PM dedicates Tala to people of Bhutan, announces new hydel projects

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Thimphu, May 17 (UNI) Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today announced that India and Bhutan would develop two new mega hydropower projects---Punatsangchhu-II and Mangdechhu--- and commence the preparation of detailed project reports on four other such ventures.

Addressing a joint session of the newly-elected Parliament of Bhutan, the world's newest democracy which held its first elections in March this year, Dr Singh said these new projects would help achieve the target of export of at least 5000 MW of electricity from the kingdom to India by 2020 in an environmentally sustainable manner.

He also said that India would do everything possible to try and meet the revised target of 10,000 MW by 2020, set by the two sides during talks yesterday.

Shortly afterwards, in the courtyard of the Parliament complex, Dr Singh dedicated the 1020 MW Tala hydel station, built with Indian assistance and commissioned in 2006-07, to the people of Bhutan.

He also laid the foundation stone of the 1095 Punatsangchhu-I project, which the two sides have now taken up.

In his address to the Bhutanese Parliament, Dr Singh also announced that India would begin construction of the first ever rail link between the two countries, connecting Hashimara in West Bengal to Phuentsholing across the border.

He said it would be called the "Golden Jubilee Rail Line" to commemorate the 50th anniversary of India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru's visit to Bhutan in 1958 and his talks with then King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk. The link will connect the kingdom to the entire railway network of India.

Dr Singh also announced the institution of a Nehru-Wangchuk Scholarship to encourage students from Bhutan to study in leading Indian universities and institutions.

"Our bilateral economic engagement over the next five years will be of the order of Rs 100 billion," he said.

At the dedication of the Tala project, Bhutan's Minister of Economic Affairs Khandu Wangchuk said Bhutan had the potential to generate 30,000 MW of hydropower, which it would be happy to share with India.

The Tala project was taken up after the successful completion of the Chukha hydel station set up jointly by the two countries.

Punatsangchhu-I will be the largest hydel project undertaken in Bhutan. Construction on the project will start this year and completed by 2014, Mr Wangchuk said.

The Bhutanese minister said that with the commissioning of the Tala project, the contribution of electricity to the country's GDP had gone up to 22 per cent. It also provides more than 45 per cent of national revenue, he said.

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