Bhutan’s King is on an official visit to India and I am reproducing here a press briefing given by the Indian Government’s spokesman about it on December 21.
Briefing by Official Spokesperson on the visit of H.M. the King of Bhutan
Official Spokesperson (Shri Vishnu Prakash): A very good afternoon to all of you. First of all, thanks for your patience. We had to slightly adjust the timing of the briefing. I appreciate your understanding. Let me accord a very special welcome to our media friends from Bhutan. We are absolutely delighted that you could join us today. I am also joined by my good friend and colleague Mr. Satish Mehta who is our Joint Secretary (North).
You are aware that on the invitation of the President of India, the Fifth King of Bhutan His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck is paying a state visit to India, from 21st to the 26th. His Majesty arrived today morning. This is his first visit to a foreign country since his formal coronation on the 6th of November 2008, as well as after Bhutan became a democratic Constitutional monarchy in July 2008. He had earlier visited India in February 2007 after becoming the Fifth King of Bhutan on 9th December 2006. Many of you would recall that our President had travelled to Bhutan from the 5th to the 8th of November 2008 to attend the formal coronation of His Majesty.
India and Bhutan have a unique, unparalleled and time-tested partnership for peace and friendship. The foundation of this relationship was laid during the visit of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to Bhutan in 1958. The basic framework of India-Bhutan relationship is the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation of the 1949, which was updated and made contemporary during the visit of the King of Bhutan in February 2007.
Over the past fifty years our relations have deepened. Both countries have been responsive to each other’s interests and sensitivities. Our bilateral relationship is characterised by regular high-level exchanges and close multifaceted ties. Prime Minister had visited Bhutan in May 2008 when he inter alia dedicated the Tala hydroelectric project to the nation. Our External Affairs Minister paid his first visit after assumption of office, to Bhutan in June 2008. Bhutanese Prime Minister His Excellency Jigmi Y. Thinley visited India in June-July 2009. These are just to highlight a few important visits. As I said, we have had a number of regular high-level visits from both sides.
I would particularly like to note that India continues to be the largest trade and development partner of Bhutan. Over 90 per cent of Bhutan’s trade is with India. Significantly, since 2006 Bhutan’s exports to India have been more than Bhutan’s imports from India primarily due to exports of energy from Bhutan to India. In 2008 India’s exports to Bhutan were Rs. 1734 crore and imports were Rs. 2148 crore, which constituted over 99 per cent of Bhutan’s total exports worldwide.
Our multifaceted cooperation covers sectors like hydro power, health, education, human resource development, media, information technology, telecom, etc. One of the key areas of cooperation has been water resources particularly in our assistance to Bhutan in harnessing their hydroelectric potential and generation of hydroelectric power.
Three major hydroelectric projects have already been commissioned with Government of India’s assistance. These include the Chukha Project which is 336 MW; the Kurichhu Project which is 60 MW; the Tala Project which is 1020 MW. The fourth one Punatsangchhu, which is 1200 MW, is currently under construction.
As I mentioned, surplus power generated from Bhutan is made available to India. Significantly, during the visit of our Prime Minister to Bhutan in May 2008 we committed to develop 10,000 MW of hydro power in Bhutan by the year 2020. We are also assisting Bhutan in development of infrastructure and other sectors.
Sustained Indian assistance to Bhutan over the past fifty years has played an important role in the infrastructure and economic development of the country taking its per capita income to over 2000 dollars, which is amongst the highest in South Asia. Bhutan’s planned developmental effort began in the early 1960s. I would just like to note that during the Tenth Five-Year Plan of Bhutan, which is from 2008 to 2013, India’s direct assistance accounts for Rs. 3,400 crore. If you take all elements, it would be close to Rs. 10,000 crore.
The visit of His Majesty the King of Bhutan would provide another opportunity of high-level exchange of views between the two countries. The King is accompanied by a high-level delegation that includes the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister for Economic Affairs, the Chairman of the Royal Privy Council and a number of other high-level dignitaries.
While in India, His Majesty would be meeting the President of India who would also be hosting a banquet in his honour. The Vice-President of India, the Prime Minister, Chairperson of UPA, the Finance Minister, the External Affairs Minister, the Home Minister, the Leader of Opposition, the National Security Advisor and Foreign Secretary would be calling on the King of Bhutan. There will be delegation-level talks with the Prime Minister. The discussions are expected to cover a whole range of issues of mutual interest, bilateral cooperation including cooperation in sectors like hydro power, IT, health, civil aviation as well as regional and international matters of common interest.
I would particularly like to draw your attention to the fact that the King would be visiting a photo exhibition titled “Bhutan – An Eye to History”, profiling India-Bhutan relations at the National Gallery of Modern Art at 1130 hours day after tomorrow, the 23rd of December. I can see that most of you have already received the invitations. If you have not, kindly collect one and also see the Press Release that we have issued, copies of which we have also made available to you. I would like to extend a special invitation to you all to the Exhibition tomorrow. If you for some reason cannot come, do pass on your invitation to a media colleague and let us know so that we know whom to expect.
Friends, it is a very special exhibition and it documents the early photographic records of the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan and the close ties of friendship that exist between our two countries. The collection has a premiere showing the remarkable photographic work of the Fifth King His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck as well as his father the Fourth King of Bhutan. Some of the photographs are quite rare which have never been displayed. So, it is a very special exhibition. As I said, we will be very happy to see you all present at the inauguration by His Majesty, which is at 1130 hours on the 23rd. The King would also deliver the Madhavrao Scindia Memorial Lecture at Nehru Auditorium, Teen Murti, at 1730 hours on the same day, the 23rd of December.
