Bhutan, a picturesque Himalayan kingdom, is set to embark on a transformative journey with the announcement of its ambitious “Gelephu Smartcity Project.” The Bhutanese King, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, revealed the plans for a massive “international city” spanning over 1,000 sq. km. on the border with Assam.
Economic Corridor Connecting South and Southeast Asia
- King Jigme Wangchuck positioned the Gelephu project as an “economic corridor connecting South Asia with Southeast Asia via India’s northeastern States.”
- Expressing gratitude to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Government of India, he highlighted the significance of the first India-Bhutan railway line to Gelephu.
- This railway line is expected to enhance connectivity with roadways, border trading points into Assam and West Bengal, and eventually extend Bhutan’s reach to Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, and Singapore.
Sustainable Development and Special Administrative Region
- The Gelephu Smartcity Project aims to adhere to environmental standards and sustainability goals.
- In addition to becoming Bhutan’s second international airport, the plans include “zero emission” industries and a “mindfulness city” that capitalizes on Bhutan’s strengths in tourism and wellness.
- Unlike a conventional special economic zone (SEZ), King Jigme Wangchuck emphasized that Gelephu would be a “Special Administrative Region,” governed by distinct laws to facilitate international investment.
Quality Investment and International Collaboration
- King Wangchuck stressed the importance of attracting “quality investment” from “specially screened” international companies.
- The Gelephu project is envisioned as a hub for skilling projects, digital infrastructure, and economic activities.
Economic Transformation Amidst Challenges
- The announcement comes at a crucial juncture for Bhutan, just four days after the United Nations declared Bhutan’s departure from the Least Developed Country status.
- Despite economic challenges, including the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, hydropower project indebtedness, and reduced tourism revenues, Bhutan is embracing this transformative initiative.
- The King acknowledged the economic downturn, with GDP at about 4.3% and unemployment reaching 20%, emphasizing the need for opportunities for Bhutanese youth.
Anticipation and International Recognition
- The Gelephu project’s unveiling created anticipation among ordinary Bhutanese citizens, with local media billing it as a “new dawn for Drukyul.”
- Bhutan aspires to emulate the success stories of countries like Singapore, South Korea, and the UAE, which transitioned from “Third World to First World” status within a generation.
- The international community, including guests from India, Japan, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and France, recognized the historic significance of the announcement.
Questions Related to Exams
Q1. What is the Gelephu Smartcity Project, and where is it located?
Answer: The Gelephu Smartcity Project is a massive international city planned by Bhutan on its border with Assam, spanning over 1,000 sq. km.
Q2. Which countries and regions does the Bhutanese King hope to connect through the first India-Bhutan railway line to Gelephu?
Answer: The railway line to Gelephu is expected to connect Bhutan with India’s northeastern states, and over time, provide access to Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, and Singapore.
Q3. What is the significance of the Gelephu Smartcity Project in the context of Bhutan’s recent departure from the Least Developed Country (LDC) status?
Answer: The project is seen as a transformative initiative at a crucial time, following Bhutan’s departure from the LDC status, signaling a commitment to economic growth and development.