Bhutan's King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck has unveiled plans for development of a new 'international city' in Gelephu, on its border with Assam.
The king's announcement came during his 116th National Day address, at the Changlimathang stadium in Thimpu on 17 December, pitching the project as an “economic corridor connecting South Asia with Southeast Asia via India’s northeastern States”.
"The land connection from Gelephu or Samdrup Jongkhar through Assam and Northeast Indian states, to Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore, is a vibrant economic corridor linking South Asia to Southeast Asia," the 42-year-old sovereign said.
Spanning an area of 1,000 sq km, or 250,000 acres, the Gelephu Special Administrative Region (SAR) will link Bhutan economically with Assam to spur regional and sub-regional integration.
The Gelephu project in Sarpang district to Bhutan’s south would be a 'special administrative region' run under different laws to facilitate more international investment. The project is expected to follow environmental standards and sustainability as a goal and will aim to attract 'quality investment' from 'specially screened' international companies.
The plan for Gelephu includes an international airport, which will be Bhutan’s second, and geared to land larger planes than its present airport at Paro, 'zero emission' industries, a 'mindfulness city' that plays to Bhutan’s strength in tourism and wellness, as well as infrastructure companies.
In a major gesture, the king expressed his gratitude to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Indian government for their continued goodwill and support for the project.
It may be recalled that India and Bhutan have agreed to go ahead with the final location survey of Kokrajhar-Gelephu rail link, the first such rail link between the two countries. Indian Railways has already completed the Preliminary Engineering-cum-Traffic (PET) survey of the proposed rail link to be built by India.
According to the joint statement issued after the meeting, two sides agreed to undertake the final location survey (FLS), in consultation with the Bhutanese side, of the proposed 58 km cross-border rail link connecting Kokrajhar in Assam, to Gelephu in Sarpang, Bhutan.
The rail connectivity could in the future assist air connectivity for Indians in the northeast as well, as Bhutan plans to build an international airport at Gelephu as part of the larger Sarpang district Special Economic Zone.
“Around two billion people live in South Asia,” King Jigme Wangchuck said, thanking Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the government of India for agreeing to build the first India-Bhutan railway line to Gelephu, which would also connect with roadways and border trading and crossing points into Assam and West Bengal, and over time, he said, will give Bhutan access to Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Singapore.
During two separate visits to India this year, King Wangchuck had held discussions about the project with PM Modi and Assam Chief Minister Hemanta Biswa Sarma. Additionally, he also engaged with prominent Indian industrialists such as Mukesh Ambani and Gautam Adani, as well as the proprietors and high-ranking executives of companies within the Tata, Birla and Mahindra group.
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