India’s Forthcoming gift to the Youth and Future of Bhutan

Bhutan waits for a formal letter on the Third Internet Gateway from India
An important resolution of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), presented to the parliament on June 29, 2022 was to speed up the establishment of the third Internet gateway through Bangladesh. While the minister of foreign affairs (MoFA), Dr. Tandi Dorji said that the Indian Embassy here will inform their decisions in the next few weeks, Bhutanese entrepreneurs, civil servants and observers say that as was mentioned by Dr Tandi to the media earlier, it would be another milestone in relations between the two countries; but most importantly India’s gift to the youth of Bhutan and the future. And in the words of Sonam Dorji, an entrepreneur, “historians on Indo-Bhutan relations are waiting for another page to be filled.” 
“We should not forget that this development was informed to the Bhutanese after the visit of Indian External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar, who was Bhutan’s first high level visitor since the Covid 19 pandemic began. While India supported us immensely during the pandemic by even giving us free vaccines, continuing projects like restoration of the Wangduephodrang Dzong and others, the Third Internet Gateway would be the most precious gift from India, post Covid especially to the Youth and future of Bhutan,” Sonam Dorji, said. He added that important decisions like this will take time. “We should not expect the Indian Ambassador here immediately receiving a letter from 10-Janpath, New Delhi, and giving to us,” he underlined, adding all should know that “India has never let us just, just as Bhutan has never done the same.” “That’s the beauty of Indo-Bhutan relations, which countries envy and marvel at,” he said.
A civil servant who did not want to be named said India has supported Bhutan since the first five year plan. “Our relation is special. We know it; but there are probabilities that our youth, both in India and Bhutan may forget this. The synonym of youth today is technology and the Third Internet Gateway from India will remind the youth of both countries about this special relation we share,” he said.
Tandin Wangchuk, a private businessman reminded about Indian Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Bhutan in 2019. “His Excellency spoke to the youth of Bhutan outlining bilateral engagement in space and digital and emerging technologies and told the youth to harness them for innovation and sustainable development,” Tandin said. On the same visit Prime Minister Modi reiterated GoI’s commitment to advance the economic and infrastructural development of Bhutan, in line with priorities and wishes of the Government and the people of Bhutan, he said, which includes infrastructure like the Third Internet Gateway. “It is always good if we get the formal letter faster. But we will be getting it soon and it will be a giant amongst milestones in Indo-Bhutan relations,” he said.  
Meanwhile the PAC report says the third Internet Gateway is proposed to be implemented through Gelephu – Agartala – Comilla – Kuakata – Singapore. “The initiative will be implemented by the local Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and Telecom Service Providers (TSPs) in partnership with the Indian operators,” the report says, while highlighting that the government of Bangladesh offered internet bandwidth to Bhutan at a friendly rate of USD 3 per Mbps per month for the route under their jurisdiction (Comilla – Kuakata – Singapore) as a special gesture of goodwill and friendship. 
After several rounds of meeting, the Indian side requested the Ministry of Information and Communications (MoIC) to write formally to the Indian Ambassador about the offer made by the Government of Bangladesh and the Royal Government of Bhutan’s expected rates in light of this offer. Till date, there has been no response from Government of India (GoI). However, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) is constantly following up with the representatives of GoI on their response. The MoFA informed that Embassy of India will inform their decision in the next few weeks.
In the end of April this year, Bhutan received External Affairs Minister of India Dr S Jaishankar, who was Bhutan’s first high level visitor since the pandemic began. After his visit, Bhutan’s foreign minister, Lyonpo Tandi informed the media that India has, in principle, agreed for Bhutan’s proposal and request for the third Internet gateway; that too at the rate Bhutan proposed. 
Though the Indian government did not confirm the exact rate, Lyonpo Tandi said the rate per Mbps(megabits per second) will be less than USD 5. As of now Bhutan pays USD 7 per Mbps for the Internet connection through the Siliguri corridor.
Lyonpo Tandi further said that the government had been negotiating at around USD 1 to 1.5 but that the GoI was not very positive about this rate as it was even less than what their states were paying.
Lyonpo said that the need of another gateway was necessary for redundancy considering the event of an Internet shutdown for two days due to cyclone Amphan. Cyclone Amphan, which made landfall in May 2020 year near the India-Bangladesh border, was the costliest tropical cyclone on record for the North Indian Ocean, with reported economic losses in India of approximately USD 14 billion, a flagship UN report has said.
It left Bhutan without internet connectivity for more than a day and underlined the need of a third international internet gateway. He also said it would have other benefits, especially to the eastern dzongkhags and connect the remote parts of the country apart from faster speed. 
In December 15, 2021, the joint sitting, approved the PAC’s recommendation to accelerate establishment of a third international internet gateway, with most members supporting it. 
During the discussions, Lyonpo said the Bhutanese government cannot make a decision on its own and that it would depend on the governments of India and Bangladesh. He also said that while Bangladesh may not be an issue, the problem would be with Indian private operators, who should be routing internet cable connections via India. He said that even when the government agrees, private operators object.