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India, Bhutan to double target for power projects

Siddharth Varadarajan

Thimphu: Underlining India’s close economic and strategic relations with Bhutan, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday pledged to extend the Indian rail network into its northern neighbour.

Dr. Singh made this commitment to his Bhutanese counterpart, Jigmi Y. Thinley, on the first day of a two-day visit to the country the first by an Indian Prime Minister in 15 years.

The rail proposal was first formally mooted in January 2005 and the RITES is now understood to have completed a feasibility study for the establishment of a rail link between Hashimara in West Bengal and Phuentsholing in Bhutan, a distance of around 20 km.

Briefing the media about the meeting between the two Prime Ministers, foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon said Dr. Singh noted that 2008 was an “auspicious year” because it marked the 100th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Wangchuk dynasty in Bhutan and the 50th anniversary of Jawaharlal Nehru’s first visit to the kingdom, besides being the year a democratically elected government was formed and King Jigme Khesar Wangchuk would formally be coronated. “To mark the year, we will commit to building the railway line into Bhutan", Mr. Menon quoted the Prime Minister as saying.

Mr. Menon said that another key decision the two leaders took was to double the joint target Bhutan and India had set for hydroelectricity generation from various projects in the kingdom from the projected 5000 MW by 2020 to 10,000 MW.

Around 1400 MW is produced annually from the Chukka, Kurichhu and Tala hydroelectric projects, with Bhutan exporting the surplus generation to India. A 1095 MW run-of-the river project is already planned for Punatsangchu and India’s Ambassador to Bhutan, Sudhir Vyas, said the detailed project reports for the second stage of the same project as well as for the Mangdechhu hydropower project were nearing completion.

In brief remarks to the press upon his arrival at Paro airport, Dr. Singh said the relationship between the two countries was “unique” and that India stood ready to “do our bit for the accelerated development of Bhutan.”

Mr. Menon said the Prime Minister’s visit underlined India and Bhutan’s “shared prosperity, shared security and shared destiny.”

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