Prime Minister Narendra Modi will travel to Bhutan on August 17 for a two-day visit during which the two strategic partners will strengthen ties with the inauguration of the Mangdechhu hydropower project, roll out of the RuPay card scheme, and bolstering of educational exchanges.
Modi, during his second visit to the country after his 2014 trip, will call on Bhutanese King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and hold delegation-level talks with his counterpart Lotay Tshering.
The focus of the prime minister’s visit will be on Bhutanese youth and how educational linkages can be strengthened between the two countries, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale said at a media briefing. He said the countries will also review defence and security matters, including the situation on the India-Bhutan border. The issues related to the boundary assume significance in the wake of the 2017 Doklam-standoff.
Asked if India has spoken about its revocation of special status to Kashmir and its bifurcation into two Union Territories with the Bhutanese government, Gokhale said Bhutan has shown understanding that it is an internal matter of India.
Another priority area being looked upon by the two countries is the space sector, he said, adding that Prime Minister Modi and PM Tshering will jointly inaugurate the ground earth station build by ISRO in Thimphu at a cost of about Rs 7 crore.
The highlight of the visit will be the inauguration of the 720 MW Mangdechhu hydropower project, Gokhale said. He said the project has four units and three of them have been commissioned. The Mangdechhu hydropower project power purchase agreement will also be signed during the visit, Gokhale said, adding it will be the most cost-effective power project in South Asia.
During Modi’s visit, talks for Sankosh hydropower project will also be opened. Eventually, that project is expected to generate 2,500 MW power, he said. Gokhale said PM Modi’s pet RuPay card scheme will also be rolled out during the visit. The RuPay card is a digital payment platform whose benefits include lower transaction cost.
He said the scheme will be launched in two phases—first the Indian banks will issue the cards for Indian travellers and citizens in Bhutan and in the second phase, Bhutanese banks will issue them for their citizens.
An agreement has already been signed for it between the Royal Monetary Authority of Bhutan and National Payments Corporation of India, Gokhale said. He said Bhutan is the second country after Singapore for which the cards will be issued. Gokhale said the cards will also be issued for certain other countries soon.
Another key feature of the visit will be establishment of the linkage between India’s national knowledge network and its Bhutanese counterpart, Gokhale said, adding that collaboration will be established between universities and top educational institutions of the two countries.
He said the visit will focus on Bhutanese youth and therefore the PM will also address students of the Royal University of Bhutan on August 18. The prime minister will also make efforts to increase collaboration in the field of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). He will discuss with the Bhutanese government cooperation in new sectors such as healthcare.
Also, India’s development partnership is a major aspect of the bilateral ties. In December, India committed Rs 5,000 crore development assistance to Bhutan’s 12th five-year plan and the first tranche of that has been released, Gokhale said.