PM Modi cancels visit to Bhutan due to inclement weather

PM Modi cancels visit to Bhutan due to inclement weather

PM Modi was due to travel to Bhutan to receive the highest award from the King, discuss bilateral issues, and Bhutan-China boundary talks

A day ahead of his planned departure, Prime Minister Narendra Modi put off his visit to Bhutan due to “inclement weather”, an announcement made simultaneously by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and the Bhutanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Wednesday evening. The visit is being rescheduled, although no dates were given. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was due to land in Paro, Bhutan’s only international airport at present, and travel to the capital Thimphu on Thursday morning, and return by the same route on Friday morning. However, with heavy rain and possible snowfall in Paro predicted to continue on Thursday, officials said the visit had to be postponed.

“Due to ongoing inclement weather conditions over Paro airport, it has been mutually decided to postpone the State visit of Prime Minister to Bhutan on 21-22 March 2024. New dates are being worked out by the two sides through diplomatic channels,” the statements said. Reports on the uncertainty over the visit grew a few hours prior to the announcement, when a press conference to be held by Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra on Wednesday afternoon was suddenly cancelled.

Officials said the final decision was taken given Paro airport’s particularly tricky “visual landing” requirements in the mountainous region, and impaired line of sight due to incessant rain, making the PM’s flight risky. 

During his 24-hour State visit to Bhutan, Mr. Modi was due to receive Bhutan’s highest civilian award, the Order of the Druk Gyalpo, that was conferred on him in 2021. This would have been the PM’s first visit since the award was announced, and was due to be presented the award by Bhutan’s King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck in appreciation for his efforts towards strengthening India-Bhutan ties, and in particular India’s provision of the first round of 500,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines in 2021. The Prime Minister’s visit, that would have followed just a week after Bhutan PM Tshering Tobgay’s visit to Delhi, was seen as unusual, as by convention Prime Ministers forego bilateral visits after election dates have been scheduled. However, sources said, the gesture was meant to denote India’s commitment to Bhutan in particular, and to the government’s “neighbourhood first” policy. 

Officials involved in the planning of the visit said all preparations had been completed for Mr. Modi’s visit before the unforeseen weather conditions. The itinerary had included a ceremonial welcome for Mr. Modi at the Tashichhodzong complex, an audience and a royal banquet hosted by the Bhutanese King on Thursday, followed by the inauguration of a ‘Mother and Child Hospital’ supported by Indian development funding on Friday. Sources said they hoped the new dates for Mr. Modi’s visit would be intimated soon, but much would depend on clearing his already busy schedule during the election campaign, once the weather in Paro cleared up.  READ COMMENTS ()READ LATERPRINT

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