India, Bhutan discuss ways of strengthening ties

NetIndian News Network

New Delhi, June 18, 2009

India and Bhutan today held talks on ways of further strengthening their unique relationship and boost economic cooperation between them for the prosperity of their people.

External Affairs Minister S M Krishna, who reached Thimphu today on a two-day official visit, met King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk, his predecessor and father, the Fourth King Jigme Singye Wangchuk, Prime Minister Jigmi Y Thinley and Foreign Minister Lyonpo Ugyen Tshering during the day.

"In all these conversations, it was evident that the warmth and the meeting of minds that characterize India-Bhutan relations were stronger and deeper than ever," Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon told reporters in the Bhutanese capital.

Mr Menon said both sides felt the relationship was in excellent state and saw the future of the two countries as being interlinked.

Mr Krishna told the Bhutanese leadership that India looked forward to working with Bhutan to bring about development and prosperity and reviewed progress in the implementation of Bhutan's Xth Plan and the developments over the last one year.

The two countries have set themselves an ambitious target of at least 10,000 MW of electricity generated in Bhutan through Indo-Bhutan cooperation by 2020.

"We are on track. In fact, we have projects which exceed 11,000 MW and we have an Empowered Joint Group which has senior people from both sides to expeditiously implement the MoU. They will be meeting within next month to see the implementation on ground," Mr Menon said.

''The Minister was also briefed on progress in Bhutan and he was gratified to hear about various issues in the Kingdom and the successful democratic transition that is taking place. I think it is important to note that ours is not just any relationship, but one which probably does not have another parallel anywhere else. This is also a relationship which is absolutely trouble free. There is a great deal that we want to do together," he said.

This is Mr Krishna's first visit abroad after he took over as External Affairs Minister in the new United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in May.

"I am very happy to be here on my first visit abroad as the External Affairs Minister of India. We wish to reaffirm our close relations. I bring greetings and good wishes from the government and people of India for Bhutan," Mr Krishna said in a statement on arrival at Bhutan's Paro airport this morning.

He said India and Bhutan shared uniquely warm and cordial relations founded on close consultations, maturity, complete trust, mutual understanding, shared interests and mutually beneficial cooperation. "They are an example of good-neighbourly relations," he said.

"We are privileged to be a close development partner of Bhutan for about half a century based on the Royal Government’s priorities. We, therefore, rejoice in Bhutan’s progress and prosperity.

"While our multi-faceted cooperation covers a broad canvas, cooperation in the hydropower sector is a key element. Building on the successful execution of the three hydro projects – Chukkha, Kurichu and Tala – the Governments of the two countries have decided to add another 10,000 MW of hydropower capacity by 2020. This would substantially benefit both the countries," Mr Krishna said.

The Minister congratulated Bhutan for the successful completion of the first year of its historic transition to a constitutional democratic monarchy. He noted that India had been able to share its experience in democracy with Bhutan through interactions between Parliamentarians of the two countries.

Soon after his arrival, Mr Krishna flagged off the first Druk Air flight from Paro to Bagdogra in West Bengal which would facilitate greater connectivity to promote trade and tourism between the two countries. Druk Air already operates flights to Delhi and Kolkata.

Mr Krishna and his Bhutanese counterpart signed the boarding passes of some of the passengers themselves before seeing the flight off.

This is the first international commercial service that the Bagdogra airport will handle. The airport also becomes the second in West Bengal, after Kolkata, to handle international flights.

The Minister will also sign the memorandum of understanding (MoU) on the Nehru-Wangchuk Scholarships that would provide an opportunity to meritorious and talented Bhutanese students to study in prestigious Indian universities and institutions.

The visit also serves to underlines India's decision to remain engaged with its neighbours.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had visited Bhutan in May last year and President Pratibha Patil was present at the formal coronation of the present King in November last year.

At a banquet hosted for him this evening, Mr Krishna said the substance of the bilateral relationship was manifested in the ever widening canvass of the interaction between the two countries, covering a broad spectrum such as, power, transport, communications, infrastructure, education, IT, industry, medicine and agriculture.

He assured the Bhutanese leadership that India would stand with Bhutan, the world's youngest democracy, in the fulfillment of its democratic aspirations.

Mr Krishna said that in the years ahead the two countries would need to work together even more closely in deepening and widening the canvass of their bilateral engagement.

"India will fulfill its commitments under Bhutan’s 10th Five Year Plan, and for the fruition of many other projects where we are working together, including new and emerging areas such as IT. In Bhutan’s march to peace, progress and prosperity, India will be your reliable companion," he added.