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Youth, education to be primary areas of focus during Modi's visit to Bhutan

ANI  |  Asia 

Several agreements between educational institutions in India and Bhutan are expected to be signed during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to the Himalayan nation amid reports that the number of Bhutanese students studying in India has been declining.

Talking to the media here, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale said that a primary area of focus of the visit will be the youth of Bhutan.

"One of the primary areas of focus (of PM Modi's visit) is the youth of Bhutan. What we are expecting from the MOUs and Agreements, you will discover that the majority of them relates to the educational institutions in Bhutan and high-quality educational institutions in India particularly in science technology and mathematics," Gokhale said.

"This is one of the very concrete ways in which we think we remedy the situation, besides, of course, making it easier for Bhutanese studying in India through giving of grants and such assistance which is continuing under our bilateral programmes," he added.

Gokhale was briefing the media on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's two-day visit to "trusted friend and neighbour" Bhutan from August 17 at the invitation of Bhutan's Prime Minister Lotay Tshering.

Upon arriving in Bhutan, Modi will visit one of the oldest Dzong in the country, Simtokha Dzong. Subsequently, he will hold a bilateral with Bhutanese PM Dr Lotay Tshering, followed by the signing of the MoUs.

The visit is in line with India's continued emphasis on its 'Neighbourhood First Policy'. The Prime Minister had earlier visited the landlocked country in the Himalayas during his first term as Prime Minister.

"Modi will call on the leader of the Opposition Dr Pema Gyamtsho, as well as the fourth King of Bhutan," Gokhale said.

On September 18, Modi will address students at the Royal University of Bhutan.

"Our intention is to reach out to the youth of Bhutan and to directly convey to them our interest," Gokhale said.

The visit is in keeping with the tradition of regular high-level exchanges between the two countries and provides an opportunity to the two sides to discuss ways to further strengthen and diversify the bilateral partnership, including economic and development co-operation, hydro-power co-operation, people-to-people-ties as well as shared views on regional matters and other issues of mutual interest.

India will provide Bhutan transitional trade support facility of Rs 400 crore over a period of five years to "encourage Bhutanese exporters to export more in India. Our objective is to diversify the relationship from simply being based on hydropower cooperation to other areas where we want to collaborate."

The highlight of the visit would be the formal inauguration of the Mangdechhu hydroelectric power project, which is a 720MW run-of-river power plant built on the Mangdechhu River in Trongsa Dzongkhag District of central Bhutan.

"Built at a cost of around 512 crores, this is the most cost-effective hydroelectric project in South Asia. It is built on 70 per cent loan and 30 per cent grant," the Foreign Secretary said.

"The other important aspect in Hydro sector is the opening of discussions on another major project, that is the Sankosh hydel project," he added.

In addition, India and Bhutan will review defence and security matters, including the situation along the border separating the two countries.

"Obviously we will review defence and security matters with Bhutan that include the situation along India-Bhutan boundary. Beyond that I would not like to comment at this stage on the specifics of what will be discussed," Gokhale said in response to a question on whether there will be a review of the Doklam incident during PM Modi's visit.

Gokhale added that the talks would not touch upon the ongoing discussions between Bhutan and China on the border issues. "China and Bhutan have held 23-24 rounds of talks (on the border issues). This is a discussion taking place between those two countries. We are not a part of it."The matter holds significance as this is the first visit of Modi to Bhutan since the end of the 72-day-long standoff between Indian and Chinese Army personnel in Doklam Plateau in 2017.

The Foreign Secretary added that Bhutan has shown an understanding of the Indian government's action in abrogating Article 370 and deemed it as an "internal matter" of the country.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Fri, August 09 2019. 23:24 IST