Staff Reporter

During His Majesty The King’s meeting with the leaders of India, Bhutan and India agreed to further expand bilateral cooperation on trade, technology, cross-border connectivity, mutual investments, education and people-to-people connections.

The government of India (GoI) agreed to undertake the Final Location Survey (FLS) of the proposed cross-border rail link connecting Kokrajhar in Assam to Gelephu in Bhutan through GoI support. “The two sides noted the 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 a rail link between Banarhat (West Bengal) and Samtse (Bhutan),” stated the joint press statement on His Majesty’s visit to India.

His Majesty The King, accompanied by senior officials from the Royal Government of Bhutan, is on an official visit to India from November 3 to 10. His Majesty travelled to the States of Assam and New Delhi and travelled to Mumbai yesterday.

During the visit, His Majesty and the Prime Minister of India held discussions on the entire gamut of bilateral cooperation and regional and global issues of mutual interest. The External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar 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. He particularly appreciated India’s efforts in effectively integrating the interests and priorities of the countries in the Global South in the G20 deliberations and outcome documents.

India and Bhutan enjoy long-standing and exceptional bilateral ties characterized by utmost trust, goodwill, and mutual understanding at all levels. The visit 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 the expanding partnership between the two countries, including new areas of 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 perspectives and insights on the ongoing reform process underway in Bhutan. He conveyed appreciation for the invaluable support that the Government of India continues to provide for Bhutan’s socio-economic development.

In his interaction with His Majesty, the Prime Minister 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 the smooth and uninterrupted conclusion of crucial projects under the 12th Five-Year Plan (2018-2023). To take the exemplary bilateral partnership forward, the Indian side reiterated its commitment to step up support for Bhutan’s 13th Five-Year Plan, which was welcomed by the Bhutanese side.

It was also agreed to designate Darranga (Assam) or Samdrup Jongkhar (Bhutan) as an immigration checkpost 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 agreed to positively consider Bhutan’s request for concessional financing in the area of skill development and capacity building under the GyalSung Project.

India will also designate Haldibari (West Bengal) – Chilahati (Bangladesh) rail route as an additional trade route for Bhutan’s trade with Bangladesh.

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

The GoI has also agreed to strengthen trade infrastructure, including by suitable upgradation of the existing Land Customs station at Dadgiri (Assam) to Integrated Check Post through GOI support along with the development of facilities on the Bhutanese side at Gelephu (Bhutan).

The two sides agreed to strengthen collaborative framework in environmental conservation, wildlife preservation, and forestry under the framework Memorandum of Understanding for developing cooperation in the areas of environment, underscoring shared commitment to safeguarding the ecological diversity of the region.

India will allocate additional MBBS seats for Bhutanese students in medical colleges in Assam as an endeavour to ensure access to quality medical education and training for Bhutanese nationals, according to the joint press release. The outlay under the Ambassador’s scholarship for Bhutanese students pursuing higher education in India would also be doubled.

Hydro-power cooperation has been an important pillar of the India-Bhutan bilateral economic partnership and it has been a productive partnership for both countries. The two sides welcomed the export of surplus power by the Basochhu hydropower 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 the construction of the 1,020MW Punatshangchhu-II hydropower project and looked forward to its early commissioning in 2024. They noted with satisfaction the progress made towards the speedy conclusion of the Punatsangchhu-I hydropower project. The two sides reiterated the importance of cooperation in the hydropower sector and their commitment to advancing it further.

It was agreed 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. 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 with 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).

During the visit to Assam, Governor of Assam Shri Gulab Chand Kataria hosted a dinner in honour of His Majesty. Chief Minister of Assam Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma 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.

The visit of His Majesty The King reinforced the long-standing tradition of regular high-level exchanges between the two countries. His Majesty extended an invitation to the Prime Minister of India to pay an official visit to Bhutan. The Prime Minister accepted the invitation; dates for the visit will be decided through diplomatic channels, the press release stated.