Royal visit emboldens Bhutan-India ties

Royal visit emboldens Bhutan-India ties

India welcomed His Majesty the King with open arms and contour smiles during the entire tour while PM Modi promptly accepted HM’s invitation to visit Bhutan

The visit by His Majesty the King to India in the past week further bolstered the existing bond of friendship, cooperation and mutual understanding between India and Bhutan. The reaction from India affirmed how important she considers Bhutan as a close friend and an important ally. The jewel on the crown was topped when Prime Minister Narendra Modi promptly accepted His Majesty’s invitation to visit Bhutan at a later date.

The visit was a testament of the respect and love the people of India has for His Majesty the King. During the visit to Assam, His Majesty was received by an ‘elated’ Assamese Chief Minister (CM), Dr. Himanta Biswa Sarma with a traditional ‘Gamosa’ (scarf).

The CM later tweeted, “On behalf of the people of Assam, I am elated to welcome His Majesty the King of Bhutan. Under the guidance of our Honorable PM, we look forward to strengthening the special relationship between our two countries.” Several other warm and cordial messages from prominent people under GoI were also showered on social media to welcome His Majesty the King.

After being presented with a model of Kamakhya Temple in Guwahati as a token of reverence and obeisance where His Majesty prayed, CM Himanta Biswa Sarma then called on His Majesty and discussed a wide range of issues, including rail connectivity, cross-border trade infrastructure, economic cooperation, tourism, education, skill development, environmental conservation, and nurturing people to people connections.

Later in the evening on November 3, a dinner was also hosted in honour of His Majesty by the Governor of Assam, Gulab Chand Kataria.

During the next stop in Delhi, His Majesty the King and the Indian PM, Narendra Modi held discussions on the entire gamut of bilateral cooperation and regional and global issues of mutual interest. Indian External Minister, Dr. S Jaishankar also called on His Majesty.

His Majesty commended the excellent organization of the recently concluded G20 Summit hosted by India, and forging consensus for constructive decisions and outcomes contained in the Delhi Declaration. His Majesty conveyed appreciation for India’s efforts in effectively integrating the interest and priorities of the countries in the Global South in the G20 deliberations and outcome documents.

While India and Bhutan enjoy long-standing and exceptional bilateral ties characterized by utmost trust, goodwill, and mutual understanding at all levels, the visit also provided an opportunity for the two sides to discuss various aspects of the multi-faceted bilateral ties and forge understanding to further cooperate across diverse sectors.

The two leaders expressed satisfaction with the significant progress made since their last meeting in April 2023. They positively assessed expanding partnership between the two countries, including new areas such as connectivity in its broadest form, cross-border trade infrastructure, trade and mutual investments, energy, health, education, skill development, space technology, and environment conservation, and close people-to-people contacts.

His Majesty shared valuable perspective and insights on ongoing reforms process underway in Bhutan. He conveyed appreciation for the invaluable support that the GoI continues to provide for Bhutan’s socio-economic development.

PM Narendra Modi, in his interaction with His Majesty reaffirmed India’s abiding commitment to its unique ties of friendship and cooperation with Bhutan and reiterated continued and full support to the socio-economic development in Bhutan based on the priorities of the Royal Government and as per the vision of His Majesty.

The Bhutanese side thanked GoI for the timely release of development assistance to ensure smooth and uninterrupted conclusion of crucial projects under the 12th Five Year Plan. To take the exemplary bilateral partnership forward, the Indian side reiterated commitment to step up support for Bhutan’s 13th Five Year Plan, which was welcomed by the Bhutanese side.

Hydropower cooperation has been an important pillar of India-Bhutan bilateral economic partnership and it has been a productive partnership for both countries. The two sides welcomed export of surplus power by Basochhu hydro power project through the Indian Energy Exchange beginning October 2023 paving the way for access to another energy market.

The two sides expressed satisfaction with the progress in construction of the 1020 MW Punatshangchhu-II hydropower project and looked forward to its early commissioning in 2024. They noted with satisfaction the progress made towards speedy conclusion of the Punatsangchhu-I hydropower project. The two sides reiterated the importance of cooperation in hydropower sector, and their commitment to advancing it further.

Agreement to extend the existing India-Bhutan energy partnership in hydro to non-hydro renewables, such as solar as well as green initiatives for hydrogen and e-mobility was made. The Indian side assured necessary technical and financial support for projects in these areas.

In terms of new areas of partnership, which now encompasses Startups, Space and STEM education, both sides welcomed the progress made in space sector cooperation, including the launch of the first satellite jointly developed by India and Bhutan and the inauguration of the satellite’s ground earth station in Thimphu this year. The two sides expressed satisfaction on the increased collaboration in the field of education, with emphasis on STEM disciplines. The Indian side welcomed Bhutan’s decision to join the International Big Cat Alliance (IBCA).

Consensus to undertake the Final Location Survey (FLS), in consultation with the Bhutanese side, of the proposed cross-border rail link connecting Kokrajhar in Assam to Gelephu in Bhutan through GoI support was made. The two sides noted successful completion of the Preliminary Engineering-cum-Traffic (PET) survey of the rail-link by Indian Railways. The two sides also agreed to consider establishing rail-link between Banarhat (West Bengal) and Samtse (Bhutan).

Darranga in Assam and Samdrup Jongkhar will also be designated as immigration check post between Bhutan and India to facilitate the entry and exit of third country nationals by land route for enhancing connectivity, and promoting tourism.

The GoI will also consider Bhutan’s request for concessional financing in the area of skill development and capacity building under the Gyalsung Project.

It was agreed that the rail route between Haldibari in West Bengal and Chilahati in Bangladesh be designated as an additional trade route for Bhutan’s trade with Bangladesh.

Further, the GOI will provide bridge financing for the period between 12th and 13th Five Year Plans of Bhutan for GoI assisted projects and schemes.

Trade infrastructure will be strengthened, including the suitable upgradation of the existing Land Customs station at Dadgari to Integrated Check Post through GoI support along with development of facilities on the Bhutanese side at Gelephu.

Other bilateral agreements include strengthening collaborative framework in environmental conservation, wildlife preservation, forestry under the framework MoU for developing cooperation in the areas of environment, underscoring shared commitment to safeguarding the ecological diversity of the region.

Additionally, MBBS seats for Bhutanese students in medical colleges in Assam will also be allocated as an endeavor to ensure access to quality medical education and training to Bhutanese nationals. Additionally, the outlay under Ambassador’s Scholarship for Bhutanese students pursuing education in India will also be doubled.

The final leg of His Majesty’s tour ended in Mumbai, Maharashtra on November 7. His Majesty was warmly received by the Deputy CM of Maharashtra, Devendra Fadnavis and was also called on by the CM, Eknath Shinde later in the day. In the evening, a dinner was hosted in honour of His Majesty by the Governor of Maharashtra, Ramesh Bais. His Majesty also met with prominent Indian business tycoons while in Mumbai and explored new avenues for expanding economic and commercial ties.

His Majesty the King, along with senior government officials paid an official visit to Assam, Delhi and Maharashtra from November 3-10.

Meanwhile, upon arrival in the kingdom yesterday, His Majesty saw off Bhutan’s second contingent of UN peacekeepers flying to the Central African Republic.

Tashi Namgyal from Thimphu