India and Bhutan continue to share strong economic relations and defence ties. After India agreed to finance Bhutan with 4500 INR Package, the news has emerged that India will construct a satellite tracking and data reception centre in Bhutan.
The “ground station” of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) in Bhutan is likely to double up as “a strategic asset” for New Delhi, given its location between India and China.
Beijing has already set up an advanced satellite tracking centre and astronomical observatory at Ngari in Tibet Autonomous Region – about 125 kilometres away from the Line of Actual Control (LAC), which serves as a de-facto border between India and China in the absence of a settled boundary.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday said that the construction of the ISRO’s “ground station” in Bhutan would be completed soon. “Space science is the new dimension of our cooperation (with Bhutan). I am happy that Ground Station being built by ISRO in Bhutan to reap the benefits of the South Asian Satellite is soon going to be completed,” he told media persons after a meeting with new Bhutanese Prime Minister Lotay Tshering at Hyderabad House in New Delhi.
“With the completion of this project, Bhutan will get help in tasks such as weather information, tele-medicine and disaster relief in the far-flung areas of the country,” said Modi.
The ISRO launched the South Asia Satellite on May 5, 2017. New Delhi bore the entire expenses for building and launching the satellite. Prime Minister, himself, had in 2014 mooted the idea of having a satellite for all the members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), so that India could share the benefits of its advances in space technologies with all its neighbours in South Asia. Pakistan stayed away from it although all other SAARC nations joined India in the project.
Though Modi said that the ISRO’s ground station in Bhutan was intended to help the tiny nation take advantage of the South Asia Satellite, sources told the DH that it was part of India’s countermeasures to China’s advanced satellite tracking station in Tibet.
The facility set up by the Chinese Government is so advanced that it could not only track satellites launched by India but could also “blind” them, said sources in New Delhi.
India on Friday also pledged Rs 4500 crore as its assistance to Bhutan to support the tiny neighbouring nation’s 12th five-year-plan for development. “In Bhutan’s 12th five-year-plan, India will provide assistance of Rs 4500 crore. This contribution will be according to the needs and priorities of Bhutan,” Prime Minister said. “I have assured (Bhutanese) Prime Minister that as always India will play the role of a trusted partner and friend in the development of Bhutan.”
Thimphu stood firmly with New Delhi during the 72-day-long face-off between Indian Army and Chinese People’s Liberation Army at Doklam Plateau in western Bhutan in June-August, 2017.
Tshering is on his maiden visit to India after taking over as Prime Minister of Bhutan last month. He invited Modi for an early visit to Bhutan.
New Delhi and Thimphu on Friday also reached an agreement on the tariff of the electricity India would import from the newly-constructed 720 MW Mangde-Chhu Hydroelectric Plant in Bhutan.
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