Remembering Indian PM’s visits of 2014 and 2019

Remembering Indian PM’s visits of 2014 and 2019

Indian Prime Minister (PM) Shri Narendra Modi leaves Bhutan today after a two day visit. However, the visit is not the first and the Indian PM visited Bhutan in 2014, making Bhutan the first country he visited after being voted as the Indian PM. The second visit followed in 2019, when he again became the Indian PM. PM Modi’s visits have not only further strengthened the close ties between the two countries, but also led to further cooperation in fields of development.

The first visit from 15-16 June, 2014 was made at the invitation of His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck. PM Modi was granted audiences by His Majesty the King, and His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo Jigme Singye Wangchuck. PM Modi held official talks with Bhutanese PM Lyonchhen Tshering Tobgay and discussed issues of mutual interests. His Majesty the King hosted a lunch in honour of the Prime Minister and his delegation. Lyonchhen Tshering Tobgay also hosted a banquet in honour of the Prime Minister of India.

On June 16, 2014, PM Modi also addressed the Joint Sitting of the Parliament in the Gyalyong Tshogkhang ..

During the visit, the PM unveiled the Foundation Stone of the 600 Megawatt Kholongchu Hydropower Project. He also inaugurated the new Supreme Court building which was constructed with assistance from the Government of India amounting to Nu. 793.545 million.

Apart from the above, PM Tshering Tobgay thanked the Government of India for the allocation of Nu. 45 billion for the 11th Five Year Plan and Rs./Nu. 5 billion for the economic stimulus plan of the RGOB. PM Modi reiterated the commitment of the Government of India to support Bhutan for the successful implementation of the 11th FYP. India’s continued commitment to capacity building especially in the education and IT sectors in Bhutan was reiterated by the PM.

On hydropower both India and Bhutan expressed satisfaction on the progress being made. They reiterated their commitment to achieving the 10000 MW target.

The two sides recalled the free trade arrangement between the two countries and the expanding bilateral trade between the two countries and its importance in further cementing the friendship between the two countries.

Government of India (GoI) conveyed its decision to exempt Bhutan from any ban or quantitative restrictions on exports of following items:- Milk powder, Wheat, Edible oil, Pulses and Non-basmati rice.

In keeping with the emphasis on capacity building and education, Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi announced the doubling of the Nehru-Wangchuck scholarship to Nu. 20 million per year. The GoI committed to provide grant assistance for the establishment of the digital section/ E-library in the National Library of Bhutan and in all 20 districts of Bhutan.

The two sides expressed satisfaction with the cooperation between the two countries related to their mutual security. They agreed to continue with their close coordination and cooperation with each other on issues relating to their national interests, and not allow each other’s territory to be used for interests inimical to the other.

The second visit from August 17-18, 2019 was made by the Indian PM at the invitation of the PM of Bhutan, Dr. Lotay Tshering. This was among the first bilateral visits by the PM after assuming office for the second time in May 2019.

The visiting PM had an audience with His Majesty the King, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck. Their Majesties, The King and The Queen hosted a luncheon in honour of the visiting dignitary. PM Modi invited Their Majesties The King and The Queen to visit India at an early date, as per their convenience. The Bhutanese PM also hosted a State Banquet in honour of the Indian PM.

During talks, both PMs conducted a thorough review of bilateral relations and regional/international developments. They expressed satisfaction with the excellent state of ties, built on mutual trust, respect, and shared historical, cultural, economic, and people-to-people connections. Both sides acknowledged the visionary leadership of Bhutan’s monarchs and successive Indian and Bhutanese leadership in fostering exemplary friendship and cooperation between neighboring nations.

PM Modi reaffirmed India’s commitment to supporting Bhutan’s economic and infrastructural development in alignment with the Kingdom’s priorities. The Bhutanese PM expressed gratitude for India’s ongoing assistance to the 12th Five Year Plan and appreciated India’s contributions to Bhutan’s development over the years.

