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India-Bhutan Relations

Why is it in the news?

  • During the visit of Bhutan’s King to India, both nations have committed to exploring new avenues for regional connectivity and fortifying border infrastructure to bolster trade and partnership.

Major highlights of the discussion

  • Regional Connectivity: Plans for a cross-border rail link between Gelephu (Bhutan) and Kokrajhar (Assam); and exploration of a second rail link between Samtse (Bhutan) and Banarhat (West Bengal).
  • Trade and Connectivity: Facilitation of trade, allowing Bhutanese trade items to be carried from Haldibari to Chilahati in Bangladesh.
  • Immigration Check Post: Designation of Darranga-Samdrup Jongkhar border crossing as an immigration check post for Indian, Bhutanese, and third country nationals.
  • Support for Bhutanese SEZ Project: Upgradation of land customs station at Dadgiri (Assam) to an Integrated Check Post; and development of facilities on the Bhutanese side at Gelephu.
  • Development Assistance: India’s commitment to support Bhutan’s socio-economic development, focusing on the 13th Five-Year Plan.
  • Lauds India’s Support for Global South: Bhutan praises India’s organization of the G20 Summit and its commitment to the interests of Global South countries.
  • India-Bhutan Energy Partnership: Progress on the Punatsangchhu-II hydropower project; and expansion of the energy partnership to include non-hydro renewables, solar energy, hydrogen, and e-mobility.
  • Recalling Operation All Clear: Bhutan King recalls Operation All Clear, a military operation against Assam separatist insurgent groups in 2003.

Significance of Bhutan for India

  • Strategic Importance: Bhutan’s strategic location serves as a buffer state for India’s security interests; India’s assistance in defence, infrastructure, and communication bolsters Bhutan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
  • Economic Importance: India is Bhutan’s largest trading partner and supports its hydropower projects; India provides financial assistance for Bhutan’s development projects.
  • Cultural Importance: Strong cultural ties, both being predominantly Buddhist nations; and India assists in preserving Bhutan’s cultural heritage.
  • Environmental Importance: Bhutan’s commitment to carbon neutrality, with India’s assistance in renewable energy and sustainable tourism.

Challenges in India-Bhutan Relations

  • China’s Growing Influence: Concerns over China’s increasing presence in Bhutan thereby challenging India’s strategic interests in the region.
  • Border Disputes: Border incidents and the Doklam standoff in 2017;
  • Hydropower Projects: Concerns in Bhutan over the terms of some hydropower projects; Public opposition to Indian involvement in the sector.
  • Trade Issues: Trade imbalance with Bhutan importing more from India; Bhutan seeks greater access to the Indian market.

Suggestions to improve the relations

  • India can boost Bhutan’s economy through infrastructure and tourism investment.
  • Promote cultural exchange programs.
  • Strengthen strategic cooperation to address shared security concerns, including terrorism and transnational crimes.
About Bhutan

·       Landlocked country between India and China.

·       Capital: Thimphu (located in eastern Bhutan).

·       Democracy since 2008, with the King as the Head of State.

·       Known as the “Kingdom of Bhutan” or “Druk Gyal Khap.”

·       Manas River, a transboundary river between southern Bhutan and India.

·       Government: Parliamentary monarchy.

·       Borders India and Tibet (autonomous region of China).

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