In the process of extending diplomatic relations with nations across the world, a new step to solidify relations with India’s neighboring country, Bhutan, is progressing. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met with Bhutanese King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and held a meeting to strengthen cooperation and bolster connectivity between the two nations.
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India and Bhutan to Strengthen Diplomatic Relations
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bhutanese King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck on Monday joined for a meeting that looked forward to solidifying the status quo of both nations. PM Modi conveyed to the King of Bhutan India’s strong commitment and unique diplomatic relations with its neighboring country and reaffirmed support for socio-economic developments in the Himalayan Shangri-La.
The two leaders expressed satisfaction with the progress made in their diplomatic relations since their last meeting in April 2023. The two sides agreed on many new initiatives to boost collaborations in technology, energy, trade, and education. The sides also considered a cross-border rail network between Banarhat in West Bengal to Samtse in Bhutan and Kokrajhar in Assam to Gelephu in Bhutan.
The Bhutanese King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, accompanied by senior officials from their government, commenced his visit to India in Guwahati. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar also met with the King. He praised India for its successful G20 campaign and the Delhi declaration. He had positive remarks on India’s attempts to integrate and prioritize the interests of the Global South. His visit to India came amid a renewed push by Bhutan and China for an early settlement of their timeworn boundary dispute.
The Bhutanese unit expressed their gratitude towards the Government of India for the timely release of development assistance to ensure the smooth and uninterrupted culmination of decisive projects under the 12th Five-Year Plan (2018-2023).
Interconnecting Rail Network
The initiative to connect both nations through rail transport is progressing. The sides agreed on establishing a rail network between Banarhat in West Bengal and Samtse in Bhutan. An already established rail link between Kokrajhar in Assam and Gelephu in Bhutan is in the stage of carrying out the final location survey. Indian Railway has already completed the precursory engineering and traffic survey for the 57-km Kokrajhar-Gelephu rail link. The construction will be done with Indian support.
Concord in collective development
The talks for advancement in diplomatic relations continued as the meeting went on a positive note. According to Hindustan Times, Bhutan has been the biggest beneficiary of India’s external aid in the budget for 2023-24, allocated ₹2,400 crore out of the total disbursal of ₹5,408 crore for assistance to other countries.
Hydro-power cooperation between the nation is a pivotal part of both the country’s economic relations. The two sides embraced the export of surplus power by the Basochhu hydropower project through the Indian Energy Exchange beginning October 2023, laying the way for access to another energy market. The two sides expressed concord with the progress in the construction of the 1020 MW Punatshangchhu-II hydropower project and eagerly await its early commissioning in 2024.
The two sides reaffirmed the significance of cooperation in the hydropower sector. An agreement was made to extend the existing India-Bhutan energy partnership in hydro to non-hydro renewables, such as solar and green initiatives for hydrogen and e-mobility.
The two sides expressed content on the increasing collaboration in the field of education, with emphasis on STEM disciplines. India embraced Bhutan’s decision to join the International Big Cat Alliance (IBCA). The sides praised the progress made in the space sector, a move that promoted diplomatic relations between the nations.
The two sides agreed to designate Darranga in Assam and Samdrup Jongkhar in Bhutan as the sites for an immigration checkpost to simplify the entry and exit of third-country nationals.
Key agreements of the bilateral talk
- Commencement of cross-border rail network
- Darranga in Assam and Samdrup Jongkhar in Bhutan as Immigration checkposts
- Consider Bhutan’s request for financing the GyalSung Project
- Use of Haldibari – Chilahati rail route as an additional trade route for Bhutan’s trade with Bangladesh
- Government of India to provide financing 12th and 13th Five-Year Plans of Bhutan
- Collaboration in environmental conservation, wildlife preservation, and forestry under the framework MoU
- To allocate additional MBBS seats for Bhutanese students in medical colleges in Assam.