The chief minister offers land for guesthouses in Kolkata, Siliguri and Durgapur

Diplomacy: West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has assured full cooperation and support in enhancing business links and in providing the necessary transit facilities for Bhutan’s trade with third countries.

West Bengal is the most important adjoining state in India with which Bhutan has strong trade, economic and cultural relations.

Foreign minister Damcho Dorji, who held a separate meeting with the chief minister, told Kuensel that the two sides also agreed to strengthen security along the Indo-Bhutan border. He said the visit has greatly enhanced friendship, understanding and cooperation between Bhutan and West Bengal.

The chief minister who was on a five-day visit left the country yesterday.

The foreign minister said the two sides have agreed to strengthen coordination and cooperation in order to address security and other related issues in the border areas. “The visit by the chief minister was highly significant in the relations between Bhutan and West Bengal,” he said.

During her meeting with Bhutanese leaders, Mamata Banerjee also offered land to Bhutan in Kolkata, Siliguri and Durgapur for construction of guesthouses for Bhutanese patients and visitors to these areas, the foreign minister said.

Describing the visit as “highly successful”, lyonpo Damcho Dorji said the government was very happy to receive the chief minister and her delegation. “The visit was highly successful.” “It has provided impetus for deeper and more meaningful collaboration between Bhutan and West Bengal.”

Lyonpo said greater economic engagements between the two sides are expected to take place in the coming months.

The chief minister was accompanied by a strong contingent of businessmen from the Indian Chambers of Commerce and a business conclave was held on October 5.

The Bhutanese business community believes that the visit will boost business ties between West Bengal and Bhutan. General Secretary of Association of Bhutanese Industries (ABI), Jochu Thinley, said that the chief minister’s visit provided confidence among the business communities on both the sides. “Obviously, the chief minister’s visit will encourage trade and improve goodwill between the businessmen of Bhutan and West Bengal,” he said.

On the possibility of Indo-Bhutan railway from Hashimara to Pasakha, the general secretary said it would be a blessing for the business community to have the proposed railway come through. The chief minister has assured Bhutan of her support to the proposal to establish a rail link between Hasimara and Pasakha in Phuentsholing.

The general secretary said goods are today picked up from Hashimara and that if they can be dropped in Bhutan by train it would be a lot more convenient and the cost would be minimised. “The railway may not materialize soon but we are hopeful that it is a possibility in future,” the general secretary said.

He said that so far trade between West Bengal and Bhutan has been smooth, except during strikes in the Indian state.

Officials believe the visit is also expected to boost tourist arrivals from India, especially from the state of West Bengal. In the last one and half years, about 116,000 Indian tourists visited Bhutan, most of them from West Bengal.

Many other issues of mutual interest including investment, transit, tourism, security, education, health and other aspects of people to people links were discussed.

MB Subba