Vijay Keshav Gokhale. The power purchase agreement would also be signed.

The highlight of the discussion during the visit will be the Sunkosh Project, which is four times the size of Mangdechhu. The discussion will revolve around the financing modalities and implementation of the project.

The foreign secretary also said that the Bhutan would be the first country to launch RuPay card after Singapore. An agreement with the RMA has already been signed. In the first phase, Indians visiting Bhutan would be allowed to use their RuPay card in Bhutan and in the next phase, Bhutanese banks would be authorized to issue the card to be used in India.

One major highlight of the Indian PM’s visit would be his address at RUB. This according to the Indian foreign secretary is to reach out to youth of Bhutan to convey closer relationship between the two countries and explore collaboration in the field of education.

The support on health sector, which the new government is keen on, is one of the priorities for India. “As a result, a unique relation with Bhutan will be built,” said the Indian foreign Secretary.

The Indian foreign Secretary said that Bhutan have been appreciative of the fact that India had disbursed 100 percent of the development assistance provided during the 11th Plan.

While Bhutan has asked for Nu 45B assistance during the 12th Plan, which is the same as 11th Plan, the foreign secretary said that India has committed another Rs 4B for trade facilitation that would enable the government to incentivize its exporters and producers and in turn export more to India.

“I believe that we enjoy relation with Bhutan that neither side will surprise each other,” said the Foreign Secretary. He refused to comment on the status of the border disputes, which many Indian journalists were interested during the press conference.

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