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Gelephu project for both Bhutan and India UPSC NOTE

 Economic and strategic importance of the Gelephu project for both Bhutan and India.

  • In an age where connectivity projects, mega-highways and smart cities are in currency worldwide.

  • Bhutan’s plans for a regional economic hub at Gelephu.

  • Gelephu is a town bordering Assam in India.

  •  Gelephu project is  high on Bhutan Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay’s agenda in Delhi this week in talks with the government in Delhi and India Inc. in Mumbai. 

  • The plan, launched by Bhutan’s King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck in December 2023, is to build a “Gelephu Mindfulness City” (GMC) with a unique Bhutanese architectural blueprint across 1,000 square kilometres.

  • As a special administrative zone with separate, investor-friendly laws.

  • As a carbon-neutral city, Gelephu would include only non-polluting industries (mainly IT, education, hotel and hospital sectors).

  •  This would be promoted as an investment destination and health and wellness hub in the middle of the region. 

  • In that sense the city is more like newer global peers.

  • Planned cities such as Saudi Arabia’s Neom and Indonesia’s Nusantara than financial hubs with glass-cased skyscrapers such as Dubai, Hong Kong and Singapore

  • It would also lie at the crossroads of India’s “Act East” plans for connectivity to Myanmar.

  • Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the Indo-Pacific region as well as the new India-Japan connectivity plans between India’s north-eastern States through Bangladesh to the Bay of Bengal and Indian Ocean. 

  • At the 7th Indian Ocean Conference 2024 in Perth in February.

Challenges of Gelephu project

  • The Gelephu gambit will require a major leap of faith from India

  • To begin with, the geography of Gelephu, a rare broad plain in an otherwise mountainous country, poses challenges

  • With warmer temperatures than in the mountains, Gelephu gets high amounts of rainfall during a monsoon season that lasts several months, leading to considerable flooding each year. 

  • The surrounding forests and wildlife populations place Gelephu right in the middle of elephant corridors. 

  • Insurgencies in Assam and the northeastern States and just across the Indian border in Myanmar have been an area of great concern in the past.

  • Leading to a major military operation (Operation All Clear) by Bhutan’s former (Fourth) king in 2003.

  • Working with the Indian Army to drive out militant groups sheltering in the area. 

  • As Gelephu is landlocked, it is dependent on other countries, primarily India, to provide the infrastructure for trade and transport out of the special administrative region.

Potential benefits of regional cooperation in a world increasingly divided by political and economic blocs 

  • For Bhutan, the Gelephu project is necessitated by its economic challenges

  • Apart from hydropower, tourism is Bhutan’s mainstay.

  • But the kingdom has always discouraged mass tourism.

  •  They preferes a “high value, low volume” motto to ensure sustainability.

  • However, if Bhutan wants to increase these revenues, it must scale up its capacity to take in more tourists and visitors and land bigger planes.

  • Which need a much larger airport than the present one in the narrow Paro valley.

  • The first part of the Gelephu project involves scaling up the Gelephu airport and tarmac to international standards.

  • This will need financing and expertise from India

  • The growing “outmigration” of Bhutanese youth in search of jobs abroad is another challenge. 

  • The government hopes a mega project such as Gelephu will stem that

  • Finally, there is Bhutan’s most pressing geopolitical concern: pressure from its northern neighbour China to conclude a boundary resolution deal and to establish diplomatic ties.

  • Far away to the south, Gelephu offers Bhutan a way to open itself up in a controlled manner to the rest of the world, while also continuing negotiations with Beijing for a stable border.

  • India and Bhutan have thus far built an idyllic relationship.

  • Based on a strong understanding between every Bhutan’s king and Indian Prime Minister over the past 75 years. 

  • Bhutan’s requests have seldom ever been rejected, and India is the leading source of investments in Bhutan.

  • This comprising 50% of its total foreign direct investment


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