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India Bhutan Relations

Context:

Recently, India and Bhutan agreed to discuss new routes of Regional Connectivity, and upgrade border and immigration posts, in order to enhance trade and Partnership during Bhutan King’s India visit.

Relevance:

GS II: International Relations 

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Key Highlights of the Discussion between India and Bhutan
  2. Significance of Bhutan for India
  3. Challenges in India-Bhutan Relations

Key Highlights of the Discussion between India and Bhutan:

Regional Connectivity:
  • Agreement to explore new routes of regional connectivity, including a 58 km cross-border rail link between Gelephu (Bhutan) and Kokrajhar (Assam).
  • Plans to investigate a second 18 km rail link between Samtse (Bhutan) and Banarhat (West Bengal).
  • Discussions on upgrading border and immigration posts to support these projects.
Trade Facilitation:
  • Facilitating trade by extending Bhutanese trade items from Haldibari (West Bengal) to Chilahati (Bangladesh) through Indian territory.
  • Designation of the Darranga-Samdrup Jongkhar border crossing as an immigration check post to promote tourism and enhance connectivity.
Trade Infrastructure:
  • Plans to upgrade the Dadgiri land customs station (Assam) to a modernized “Integrated Check Post.”
  • Support for Bhutan’s Special Economic Zone (SEZ) project, with development efforts on the Bhutanese side at Gelephu.
Socio-economic Development:
  • India’s commitment to continue supporting Bhutan’s socio-economic development, with a focus on the 13th Five-Year Plan.
  • Recognition of India’s substantial contribution to Bhutan’s 12th Five-Year Plan, constituting 73% of the external grant component.
G20 Summit and Global South Priorities:
  • Bhutan’s commendation of India’s successful organization of the G20 Summit and its role in fostering consensus and constructive decisions, as outlined in the Delhi Declaration.
  • Acknowledgment of India’s dedication to integrating the interests and priorities of Global South countries in G20 deliberations.
Hydropower and Energy Partnership:
  • Progress noted on the 1020 MW Punatsangchhu-II hydropower project, expected to commission in 2024.
  • Agreement to expand the India-Bhutan Energy Partnership to include non-hydro renewables, solar energy, green initiatives related to hydrogen, and e-mobility.
  • India’s assurance of technical and financial support for projects in these areas.
Operation All Clear:
  • Recollection of Operation All Clear, a military operation conducted by the Royal Bhutan Army in 2003 against Assam separatist insurgent groups in southern Bhutan.

Significance of Bhutan for India:

  • Strategic Buffer State: Bhutan’s location between India and China serves as a strategic buffer state, enhancing India’s security interests.
  • Sovereignty and Territorial Integrity: India’s assistance in defense, infrastructure, and communication has contributed to maintaining Bhutan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
  • Border Infrastructure Development: India’s support in building border infrastructure, including roads and bridges, has strengthened Bhutan’s defense capabilities and ensured territorial integrity.
  • Doklam Standoff Support: During the Doklam standoff with China in 2017, Bhutan played a crucial role by allowing Indian troops to enter its territory to resist Chinese incursions.
  • Trading Partner: India is Bhutan’s largest trading partner and primary export destination.
  • Hydropower Development: Bhutan’s hydropower potential is a significant revenue source, with India’s assistance in developing hydropower projects.
  • Financial Assistance: India provides financial assistance for Bhutan’s development projects.
  • Cultural Ties: Strong cultural ties exist due to shared Buddhist traditions, with India helping preserve Bhutan’s cultural heritage, and Bhutanese students studying in India.
  • Environmental Stewardship: Bhutan’s commitment to being carbon-neutral aligns with India’s efforts to promote environmental sustainability. India supports Bhutan in renewable energy, forest conservation, and sustainable tourism, contributing to Bhutan’s carbon-neutral goals.

Challenges in India-Bhutan Relations:

China’s Increasing Presence:

  • China’s growing economic and military influence in Bhutan, particularly along the disputed border, poses a challenge to India’s strategic interests in Bhutan.

Border Incursions:

  • Incidents of border incursions by Chinese forces along the India-Bhutan border have raised concerns.
  • The Doklam standoff in 2017 was a significant flashpoint that could strain India-Bhutan relations if similar disputes escalate.

Hydropower Projects Concerns:

  • While India has been a major partner in Bhutan’s hydropower sector, there have been concerns in Bhutan regarding the terms of some hydropower projects, seen as too favorable to India.
  • Public opposition in Bhutan to Indian involvement in the sector has arisen.

Trade Imbalance:

  • India is Bhutan’s largest trading partner, but Bhutan faces a trade imbalance, importing more from India than it exports.
  • Bhutan seeks greater access to the Indian market to reduce the trade deficit.

-Source: The Hindu


July 2024
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