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PM Modi’s Bhutan visit: Hydro-electric projects, defence, security, space and trade to be top agenda

FE Online
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In line with the government's continued focus on its ‘Neighbourhood First Policy’, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will go on a two day state visit to "trusted friend and neighbour" Bhutan next week.

The two-day visit starting Aug 17 at the invitation of Bhutanese Prime Minister Lotay Tshering Starting Aug 17, will highlight the importance New Delhi gives to its relations with Thimphu.

According to the foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale, Prime Minister Modi will receive audiences with the Bhutan King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, and Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the Fourth King, and hold talks with Tshering. And the leaders of both countries talk about ways of not only deepening ties but also how to diversify the bilateral partnership. This will include economic and development co-operation, hydro-power co-operation.

Briefing media persons ahead of the visit, the foreign secretary said that the highlight of the visit will be the inauguration of the Mangdechhu hydropower project.

He pointed out that the first tranche of Rs 5000 crore that India had committed last December as development assistance to Bhutan’s 12th five-year plan.

Major announcements and few MoUs are on the agenda to be inked at the end of delegation-level talks between the two leaders.

This is Modi's first visit after military standoff at Doklam, which was started by an intrusion by Chinese troops into the territory in 2017 and is in line `neighbourhood first policy'. It may be recalled that Modi had visited Bhutan as a Prime Minister in 2014 as his first overseas stop.

On May 30, Bhutan’s Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering had represented his country at Modi's swearing-in ceremony and last year Tshering had chosen India as his first overseas visit after he was sworn in as the Prime Minister of that country.

With China gradually making inroads in Bhutan, India has been playing a critical role in that country's economic development including in hydro-power projects, like the commissioning of the 720 MW Mangdechhu project, located on the Mangdechhu River in the Trongsa Dzongkhag district.

Till date, India has played a significant role in the construction of three Hydroelectric Projects (HEP) in Bhutan which generate 1,416 MW. Around 336 MW is generated by Chukha plant, 60 MW by Kurichhu and 1,020 MW generated by Tala plant.

The two countries have inked an inter-governmental agreement in 2014 when Modi had visited that country, soon after becoming a prime minister. This agreement was for four more HEPs under a joint venture and included 600 MW at Kholongchhu, 180 MW at Punakha, 570 MW at Wangchhu and 770 MW at Chamkharchhu. Together these will generate 2,120 MW of power once completed.

In the Space sector, the two sides have been working on expanding their relationship and Prime Minister Modi will inaugurate Ground Earth Station built by Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), from where the South Asia Satellite is expected to provide access to wide-ranging applications such as disaster management, weather forecasting and communications to Bhutan.

As part of Neighbourhood First policy, Modi had in 2014 floated the idea of having a satellite that would help the South Asian neighbours and that ISRO had launched South Asia Satellite in May 2017.