India – Bhutan Relations

India – Bhutan Relations

This article covers “Daily Current Affairs” and the topic details “India – Bhutan Relations”. The topic “India – Bhutan Relations” has relevance in the International Relation section of the UPSC CSE exam.

For Prelims:

Key treaties and Agreements Between India and Bhutan?

For Mains:

GS 2: International Relation

Challenges in India-Bhutan Relations?

Way forward?

Why in the news:

In a recent development, China and Bhutan convened the 13th Expert Group Meeting (EGM) in Beijing, with a primary focus on boundary delimitation. This event notably led to the formation of a collaborative Joint Technical Team responsible for delineating the China-Bhutan boundary.

Key Highlights of the Meeting?

  • The 13th Expert Group Meeting was marked by both nations reaffirming their dedication to accelerating initiatives to resolve the contested border issue.
  •  A blueprint was established for the imminent 14th round of boundary discussions to uphold the positive momentum.
  • Deliberations during the meeting centred on the execution of the Three-Step Road Map, underscoring the resolve to adhere to the prescribed approach for expediting boundary negotiations.


Implications for India’s Strategic Interests

In the context of recent developments in China-Bhutan relations, India’s strategic interests are being closely observed, particularly in the Doklam tri-junction, where the borders of India, Bhutan, and China converge.

  • China has notably revived its territorial claim over Bhutan’s eastern region, Sakteng, which encompasses a Wildlife Sanctuary and shares its borders with India’s Arunachal Pradesh state. This region is of paramount importance as China asserts its dominion over Arunachal Pradesh, referring to it as “South Tibet.” 
  • The implications of this claim extend beyond Bhutan’s boundaries, potentially serving as both a pressure tactic to coax Bhutan into acceding to its boundary-related demands and a direct challenge to India’s sovereignty over Arunachal Pradesh.
  • Bhutan, historically a strong ally of India in the region, has traditionally received substantial economic and military support from India. Nonetheless, recent times have witnessed an increase in China’s economic and diplomatic engagement with Bhutan, potentially diluting India’s influence in the area. This evolving dynamic underscores the importance of monitoring the situation as it could impact India’s strategic standing.

Historical and Cultural Bonds:

  • The foundation of India’s relations with Bhutan is deeply embedded in shared cultural heritage, including Buddhism, Hinduism, and various other traditions.
  • Many Bhutanese pilgrims journey to India’s sacred sites like Bodh Gaya, Rajgir, Nalanda, Sikkim, and Udayagiri, reflecting the spiritual ties between the two nations.
  • Bhutan notably stood among the initial nations to acknowledge India’s sovereignty and independence in 1947. This acknowledgement began an enduring alliance characterized by Bhutan’s consistent support for India’s progress and modernization.

Strategic Collaboration and Security Cohesion:

  • The 1949 Treaty of Friendship between India and Bhutan, revised in 2007, is a testament to their enduring relationship, emphasizing mutual respect for sovereignty and non-interference in internal matters.
  • India’s contributions to Bhutan encompass a range of critical areas such as defence, infrastructure, and communication. These contributions are pivotal in preserving Bhutan’s territorial integrity and autonomous governance.
  • An illustrative instance of the bond’s strength emerged during the 2017 Doklam standoff involving India and China. Bhutan played a pivotal role by permitting Indian troops to access its territory to counter Chinese encroachments, highlighting the solidarity and cooperation shared between the two nations.


Economic Collaboration and Development Partnership:

  • The India-Bhutan Trade, Commerce, and Transit Agreement, initially signed in 1972 and updated in 2016, establishes a framework for free trade between the two nations.
  • Notably, India stands as Bhutan’s largest trading partner, accompanied by economic aid directed towards Bhutan’s socio-economic advancement. The focus sectors include agriculture, irrigation, infrastructure, energy, health, education, and culture.
  • Key exports from India to Bhutan include petrol, diesel, passenger cars, rice, wood charcoal, cellphones, soya-bean oil, excavators, electric generators, motors, and turbine parts.
  • Conversely, prominent imports from Bhutan to India encompass electricity, betel nut, oranges, semi-finished iron or non-alloy steel products, and boulders.
  • India’s dominant role in Bhutan’s investment landscape is evident, contributing to 50% of the country’s total foreign direct investment (FDI).


