Indian visits to Bhutan sign of its importance: President Pranab Mukherjee
President Pranab Mukherjee has described the visit by two top Indian leaders - Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his own - to Bhutan within a year as "an important signal" of India's sincere desire to promote good neighbourly relations in South Asia and the importance attached to Bhutan.
Thimphu: President Pranab Mukherjee has described the visit by two top Indian leaders - Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his own - to Bhutan within a year as "an important signal" of India's sincere desire to promote good neighbourly relations in South Asia and the importance attached to Bhutan.
Mukherjee, in an interview to Bhutan's Kuensel daily on the eve of his November 7-8 state visit to Bhutan, also denied that his visit has anything to do with border talks between Beijing and Thimphu, saying that "India-Bhutan relations stand on its own".
Mukherjee said: "There is so much we are doing together and there is such great potential for us to scale new heights in the future. We do not need any third party or third country reason to come close to each other. My visit has absolutely no connection with Bhutan-China talks."
He said the "developmental assistance and security cooperation" forms the bedrock of the bilateral relations.
"India's commitment to Bhutan has only deepened over the years," he said, and emphasised that ties with Bhutan would be accorded the utmost importance irrespective of which political party is in power in India.
He said that 4,400 Bhutanese students are studying in India, including 800 on scholarships, while many Bhutanese, including business leaders, academics, journalists, civil servants, police and army officers, have received training in India.
Elaborating on the development assistance, he said India is setting up e-libraries in all the 20 districts of Bhutan. Direct flights between Mumbai and Paro airport would give a fillip to tourism.
"With greater connectivity, we can develop joint tourist packages linking India's North-East with Bhutan," he added.
He said India is ready to help in agriculture and livestock development, in dairy farming and cottage industries and added: "We will work in close harmony, allowing simultaneously, sufficient room for the independence of our own judgments. India's resources are at the disposal of the people and Government of Bhutan."
To a question, the president said that on hydropower cooperation between the two countries is "an outstanding example of win-win cooperation. It provides significant export revenues for Bhutan, generates clean electricity for India and strengthens our bilateral economic linkages".
Elaborating on the projects, he said that three hydroelectric projects totaling 1,416 MW are already operational in Bhutan and are supplying electricity to India. Three more, totaling 2,940 MW are under construction and on schedule to be commissioned in 2018.
An agreement on four new joint venture model hydroelectric project, totaling 2,120 MW was inked in April 2014. Of these, work on the 600 MW Kholongchu has begun, while work on three others would begin after the techno-economic appraisal is complete.
All 10 hydropower projects would provide 6,476 MW by around 2022.
"This reflects our commitment to developing the hydropower sector in Bhutan," he said, and added that future mega-projects would have to be assessed carefully, especially their socio-economic and environmental impact.
"While we remain strongly committed to consolidating our hydropower cooperation with Bhutan, these mega-projects may need to be spaced out over time," Mukherjee stated.
To another question, Mukherjee strongly condemned the incidents of kidnapping of Bhutanese nationals by militant elements along the border.
"Let me assure you that we will deal such incidents with utmost of seriousness and every effort will be made to secure their freedom," he said, adding that their border security forces are working in tandem to put an end to such unlawful activities.
To a question relating to connectivity, the president said that in response to Bhutan's request for four more permanent Land Customs Stations (LCSs), India is moving ahead with two LCS in Assam and is in the process of acquiring land for the other two in West Bengal.
He said the proposed Golden Jubilee Railway line passes through tea gardens or forest land and the conservation and livelihood aspects of these areas "cannot be neglected".
He said India is open to "fresh ideas from Bhutan" on alternative routes.