PM’s visit to Bhutan will boost energy ties

May 14th, 2008 - 4:37 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh

New Delhi, May 14 (IANS) Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s two-day visit to Bhutan beginning Friday is expected to give an impetus to one of India’s major imports - electricity. He will dedicate the 1,020 MW Tala hydroelectric project, built with India’s assistance, and lay the foundation of the 1,095 MW Punatsangchhu hydroelectric project. “Mutually beneficial development of water resources, particularly hydro-electric power, in Bhutan have been an important element in our bilateral relations,” said foreign secretary Shivshankar Menon ahead of the prime minister’s visit.

“All surplus power from the three commissioned hydro-electric projects in Bhutan is being sold to India.”

With the India-US civil nuclear deal still in political limbo, experts point out that Bhutan’s hydro-power potential of 31,000 MW could become an important part of New Delhi’s quest for energy security.

Singh’s visit will focus on developing a more diversified and contemporary economic and energy partnership in tune with emerging realities in the two countries.

“We have only tapped into 1,400 MW and the goal is to import 5,000 MW of electricity by 2020,” added Menon.

Singh’s brief visit to the Land of the Thunder Dragon will be memorable in many respects. P.V. Narasimha Rao was the last Indian prime minister to go to Thimphu 1993.

“It is the centenary year of the Wangchuk dynasty and it will be the first trip by the Indian prime minister to the youngest democracy in South Asia after Bhutan’s first elections were held in March,” said Menon.

In addition Singh’s visit will coincide with the 50th anniversary of India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s visit to Bhutan. Nehru’s visit in 1958 was important in laying the groundwork for a deeper engagement between independent India and Bhutan.

“Well, at that time, Jawaharlal Nehru himself arrived in Bhutan on horseback. Now Prime Minister Singh goes by plane. It just goes to show how economic integration and transport linkages have developed,” said Menon.

Manmohan Singh will address a joint session of the first elected parliament of Bhutan the same day, becoming the first international leader to be given the honour.

He will hold talks with the previous king, Jigme Singye Wangchuk, and his son and the present monarch, 28-year-old Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk. He will also meet his Bhutanese counterpart, Jigne Thinley, and discuss with him a host of issues, including India’s development cooperation with Bhutan.

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.

India is not only Bhutan’s main development partner but also its leading trade partner and has undertaken a slew of infrastructure development projects in Bhutan, which include building of roads in the mountainous nation of 700,000 people.

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