Hydropower Collaboration:

  • A robust hydropower partnership thrives within the framework of the 2006 Agreement on Cooperation in Hydropower.
  • India’s commitment to assisting Bhutan in developing a minimum of 10,000 MW of hydropower and importing surplus electricity from this capacity by 2020 underscores their energy collaboration.
  • Operational hydroelectric projects, including Chhukha, Kurichu, Tala, and Mangdechhu, with a total capacity of 2136 MW, contribute significantly to Bhutan’s electricity supply to India. 
  • Additionally, the implementation of two hydropower projects, Punatsangchhu-I and Punatsangchhu-II, under the Inter-Governmental mode is in progress.


Multilateral Engagement:

  • Both nations actively participate in multilateral forums such as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Nepal), and BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation), fostering regional cooperation and collaboration.


People-to-People Connections:

  • Approximately 50,000 Indian citizens contribute to Bhutan’s workforce, predominantly in sectors like construction, education, and technical consultancy related to infrastructure projects.
  • India remains a sought-after educational destination for Bhutanese students, reinforcing strong ties.
  • Cultural exchange between India and Bhutan thrives through various avenues, including delegations, artists, scholars, exhibitions, festivals, and more, facilitating a deeper understanding and appreciation of each other’s cultures.


Challenges in India-Bhutan Relations:

  • Chinese Presence and Border Tensions: China’s increasing presence in Bhutan, particularly along the disputed border, raises concerns for India due to its strategic implications. 

While the India-Bhutan border has largely been peaceful, recent instances of Chinese border incursions like the 2017 Doklam standoff have introduced tensions among India, China, and Bhutan, potentially straining India-Bhutan relations.

  • Hydropower Development: While India has significantly supported Bhutan’s hydropower development, concerns have arisen within Bhutan about the terms of certain projects favouring India. Public opposition to these projects has emerged, leading to internal debates about the best approach to ensure mutual benefits.
  • Trade and Tourism Issues: India is Bhutan’s largest trading partner and a primary source of tourists. However, differences have emerged over trade and tourism policies. Bhutan’s concerns regarding the environmental impact of trade and tourism on its delicate ecology and cultural heritage have led to discussions about regulations and potential entry charges for Indian tourists.
  • Education Trends: Over time, the number of Bhutanese students pursuing tertiary education in India has declined significantly. From constituting 7% of all international students a decade ago, the figure now stands at 3.8%, reflecting changing educational preferences and potential challenges in people-to-people connections between the two countries.


Way Forward

  • Enhanced Regional Engagement: Strengthening collaboration on regional multilateral platforms will foster stability and serve shared interests. Through such platforms, India and Bhutan can consolidate efforts for regional progress.
  • Open Communication to Ease Border Tensions: Establishing transparent communication channels involving India, Bhutan, and China will be instrumental in easing border tensions. Open dialogue can contribute to a better understanding of each other’s concerns and promote peaceful coexistence.
  • Resolving Hydropower Concerns: Addressing apprehensions related to hydropower projects necessitates constructive conversations. Fair terms should be discussed to ensure these projects mutually benefit India and Bhutan while upholding their long-standing partnership.
  • Joint Policy Formulation: A collaborative approach involving establishing a joint committee could facilitate the creation of sustainable policies. These policies should strike a balance between economic growth and the preservation of Bhutan’s unique ecology and culture.
  • Education and Skill Development: India’s education and skill development assistance can be manifested through scholarships for Bhutanese students and training programs for professionals. Such initiatives will enhance Bhutan’s human resource capabilities and deepen people-to-people ties.

plutus ias current affairs eng med 30th August 2023


Q.1 Consider the following states of India:

  1. West Bengal
  2. Arunachal Pradesh
  3. Sikkim
  4. Assam

How many of the above States share boundary with Bhutan:

(a) Only one 

(b) Only two 

(c) Only three 

(d) All four



Q.2 Chhukha, Kurichu, Tala, and Mangdechhu hydropower projects that supply significant power to India are in which of the following countries:

(a) Nepal 

(b) Bangladesh

(c) Bhutan

(d) Myanmar



Q.3 Analyzing the Evolving Dynamics of India-Bhutan Relations, enumerate the opportunities and challenges ahead.

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