Modi to Visit Bhutan Tomorrow

Published: 14th June 2014 03:55 PM  |   Last Updated: 14th June 2014 03:55 PM   |  A+A-


NEW DELHI: Displaying the special and "unique" status of Bhutan in India's foreign policy, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will tomorrow embark on a two-day visit to the Himalayan country, his first trip abroad since he took over three weeks back.

Modi will be accompanied by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh.

He will meet Bhutan's King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay during his two-day visit which will see the two sides exploring ways to boost their ties, particularly in trade and hydro-electricity.

Modi will also address the joint session of the National Assembly and National Council of Bhutan and meet the Leader of the Opposition.

The fact that the Prime Minister chose Bhutan as his first foreign destination assumes significance since China has lately intensified efforts to win it over and establish full- fledged diplomatic ties with Thimphu.

"Our relations with Bhutan are unique and especially warm. Our historical and cultural linkages make us natural friends and partners," the Foreign Secretary told a press conference here while talking about the visit.

"Bhutan is one of our most important strategic partners ... It is a very good country to show our policy of good neighbourliness in South Asia and special token of our friendship," she said explaining why Bhutan was chosen as the first foreign destination of Modi.

"We will explore ways and means of strengthening our ties in important areas," she said.

India's assistance package for the country includes Rs 4,500 crore for Bhutan's 11th Five Year Plan from 2013-18 which covers areas like infrastructure and information and communication technology, health, agriculture, human resource development and tourism.

India has invested in 16 projects in Bhutan in areas such as hydropower, cement and IT. A free trade regime is in place between India and Bhutan. "Further measures to boost trade will also be discussed," Sujatha Singh said.

India also assists Bhutan in implementing smaller local projects such as schools, libraries, hostel facilities for students, veterinary hospitals, irrigation channels, drinking water schemes and community centres.

"Our hydropower cooperation with Bhutan is a classic example of win-win cooperation," she said, adding that "the hydropower projects generate export revenues for Bhutan, cement our economic partnership and provide clean and low-cost electricity to India." 

Three Hydro-electric projects (HEPs) totalling 1416MW (Chukha, Tala and Kurichu) are already operational. Three more HEPs [Punatsangchu I (1200MW), Punatsangchu II (1020MW) and Mangdechu (720MW)] are under construction. They are scheduled to be commissioned in 2017-18.

In April, 2014, the two countries signed a framework agreement on four more JV-model HEPs totalling 2120MW. Of these, pre-construction activities for the 600MW Kholongchu HEP as a JV-model HEP between Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam (SJVN) and Druk Green Power Corporation (DGPC) will commence soon.

Bilateral trade amounted to Rs 6,830 crore in 2012 and the Foreign Secretary said that the education, media and tourism sectors hold good potential for enhanced cooperation in future.


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