MEA wants Bhutan squeezed on development, hydel projects

India’s decision to withdraw the subsidies on the cooking gas and kerosene it supplies Bhutan is not an isolated diplomatic manoeuvre, with the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) pushing for showing Thimpu the red flag in several critical areas of cooperation including hydropower generation.

Communication within the MEA on releasing funds to Bhutan and on hydropower cooperation reveal a clear stridency towards disbursement of funds to the Himalayan kingdom, approval of small development projects (SDPs) and also mark a clear change in stance on funding future hydroelectric projects (HEPs).

The downturn in sentiment towards the traditionally friendly neighbour comes as Bhutan holds national assembly elections this month, the second democratic exercise in its history.

One note sent by the MEA’s Northern Division dated June 16 to its senior officials says the ministry has been “repeatedly conveying our concerns regarding the lack of transparency and openness on part of the Royal Government of Bhutan (RGOB)”. It advocates that New Delhi should “demonstrate our seriousness through some concrete expression of displeasure”.

The note says India, “continues to be presented with a fait accompli by the Bhutanese who seem to have acquired a habit of doing things keeping us in the dark and taking decisions unilaterally even on issues having a bearing on our common security. They seem to take the Indian government for granted, regardless of what they do”.

The note also lists steps that could be taken to show a “concrete expression of displeasure”. It says India should hold the next SDP meeting but not approve the fourth list of projects which were taken up by the RGOB with the approval of India.

New Delhi, it says, should now focus on a critical review of projects underway in the 10th plan period but not give any indication of support for the 11th plan.

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