Several agreements and MoUs are proposed to be signed during the visit covering sectors like hydro power, health, civil aviation, information and communication technology, etc. The visit of His Majesty the King of Bhutan would contribute further to strengthening and expanding our bilateral relations. This is what I wanted to say by way of introduction. My colleague Mr. Satish Mehta and I will be very happy to take any questions that you may have on the visit of His Majesty the King or the relationship.
Question: Could you update us about the level of diplomatic and otherwise engagement of China in Bhutan because it is important from Indian perspective? And could Mr. Mehta give us an update on the Chinese level of preparedness, militarily as well as infrastructure-wise, at the Bhutan-Sikkim-Nepal tri-junction?
Official Spokesperson: All that I would like to say is that I have given you a perspective on India-Bhutan relations and that is what we would like to give you. Bhutan’s relations with other countries are the prerogative of Bhutan.
Joint Secretary (North): I have nothing more to add.
Question: Will there be any possible discussions that may take between the NSA and the Chief of Army Staff? If so, what would they focus on?
Joint Secretary (North): We really cannot presuppose what would be discussed.
Official Spokesperson: As I have already mentioned, we have a very important relationship, given its sweep, content and dimensions, which I have already enumerated. During the visit, I have also indicated to you the high-level delegation that is accompanying His Majesty. I did mention that the range of discussions will be very broad both covering matters of bilateral interest, our multifaceted cooperation in different fields as also issues of regional and international importance. But, as my colleague said, what will be discussed in particular or specifically, obviously we cannot prejudge the specifics. We would, as and when possible, certainly give you a sense of the discussions.
Question: What are the MoUs that are going to be signed during His Majesty’s visit?
Joint Secretary (North): Vishnu gave you a sense of the sectors that we propose to sign agreements on and those are the sectors that would be covered in the MoUs. But let them get signed tomorrow and then you will have all the details.
Official Spokesperson: If you want I can repeat. We are expecting a number of agreements and MoUs which would cover sectors like hydro power, health, civil aviation, information technology and so on.
Question: Can you give more details in terms of the hydro power projects?
Official Spokesperson: We will certainly be more than happy to give you all the details. I know your interest in hydro power and, therefore, I dwelled on it at length. I have already given you a sense of the importance that both countries attach to this sector, and how the projects have developed, what is on the anvil. I specifically mentioned that during the visit of the Prime Minister, it has already been agreed that by the year 2020 we would assist Bhutan to develop or harness up to 10,000 MW of generation capacity. So, certainly the hydroelectric sector is a very important sector.
Question: What is their requirement in terms of energy at this point of time? How much of that is being fulfilled by India?
Official Spokesperson: Bhutan is a country of about 700,000 people. So, whatever is their requirement certainly that is met first. Whatever is the surplus, which is substantial, is made available to us.
Question: All of it?
Official Spokesperson:Yes. That is again quite significant from our point of view. I did mention in particular that since 2006 and especially after the Tala Project was dedicated to the nation, the exports from Bhutan have exceeded imports by Bhutan and it is precisely because of the power sector.
Question: Could you please elaborate on cooperation so far as civil aviation is concerned? …(Inaudible)… Apart from that, we do also have some problem related to the use of currency in the border areas because Bhutanese currency is being used in …(Inaudible)… There have been some cases of fake currency also. Will this also be discussed?
Joint Secretary (North): Indian currency is acceptable in Bhutan as legal tender. So, that is not a problem insofar as I know of it. I am not particularly aware of Bhutanese currency being used in India. But in bordering areas it possibly happens. I am not aware of it. And I am not aware of any large scale use of fake currency also. We have not heard of that on the India-Bhutan trade side.
On the civil aviation, right now we have some flights from Bhutan. Druk Air has some flights. The idea is to expand the cooperation in this sector and the agreement is directed towards that.
Question: Is there any proposal also to connect Bhutan and India by a rail line?
Joint Secretary (North): As you know, there was an announcement during the visit of Prime Minister of India to Bhutan in May 2008 to have this railway line called Golden Jubilee Railway Line which would link Bhutan to India. In terms of announcement it is already there. Now we have to work on it. It takes time to put everything in place.
Question: We understand that a number of projects and agreements, as you have said, are going to be signed. Can you give us any figures in terms of how much any of these projects is worth?
Joint Secretary (North): I can only talk in terms of hydroelectric projects. The only one which is right now under construction is Punatsanchhu-I. All projects in which you work, you work in very difficult geologies and what you anticipate does not always happen. So, it is difficult to put a figure at this stage. When you make a DPR there is an estimate. But once you start moving forward, the geology turns out to be the way it turns out to be. So, to be able to pin down a figure would be difficult. The hydroelectric projects by definition are very large.
Question: Sir, North-East ke bahut se insurgent groups hain jo Bhutan mein jakarke chhipe rehte hain. Kya is daure mein koi is masle par vishesh charcha hone ki sambhavna hai?
Joint Secretary (North): We already have an extradition treaty with Bhutan. In 2003, if you remember, His Majesty the Fourth King of Bhutan, who was then the King of Bhutan, personally led an expedition against the terrorists in the Bhutanese side. India and Bhutan cooperate very closely on all issues including security. And as JS(XP) mentioned, Home Minister would be calling on His Majesty. As I said, it is not for me to prejudge what will be discussed.
Question: What is the total electricity production of Bhutan and how much of it is given to India?
Joint Secretary (North): There are two things in the total electricity production – one is installed capacity and second is the actual generation. Actual generation depends upon, in the case of hydro power, rainfall and how much of it is caught. So, it changes every year including this year. But it is substantial. Again, it depends upon how much they generate and how much they use. But out of what is generated, a very substantial part is exported to India as a general rule.
Official Spokesperson: Thank you very much.
December 21, 2009