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31st July 2023 (6 Topics)

India-Bhutan foreign diplomats’ meet

Context

Foreign Secretary of Bhutan is on a two-day visit to India. The discussion between foreign diplomats of India and Bhutan had conveyed India’s commitment to partner with Bhutan based on the priorities of the neighbouring Himalayan nation.

India and its Neighbors:

  • India has nine neighboring countries namely Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, Bhutan, Nepal, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Maldives, and Sri Lanka. India shares its border with seven countries out of nine neighboring countries.

Background

  • Recently, Bhutan’s King has also visited India and met the Indian Prime Minister, where both leaders discussed bilateral cooperation and issues of national and regional interests.
  • The focus of that meet was primarily on Bhutanese's Transformation Initiatives and Reforms Process, as well as India's support for Bhutan's development plans, including the 13th Five Year Plan that starts from next year 2024.

Bhutan is set to graduate from the list of Least Developed Countries in 2023 and aims to turn into a developed country with a per-capita income of USD 12,000 in the next ten years.

Highlights of the meet:

  • Both the parties have discussed the entire spectrum of bilateral cooperation, and ways to further strengthen it across diverse sectors.
  • Bhutanese side shared details regarding Bhutan’s 13th Five Year Plan during the talks.

India-Bhutan Relations:

  • India and Bhutan share an exemplary bilateral relationship characterized by trust, goodwill and mutual understanding at all levels, strong bonds of friendship and close people-to-people contacts.
  • Diplomatic relations between India and Bhutan were established in 1968 with the appointment of a resident representative of India in Thimphu.
  • Before this India’s relations with Bhutan were looked after by our Political Officer in Sikkim.
  • The basic framework of India – Bhutan bilateral relations is the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation of 1949 between the two countries, which was updated and signed during the visit to India of Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck in February 2007.

Indo-Bhutan Treaty of Peace and Friendship, 1949:

  • The Treaty provides for, among other things, perpetual peace and friendship, free trade and commerce and equal justice to each other’s citizens.
  • In 2007 the treaty was re-negotiated, and provisions were included to encourage Bhutan’s sovereignty, abolishing the need to take India’s guidance on foreign policy.
  •  Hydropower cooperation: It has been the cornerstone of India-Bhutan bilateral economic partnership.
    • It has been a productive arrangement for both countries whereby Bhutan receives steady stream of revenue from the sale of power from hydropower plants which have been jointly developed and India benefits from the assured supply of energy.

Why Bhutan is important for India?

  • Geographical significance: Bhutan shares its borders with India and China, and its strategic location makes it an important buffer state for India's security interests.
    • India has provided Bhutan with assistance in areas such as defense, infrastructure, and communication, which has helped to maintain Bhutan's sovereignty and territorial integrity.
    • India has helped Bhutan build and maintain its border infrastructure, such as roads and bridges, to strengthen its defense capabilities and ensure its territorial integrity.
  • Environmental significance:
    • Bhutan is one of the few countries in the world that has pledged to remain carbon-neutral, and India has been a key partner in helping Bhutan achieves this goal.
    • India has provided assistance to Bhutan in areas such as renewable energy, forest conservation, and sustainable tourism.
  • Economic Importance: India is Bhutan's largest trading partner, and Bhutan's major export destination.
    • Bhutan's hydropower potential is a significant source of revenue for the country, and India has been instrumental in assisting Bhutan in developing its hydropower projects.
    • India also provides Bhutan with financial assistance for its development projects.

Recent Agreements between India and Bhutan:

To expand bilateral cooperation on trade, technology, cross-border connectivity, and mutual investments, following was agreed upon:

  • To work on long-term sustainable arrangements for export of agricultural commodities from Bhutan and import of essential agricultural commodities from India.
  • To explore long-term bilateral arrangements for assured supply of critical commodities to Bhutan such as petroleum, fertilizers, and coal.
  • To consider setting up the first Integrated Check Post along India-Bhutan border near Jaigaon and Phuntsholing, which is the busiest trading point between India and Bhutan, through GOI support along with development of mirror facilities on the Bhutanese side.
  • To take forward the project on the proposed cross border rail link connecting Kokrajhar in Assam to Gelephu in Bhutan through GOI support in consultation with the Bhutanese side based on the engineering and technical survey completed by Indian Railways.
  • To expedite the operationalization of the Third International Internet Gateway for Bhutan, for which, GOI is extending a concessional rate to reduce the cost of operations of the gateway.
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