India to develop Bhutan’s hydro potential, import 10,000 MW (Roundup)

May 16th, 2008 - 10:40 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh
By Murali Krishnan
Thimpu, May 16 (IANS) In this celebratory year of monarchic Bhutan’s transition to the world’s youngest democracy, India Friday made a significant move to broaden its energy basket by pledging to import 10,000 MW of electricity by 2020 from a country with one of the world’s largest hydropower potential. And to improve transport linkages and connectivity, New Delhi also assured Thimpu that work would begin on a 30-km rail link between the border towns of Hashimara in West Bengal and Phuentsholing in Bhutan.

These were some of the major decisions taken during talks between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who arrived to a rousing reception in the Bhutanese capital, and his counterpart Jigne Thinley, whose Druk Phensuem Tshogpa (DPT) party won 45 of the 47 seats in historic elections in March.

Singh also met up with the 28-year-old king, Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk, after a ceremonial welcome at the national Dzong, the administrative and religious headquarters.

“We have decided to double the target from the original target of 5000 MW and a detailed project report is being undertaken,” said Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon.

“Both leaders were convinced that these measures were important to take relations forward as there is a shared destiny and future,” added Menon.

The visit by Singh to Bhutan is primarily to look closely at diversifying the country’s energy basket as the Himalayan state has huge untapped potential in hydro-electricity.

According to a survey, Bhutan has the potential to produce 30,000 MW of hydropower. Even if half of this potential is tapped, it can go a long way in easing chronic power shortages in northern India.

The 1,020-MW Tala hydropower project at Chukha Dzongkhag in western Bhutan, the largest joint venture between India and the Druk kingdom, is a symbol of their collaboration in power generation.

On his two-day visit Singh will dedicate the Tala project, built with India’s assistance, and lay the foundation of the 1,095 MW Punatsangchhu hydroelectric project.

Bhutan has been one of India’s closest allies and has traditionally extended support to New Delhi on all crucial issues at various furms. For India, strong and deep ties with Thimphu also becomes importance because of its strategic location, saddled as it is between the Sino-Indian border.

India and Bhutan signed an updated treaty of friendship last year, which gave Thimphu, hitherto guided by New Delhi in its defence and foreign policies since 1949, more freedom in international diplomacy and non-lethal military purchases.

Life in the Land of the Thunder Dragon virtually came to standstill as Thimpu’s residents came out in thousands to welcome Singh who was giving a stirring welcome as his cavalcade snaked through the 50-km stretch from Paro to Thimphu.

Hundreds of school children lined the route waving flags and cheered on the convoy and moved by the response, Singh, for the first time broke protocol and stepped out of his bullet-proof Mercedes to mill with the crowds.

Underlining the special ties between India and Bhutan based on trust and a shared perception of common interests, Singh in his banquet speech hosted by Thinley said ties had diversified to cover the entire gamut of political and economic cooperation.

“We welcome Bhutan into the fraternity of democratic nations. We assure of our full support and cooperation as you embark upon your new and exciting journey,” said Singh.

The prime minister will also address the first joint session of the new Bhutanese parliament Saturday making him the first international figure to be given this rare honour.

India and Bhutan signed an updated treaty of friendship last year, which gave Thimphu, hitherto guided by New Delhi in its defence and foreign policies since 1949, more freedom in international diplomacy and non-lethal military purchases.

Singh’s visit also commemorates the 50th anniversay of the visit here by Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister.

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