Official Spokesperson: Good afternoon friends and thank you very much for being here today. I have here with me the Foreign Secretary who will brief us about the forthcoming visit of President to Bhutan. Alongwith Foreign Secretary, on my left is Press Secretary to the President Mr. Venu Rajamony. You’ve met him previously and on the Foreign Secretary’s right is Joint Secretary (North), Mr. Abhay Thakur who is thepoint person in the Ministry of External Affairs, dealing with Bhutan. What we will do is that I’ll request Foreign Secretary to make a few opening remarks, following which the floor will be open to any questions that you would like to ask on Bhutan. We’ve just had a fairly long discussion on all other matters and we are running behind schedule, so we will limit this interaction to only issues relating to Bhutan. With those introductory remarks, I request Foreign Secretary to make her opening remarks.
Foreign Secretary: Good evening friends, at the invitation of His Majesty the King of Bhutan Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, Hon’ble President of India Shri Pranab Mukherjee would be visiting Bhutan on a State Visit from 7-8 November 2014. He will be accompanied by Hon’ble Minister of State for Railways Shri Manoj Sinha; Members of Parliament Shri Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi of BJP, Shri Anil Shirole of BJP, Dr. Mahendra Nath Pandey of BJP and Shri Gaurav Gogoi of Indian National Congress, Secretary to the President and myself.
This will be the first bilateral, standalone visit by the President of India to Bhutan after a gap of 26 years. The last was by President R. Venkatraman in October 1988. Former President Smt. Pratibha Patil visited Bhutan for the Coronation Ceremony of King of Bhutan in 2008, which Hon’ble President had also attended as External Affairs Minister.
You are aware that Prime Minister Shri Modi chose Bhutan for his first visit abroad in June 2014, within a month of assuming office. Earlier, Prime Minister Togbay’s first visit abroad, in August 2013, was to India. The King of Bhutan and the Queen visited India in January 2014 and stayed as the first foreign guests in over twenty years in the renovated guest wing of the Rashtrapati Bhavan.
During the visit, Hon’ble President will meet the King of Bhutan and the Fourth King. Prime Minister of Bhutan Tshering Tobgay will call on the President. The meetings will provide an opportunity to discuss all issues of mutual interest and ways of further strengthening our close bilateral relations. These inter alia include our developmental assistance, hydropower, border security and education. Hon’ble President will address Bhutanese leaders, officials, professionals and intelligentsia on ‘India-Bhutan relations’ at the Convention Centre, Thimphu.
India shares a unique and special relationship with Bhutan. Our friendship has been nurtured by the vision of successive Kings of Bhutan and leaders of India. Both countries share an open border and deep-rooted people-to-people contacts. India is the principal developmental partner of Bhutan and has been extending assistance to the Five Year Plans of Bhutan since 1961. Our assistance package, comprising Rs. 4500 cr for the 11th Plan and Rs. 500 cr for an Economic Stimulus Package, encompasses diverse sectors like agriculture, education, information and communication technology, health, roads and communication facilities etc. Our mutually beneficial and win-win cooperation in Hydropower sector is the cornerstone of our developmental assistance to Bhutan.
Hon’ble President’s visit to Bhutan is in line with the established tradition of frequent exchanges of visits at the highest levels between the two countries. It reflects the importance that we attach to our neighbourhood in our foreign policy priorities, and particularly to relations with our friendliest partner in the region. 2014 is a year of all-round consolidation of our relations with Bhutan.
Official Spokesperson: If the Press Secretary to the President would like to add something, I’ll give him the floor and then we will open the floor for questions.
Press Secretary to the President:Thank you Akbar. Good evening ladies and gentlemen. As many of you would be aware, the Hon’ble President has a long standing personal relationship with the country of Bhutan as well as the leadership of Bhutan in various capacities in which he has functioned in the past, whether it be as Deputy Chairman of Planning Commission, as Minister of Finance, as Minister of Defence and as Minister of External Affairs, he has been involved in the determination of India’s policy towards Bhutan as well as in guiding evolution of India’s relationship with Bhutan. He, therefore, is eagerly looking forward to this visit and he is confident that it will contribute in a significant way to the improvement of relations between the two countries.
After assuming office as President, one of the first visitors to India was the current King of Bhutan who was the Chief Guest during the Republic Day in January 2013. As mentioned by the Foreign Secretary, the President also had opportunity to host the King of Bhutan in the Rashtrapati Bhavan in the renovated Guest wing in January of this year. The current King’s father who is popularly known as the fourth King assumed office almost at the same time as the President entered politics and became a minister. So, they have an association which spans several decades and through the fourth King’s many visits to India as well as the President’s many visits to Bhutan in his various capacities; they have a close personal relationship.
The President looks forward to consolidating these relationships during this visit. I would just like to add that as one of the importantthemes of the President both in all his domestic activities as well as in his foreign trips has been to try and promote educational exchanges with foreign countries. The delegation which he is taking along with him to Bhutan includes a representative of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad and the Vice Chancellor of the English and Foreign Languages University, both these institutions as well as the National Innovation Foundation would be concluding MoUs with their counterparts in the Bhutan. Equally, one of the most important agreements which is expected to come out of this visit is on Bhutan participating in the effort to rejuvenate Nalanda University. The President has visited Nalanda University and has been personally overseeing the progress in the rebuilding of this university. Thank you.
Official Spokesperson: The floor is to questions that any of you may like to ask.
Question: There are some reports today in the newspapers that Bhutanese nationals are being kidnapped for ransom in the border areas of North-East. What do you have to say about that?
Foreign Secretary: You are aware that India and Bhutan have very close linkages relating to security concerns, so you may rest assured that the concerned authorities on both sides are fully apprised of the situation and taking all necessary steps that are required.
Question: Can you please tell us city wise program of PM’s visit to Australia?
Official Spokesperson: The Prime Minister is expected to reach Brisbane on 14th. This is for his G20 related activities. He will be in Brisbane on 14th, 15th and 16th. On the 17th morning, he will depart from Brisbane for Sydney. He is expected to be in Sydney till the evening of the 17th following which he will travel to Canberra. In Canberra, he is there for the evening and then the 18th until the afternoon. On the 18th afternoon, Prime Minister will depart for Melbourne and he is expected to be there till late in the evening of night. He will depart from Melbourne thereafter. So, you have the schedule of all the four cities in Australia.
We will have briefings on other parts and we will explain toyou in all those briefings. Today the briefings were on two aspects- one was G20 and the other was the President’s visit. We will have briefings on every aspect of the Prime Minister’s visit and explain to you everything. Thank you very much