India and Bhutan have recently announced several key initiatives to strengthen their bilateral relationship. During a meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bhutan King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, both countries discussed trade, technology, and cross-border connectivity. This comes at a time when China and Bhutan are in negotiations to resolve their border dispute.
Cross-Border Rail Link
- The two nations have agreed to conduct a “final location survey” for a proposed rail link between Kokrajhar in Assam, India, and Gelephu in Bhutan, which is set to be built with Indian support.
- Additionally, there is consideration for establishing another rail link between Banarhat in West Bengal, India, and Samtse in Bhutan, aimed at enhancing cross-border connectivity.
Trade Infrastructure Enhancement
- India will support the upgrade of the existing land customs station at Dadgiri in Assam into an integrated check post to facilitate trade.
- Facilities at Gelephu on the Bhutanese side will be developed to further bolster trade infrastructure.
Immigration Check Posts and Connectivity
- Darranga in Assam and Samdrup Jongkhar in Bhutan will be designated as immigration check post locations to facilitate the entry and exit of third country nationals by land route, boosting connectivity and tourism.
- The Haldibari (West Bengal)-Chilahati (Bangladesh) rail link will serve as an additional route for Bhutan’s trade with Bangladesh, enhancing regional trade.
Development Assistance and Financing
- India will provide bridge financing during the transition between Bhutan’s 12th and 13th five-year plans for projects supported by India.
- Bhutan has expressed gratitude for India’s timely release of development assistance, and India is committed to supporting Bhutan’s 13th Five Year Plan.
Education and Environmental Conservation
- India will consider concessional financing for Bhutan’s Gyalsung Project, a skill development and capacity-building program.
- Additional MBBS seats in medical colleges in Assam will be allocated for Bhutanese students to ensure access to quality medical education.
- The ambassador’s scholarship for Bhutanese students pursuing higher education in India will be doubled.
- Collaboration in environmental conservation, wildlife preservation, and forestry will be strengthened under a framework Memorandum of Understanding.
Exploring Economic Ties
- Bhutan’s King will visit Mumbai to engage with business leaders and seek investments for the proposed special economic zone (SEZ) at Gelephu.