The King of Bhutan is visiting India amidst the ongoing standoff between India and China along the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh. The focus of the three day visit is going to be on economic and development cooperation, space, hydropower, expansion of bilateral relations as well as the current standoff between Indian and Chinese troops.
Visit announced by Ministry of External Affairs
Keeping in line with the long standing tradition of regular high-level exchanges between the two countries, the King of Bhutan, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck is coming on a three day visit. The visit is from April 3-5 at the invitation of President of India President of India Droupadi Murmu, and he will also have talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The King of Bhutan is going to be accompanied by his Minister for Foreign Affairs and External Trade Tandi Dorji, and senior officials of the Royal government of Bhutan.
The relationship between India and Bhutan has been marked by regular high-level visits that have helped to sustain this unique partnership. A transit visit by the King of Bhutan in Sept 2022, visits by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra, and External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar to Bhutan, and visits by PM Bhutan to India, among others, highlight the deepening of this relationship.
The two countries’ collaboration during the Covid-19 pandemic has been noteworthy, with India providing 13 consignments of medical supplies to Bhutan and being the first country to provide Covishield vaccines. India has been supporting Bhutan’s five-year plans since 1961, with an assistance of Rs 4500 Cr towards XII FYP (2018-23) for various multi-sectoral project tied assistance, small development projects, and direct budgetary support.
India’s assistance in the hydro-power sector has brought clean power to India and economic prosperity to Bhutan with a steady stream of revenue, and has even witnessed positive growth during the pandemic. And since 1980 till date so far over 2000 MW of capacity with 4 mega hydro projects have been installed by India and two more are under construction.
According to sources, “India is Bhutan’s top trading partner and the leading source of investments in Bhutan. To enhance bilateral and transit trade between the two countries in November 2021, Government of India formalized the opening of seven new trade routes. Along with this new market access was provided for allowing formal export of twelve agri-products from Bhutan to India.” Also it has been reported earlier that various special exceptions/ quotas for export are provided.
The two countries have also expanded their cooperation beyond the traditional realms, with new STEM-based initiatives, digital infrastructure such as the Third International Internet Gateway, and the integration of Bhutan’s DrukRen with India’s National Knowledge Network, among others.
In financial cooperation/integration, the first phase of the RuPay project was launched, India’s Bharat Interface for Money (BHIM) was also launched in July 2021.
India-Bhutan Space Cooperation
This is one new area for both countries for deeper cooperation.
Keeping in line with the King of Bhutan’s vision to harness the Space Technology for the welfare of the people, in 2019 India and Bhutan agreed to work together in developing a small satellite for the neighbouring country. And for this purpose it was decided to set up a Joint Working Group (JWG) to assist in implementing the project and to also develop a geo-portal system. Using Remote Sensing and geo-spatial data helped Bhutan in disaster management as well as managing natural resources.
It has been reported in Financial Express Online in 2019 that Prime Ministers of both countries had jointly inaugurated the Ground Earth Station of the South Asia Satellite (SAS) in Thimphu. This was constructed with the support of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
And later in November 2022, ISRO’s PSLV (Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle) launched the India-Bhutan SAT.
Other aspects of cooperation
Sustained people-to-people ties, cultural cooperation and youth centric initiatives have helped in strengthening relations between the two countries.