MOU Between INDIA AND BHUTAN in Environment Cooperation

Jun 12, 2020

The Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan is sharing bilateral relations with India since 1910, when Bhutan was declared a protectorate of British India. When India attained independence in 1947, Bhutan was amongst the first nations to recognise it. India and Bhutan have historically shared tense relationship with China. Apart from sharing a 699 kilometre border, outlining the states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, West Bengal and Sikkim, Bhutan and India share deep religious and cultural links. A Buddhist saint named Guru Padmasam bhava played an influential role in spreading Buddhism to Bhutan. India and Bhutan share the Indo-Bhutan Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1949, which became the basis for bilateral relations. Certain amendments were made to this treaty in 2007. They included Bhutan’s ability to import arms as long as Indian interests are not harmed followed with no re-export of weapons either by the government or by the individuals. Article 6 & 7 of the treaty enclose the issue of ‘national treatment’ and equal privileges for citizens on each other’s soils. The treaty also includes perpetual peace and friendship and free trade and commerce. Both India and Bhutan are founding members of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) that deals with economic, social and cultural development of South Asian Region. Both of them also share other multilateral forums such as BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Nepal),BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) etc.


In view of the border cooperation, India and Bhutan share a secretary level mechanism on border management and security relate dissues. There is also a Border District Coordination Meeting (BDCM) Mechanism between the bordering States and the Royal Government of Bhutan (RGoB) to facilitate coordination on border management and other related matters. In the economic arena, India is Bhutan’s leading development partner and has been extending financial support to Bhutan’s FYP. Bhutan serves as a market for Indian commodities and is a destination for Indian investment. A large number of students from Bhutan, study in India and are provided scholarships. Around 60,000 Indian nationals, reside in Bhutan and are employed in Hydro-electric power consumption and the road industry.


On June 3rd 2020, the Union Cabinet approved the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between India and Bhutan for cooperation in the areas of environment. The MoU aims at promoting long term bilateral relations between India and Bhutan in the field of environment protection and management of natural resources, on the basis of equity,reciprocity and mutual benefits in accordance with the laws and legal provisions in each country. Both the countries have mutually agreed to prioritize Air Waste, Chemical Management, Climate Change and any other areas jointly decided upon. The MoU agreements shall stay in force for a period often years. This agreement encourages Indo-Bhutan cooperation activities by roping in organizations, private companies, government institutions at all levels and research institutions.


This MoU was originally signed on 11th March 2013, between the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) of India and the National Environment Commission of Bhutan (NEC). The original MoU expired on 10th March 2016. However, this cooperation and coordination in the field of environment was renewed keeping in mind, the benefits of the earlier MoU. The Indian government stated that this MoU shall facilitate mutual exchange of participation, experience, best practices and technical knowledge through both public and private sectors, thereby contributing to long term sustainable development. No significant employment generation is envisaged through this agreement, by the government. The financial implications of the proposed MoU are limited to holding of bilateral meetings (Joint Working Group meetings)which shall alternatively meet in Bhutan as well as in India.


Despite sharing such friendly bilateral relations with each other, India and Bhutan have faced tensions when India meddled in Bhutan’s internal affairs. This has created a negative image of India in the minds of the Bhutanese. Further, India’s development of Bhutan’s hydro-power production is considered to have been driven by self-interest as India is getting Bhutan’s surplus power at relatively cheaper rates. In internal matters, India is alleged to have established military camps in jungles of South East Bhutan.China is continuously persuading strong economic and diplomatic ties with Bhutan, that is a source of threat for India. In order to cater to these challenges, India has to step up its efforts to publicize the benefits that accrue to Bhutan from Indian projects. It is also essential for India to explore new areas of development and cooperation between the nations, followed by frequent high level visits from both the sides. Safety of Border from China is a concern for both the nations. In view of this, both sides need to work together and ensure border areas remain militant free. India must stop involving in the internal affairs of Bhutan, and play an advisory role instead.A politically stable Bhutan is important to India. An unstable and restive Bhutan can provide a safe haven to anti-India activities and anti-India militant groups.