India-Bhutan ink 12 agreements, four in hydropower (Second Lead)

December 22nd, 2009 - 11:39 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh New Delhi, Dec 22 (IANS) India and Bhutan Tuesday inked a dozen agreements, including four on hydropower generation, after Bhutanese King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck held extensive talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The other agreements were in civil aviation, health and IT fields.
The 29-year-old Bhutanese sovereign is on his first foreign visit since his formal coronation in November 2008. He arrived on a six-day state visit here Monday morning.

On Tuesday, he began his programme with a ceremonial welcome in the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan. He then laid a wreath at Raj Ghat, the memorial to Mahatma Gandhi.

External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna called on the young king at his suite in Taj Mahal Hotel after which he left for Hyderabad House in the heart of New Delhi to meet the prime minister.

The delegation-level talks between the king and the prime minister were followed by more restricted consultations. Thereafter, both sides signed 12 agreements.

India will prepare the initial technical reports for four new hydro-electricity projects with capacity of over 3500 MW in the Himalayan kingdom. Bhutan currently has an installed capacity of 1500 MW of hydropower, with the domestic consumption being only 400 MW. The entire surplus power is exported to India.

Bhutan has a favourable balance of trade with India since 2006 due to its export of power. It is also the reason that Bhutan has one of the highest per capita incomes in South Asia at over $2,000.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had announced in 2008 that India will help Bhutan build additional installed capacity of 10,000 megawatt in hydropower by 2020.

India has already given assistance to build three major hydro-electric projects at Chukha, Kurichu and Tala. Besides, India is also helping in the construction of Punatsangchhu-1 project.

The four agreements are for preparing detailed project reports for the hydropower projects of Amochu reservoir (620 MW), Kuri Gongri (1800 MW), Chamkarchhu (670 MW) and Kholongchhu (486 MW). Besides, a 4,000-MW Sankosh project is also under negotiation.

India also offered assistance in a major Information Technology project worth Rs.205 crore, which would make more than half of Bhutan’s population “e-literate”. Under this project, computer training will be given to over 7,000 government officials, 5,000 teachers and 1,600 enterprises and 200,000 rural children.

Another agreement was to set up a 50-seat undergraduate medical college on the lines of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).

The other agreements were on curbing illicit drug trafficking, promoting civil aviation, standardization of see quality testing, cooperation in search and rescue operations, technical assistance to Bhutan’s national environment commission secretariat and preparation of national transmission grid masterplan.

During discussions, Manmohan Singh said India wants the “democratic experiment” in Bhutan to succeed. Bhutan had turned into a constitutional monarchy in mid-2008.

Singh termed the concept of “Gross National Happiness” as touted by the Bhutan king as “ecological sanity”.

He also offered all assistance from India to Bhutan in its hosting of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit next year.

Besides, both sides also discussed security and defence cooperation, with India and Bhutan talking about their “excellent cooperation” in action against northeast insurgent groups.

The Bhutanese king also met Vice President Hamid Ansari, United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj.

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