Both sides stressed the significance of hydro-power development as a key area of mutual cooperation. PMs inaugurated the 720 MW Mangdechhu Hydroelectric Plant, expressing satisfaction at this milestone. They pledged to expedite completion of projects like Punatsangchhu-1, Punatsangchhu-2, and Kholongchhu, while reviewing discussions on the Sankosh Reservoir hydroelectric project. Acknowledging its substantial benefits, they agreed to finalize implementation modalities swiftly to commence construction.

The PMs unveiled Bhutanese stamps commemorating five decades of Indo-Bhutan cooperation in the hydro-power sector. They also launched the use of Indian-issued RuPay cards in Bhutan, facilitating Indian travelers and boosting the Bhutanese economy. Both sides committed to the next phase: Bhutanese banks issuing RuPay cards for Bhutanese travelers to India, enhancing interoperability. Additionally, they agreed on a feasibility study for implementing India’s BHIM app in Bhutan to promote cashless transactions between the two countries.

The PMs inaugurated the South Asian Satellite Ground Earth Station in Thimphu, supported by ISRO. The Bhutanese PM acknowledged PM Modi’s vision in launching the SAS in 2017, benefiting Bhutan’s broadcasting and disaster management. PM Modi offered increased bandwidth on an additional transponder to meet Bhutan’s needs, which was welcomed by his Bhutanese counterpart as a milestone in advancing His Majesty The King’s vision and enhancing bilateral space cooperation.

Both leaders agreed to jointly develop a small satellite for Bhutan and establish a Joint Working Group (JWG) for its implementation, along with creating a geo-portal system for natural resources and disaster management. Acknowledging the transformative potential of space and digital technologies, they emphasized the need for enhanced collaboration in these domains. Additionally, they inaugurated the interconnection between India’s National Knowledge Network and Bhutan’s Research and Education Network, aiming to foster greater academic interaction between the two countries.

Several Memoranda of Understanding/Agreement were exchanged during the visit, which included: MoU between Department of Information Technology and Telecom of RGoB and Indian Space Research Organisation, on establishment of Satcom Network for the utilization of South Asia Satellite; MoU for peering arrangement between National Knowledge Network (NKN) and Druk Research and Education Network (DrukREN) of Bhutan; MoU between Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau (AAIB), India, and Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU), Bhutan, on aircraft accident and incident investigation.

Four (04) MoUs on enhancement of Academic Exchanges and STEM cooperation between the Royal University of Bhutan, and IITs at Kanpur, Delhi and Mumbai and NIT Silchar were signed.

The others were MoUs between National Law School of India University, Bangalore and Jigme Singye Wangchuck School of Law, Thimphu on enhancing relations between the two parties in the areas of legal education and research, MoU between Bhutan National Legal Institute and National Judicial Academy, Bhopal, on cooperation in judicial education and mutual exchanges and Power Purchase Agreement for Mangdechhu Hydro-electric Project between PTC India Ltd and Druk Green Power Corporation, Bhutan.

PM Modi addressed Bhutanese youth at the Royal University of Bhutan, emphasizing the people-centric nature of bilateral ties and the deep spiritual connection between both nations. He urged youth partnership in education and technology for advancing India-Bhutan relations, noting Bhutan’s harmony between development, environment, and culture, symbolized by its emphasis on ‘happiness’. He outlined new avenues of cooperation in space and digital technologies, encouraging innovation and sustainable development.

PM Modi commended the Bhutanese PM’s commitment to enhancing healthcare accessibility in Bhutan. Both sides noted Indian technical support for planning Bhutan’s new multi-disciplinary super-specialty hospital.

Both sides pledged to enhance bilateral trade and investment. Bhutan appreciated India’s Trade Support Facility and thanked for the release of the first tranche. PM Modi assured positive consideration of Bhutan’s request to enhance the currency swap limit under the SAARC framework and offered an additional USD 100 million under the Standby Swap Arrangement as an interim measure.

At Bhutan’s request, PM Modi increased subsidized LPG to Bhutan from 700 to 1000 MT monthly, aiding domestic needs and rural LPG penetration.

The Indian PM also offered prayers at Semtokha Dzong, which houses a statue of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, Bhutan’s founder, on loan from India. Strengthening cultural ties, he extended the loan period by five years and raised scholarships for Bhutanese students at Nalanda University from 2 to 5.

By Sangay Rabten, Thimphu