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India Bhutan Relations


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.


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