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With Bhutan’s Gelephu project in mind, India to double assistance to ₹10,000 crore for nex...
THE HINDU

With Bhutan’s Gelephu project in mind, India to double assistance to ₹10,000 crore for next 5 years

Modi makes announcement as he accepts Bhutan’s highest civilian award in Thimphu; both countries ink seven agreements

India has decided to double Bhutan’s assistance over the next five years, from ₹5,000 crore in 2019-2024 to ₹10,000 crore for the period till 2029, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced in Thimphu on Friday.

Mr. Modi made the announcement after he was awarded Bhutan’s highest honour, the ‘Order of the Druk Gyalpo’, which was announced in 2021, to acknowledge India’s role in ensuring “Bhutan’s success in managing the COVID-19 pandemic”. After meeting Bhutan’s Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay, their second time since Mr. Tobgay visited Delhi last week, India and Bhutan inked seven agreements, on cooperation in energy, food safety, sports and research, as well as a space collaboration roadmap.

“We will work on new possibilities for connectivity, infrastructure, trade and energy sectors between India and Bhutan,” said Mr. Modi, while expressing his gratitude for the award from the Bhutanese King. “We will soon see our initiatives for a new airport for better air connectivity, rail links between Kokrajhar-Gelephu and Banarhat-Samtse, and waterways navigation on the Brahmaputra. To strengthen trade infrastructure, we will build integrated check posts (ICPs).” he added. 

Mr. Modi’s specific mention of India’s support to the ‘Gelephu Mindfulness City’, which he called a “visionary project” launched by Bhutan’s King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck in December 2023, is significant, as it indicates the project would be a beneficiary of India’s latest assistance to Bhutan.

Mr. Modi landed in Bhutan’s Paro valley on Friday morning, after bad weather postponed his plans to travel there on Thursday. He was received at the airport by Mr. Tobgay, who welcomed him on social media platform x, referring to him as his “elder brother.” After driving to Thimphu, Mr. Modi received a ceremonial welcome, an audience with Bhutan’s King Jigme Khesar and then with his father and former King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, who is believed to be still extremely influential in matters of Bhutan’s foreign policy. 

Speaking at the public award ceremony held in the Tendrelthang Festival Ground, King Jigme Khesar said Mr. Modi was a “true friend” of the Bhutanese people and “a firm supporter of Bhutan’s national vision to achieve self-reliance and become a developed nation”. 

“Bhutan-India relations are exemplary among nations,” Bhutan’s King said, adding that “Bhutan also stands to benefit when India succeeds; we feel reassured about the future of our neighbourhood“.

With EC nod

The visit by Mr. Modi, after the electoral Model Code of Conduct has been put in place is considered unusual, given that in the past Prime Ministers haven’t made bilateral visits or made major policy announcements with financial implications during this period. Sources said the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) had received permission from the Election Commission to make the announcement for the grant of ₹10,000 crore for Bhutan, indicating the special relationship the two countries share. It is also considered unconventional to accept foreign awards during the campaign season. However, in the run-up to the 2019 elections as well, awards had been announced for the Prime Minister, including Russia’s ‘Order of St. Andrew’ by President Vladimir Putin, and UAE’s ‘Order of Zayed’ by President Mohammad Bin Zayed. 

Analysts have suggested that the Prime Minister’s visit at this time indicates India’s unique ties with Bhutan at a time the Himalayan kingdom is in an advanced stage of talks with China on demarcating the boundary between both countries. While the official readouts made no mention of the issue, progress in Bhutan’s boundary talks with China were expected to be high on the agenda, especially plans for the disputed parts to Doklam in Bhutan’s West, which is close to the tri-junction point with India; and Sakteng to Bhutan’s East, where China has recently raised boundary disputes, and which abuts India’s proposed road projects in Arunachal Pradesh. 

According to reports that the MEA has declined to comment on, India has held back on construction of parts of the road between Bletting in Tawang and Doksum in Bhutan’s Trashigang dzongkhag (district) after a Bhutanese request, and New Delhi is now watching the new government under Mr. Tobgay, sworn in January this year, on how it will approach talks with China in the next few months. 


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