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PM Modi, Bhutan King discuss hydropower, rail connectivity

The King of Bhutan, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, is on a three-day official visit to India and is accompanied by his Foreign Minister Tandi Dorji and other senior officials of the Royal Government of Bhutan.

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New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday held warm and productive talks with visiting Bhutanese King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, that focused on development partnership, including Bhutan’s 13th Five Year Plan, cooperation in the hydropower sector, setting up the first Integrated Check Post along the border and a cross-border railway line.

In a tweet, following his talks with the Bhutan King, the PM Modi posted: “Pleased to receive His Majesty the King of Bhutan, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck. We had a warm and productive meeting. Deeply value our close friendship and the vision of successive Druk Gyalpos in guiding India-Bhutan relations to new heights.”

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The King of Bhutan, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, is on a three-day official visit to India and is accompanied by his Foreign Minister Tandi Dorji and other senior officials of the Royal Government of Bhutan.

The two leaders last met when the Bhutan King was in Delhi during his transit visit in September 2022.

The bilateral discussions between the two leaders “covered the entire gamut of India-Bhutan cooperation, and also issues of respective national and mutual interest”, Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra said at a special briefing.

The Bhutan King briefed Prime Minister Modi on his “significant transformation and reform initiative that Bhutan is currently undertaking”.

“Prime Minister Modi, on his part, reiterated India’s continued and full support to the socio-economic development in Bhutan based on the priorities of the Royal Government and in keeping with the transformation initiatives and reform process as per the vision of His Majesty,” the FS said.

It was agreed that India would step up its support to Bhutan’s upcoming 13th Five Year Plan. “The specifics of the support, its distribution into different projects, is something which is to be worked out between the two systems going forward. At Bhutan’s request, India would work to extend an additional standby credit facility. This would be over and above the two existing standby credit facilities that are operating between the two countries,” the FS said.

Both sides would also work to shape long term sustainable arrangements for export of agricultural commodities from Bhutan. And also work to develop long term bilateral arrangements for a short supply of critical commodities to Bhutan, which would include petroleum, fertilizers, and coal, he added.

Both sides are also examining and considering setting up the first Integrated Check Post (ICP) along India-Bhutan border, which would be somewhere near Jaigaon. “The exact specific location of the ICP is yet to be determined, but the broad location point is known,” he said.

Land Port Jaigaon is located in the Alipurduar district of West Bengal. Once developed, it will be the first Land Port along the international border between India and Bhutan.

Both sides will also try and expedite the proposed Kokrajhar-Gelephu rail link project through Government of India support in consultation with the Bhutanese side.

This will be the first ever rail link between India and Bhutan. The proposed 57-km railway line would connect Gelephu in Bhutan with Kokrajhar in Assam. The rail link to Kokrajhar would also provide Bhutan with railway connectivity with Bangladesh via Assam and Tripura, besides West Bengal.

“In the field of hydro-power specifically, which has been the cornerstone of our economic relationship, we have agreed to an upward revision of tariff of the Chhukha hydro-electric project. This is the oldest hydro-electric project with Bhutan and is of great significance,” the FS said.

Chukha is a 336MW hydro power project located on Wangchu river/basin in Chukha, southwest Bhutan.

The FS said that India will also consider positively Bhutan’s request to sell power from its hydro-power project known as Basochhu hydro-electric project. “This would be perhaps done, through the energy exchange mechanism of the market. The details are yet to be worked out, but the discussion is that it could be done through the market exchange mechanism,” he added.

Both sides have also proposed to expand their energy partnership to include non-hydro-renewables, particularly in the field of solar, and also see how the core bilateral cooperation in the field of e-mobility could be expanded, he added.

Both sides would also expedite finalization of modalities for new hydroelectric projects, hydropower projects, including the Sankosh hydroelectric project (A 2,584.99MW hydro power project in Sarpang, Bhutan).

The new sectors discussed between the two sides included space, startups, cooperation in the field of STEM education. “In this context, the recent launch of India-Bhutan satellite, which was jointly developed by the space engineers from both countries was particularly appreciated,” he said.

“As you can see, the ongoing visit of His Majesty has provided an excellent opportunities for both India and Bhutan to not only review the full range of bilateral engagement, advanced it further in all these areas, but also at the same time sketch a roadmap in terms of the next steps that we would take to further on multifaceted cooperation and partnership,” the FS said.

Earlier, the FS said that India and Bhutan share an exemplary relationship, which is characterized by trust, goodwill, mutual understanding. It’s a time tested nature of our friendship which was reflected in the support that we provided to Bhutan during the COVID pandemic, including the Vaccine Maitri program, as also in the expansion of our partnership into some of the new emerging areas and domains of economic cooperation, which includes digital domain, space; a new area, financial connectivity and increasing interoperability, etc.

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar had called on the Bhutan King on Monday evening, and hosted a dinner in his honor, which involved good discussions and interaction with the key CEOs of some of the Indian companies, the FS added.

Bhutanese King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck also met President Droupadi Murmu at Rashtrapati Bhavan in the evening.

President Murmu conveyed India’s “steadfast support to Bhutan, our close friend and neighbour, and commitment to strengthen our partnership in line with the priorities of the Government and people of Bhutan.”

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