Bhutan’s Gelephu Smartcity Project: Bridging South and Southeast Asia’s economies via India’s northeast

Gelephu Smartcity Project
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The majestic Himalayan nation Bhutan is gearing up for an ambitious project that promises to transform its economy – the development of a 1,000 sq km mega international city at Gelephu, bordering the Indian state of Assam.

This visionary initiative as announced by Bhutanese King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck in Thimpu envisions not just an urban hub, but a strategic bridge connecting Bhutan’s economy to the vast Indian market and beyond.

The ambitious Gelephu Smartcity Project in the Sarpang district of southern Bhutan would act as an economic corridor connecting South Asia with Southeast Asia via India’s northeast.

The project categorized as “Special Administrative Region” is set to connect Bhutan with Southeast Asian countries like Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, and Singapore via India.

At the heart of this linkage lies enhanced connectivity. The project plans to establish a 58-km rail link between Gelephu and Kokrajhar in Assam and an international airport at Gelephu.

This will significantly reduce transportation costs and time, boosting trade and attracting foreign investment.

The Gelephu mega city aspires to be more than just a trade gateway. The city is planned to be a “mindfulness city,” incorporating Bhutan’s unique focus on well-being and happiness into its design and infrastructure.

The project aims to foster zero emission industries by establishing special economic zones focused on renewable energy. These sectors align with Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness philosophy, prioritizing sustainable development and well-being alongside economic growth.

India, as Bhutan’s closest economic partner, plays a crucial role in this endeavor. India’s expertise in smart city development will be invaluable in shaping Gelephu into a vibrant and sustainable urban center.

The two countries are collaborating on upgrading border infrastructure, streamlining customs procedures, and developing designated immigration check posts.

Land customs station in Assam’s Dadgiri would be developed into an integrated check post while Darranga in Assam and Samdrup Jongkhar in Bhutan would be designated as immigration check posts.

While India has already given a go ahead nod for the transportation of Bhutanese products from Haldibari in West Bengal to Bangladesh’s Chilahati, a rail link of 18-km between Bhutan’s Samtse and Banarhat in West Bengal is also under consideration.

The success of this project will depend on the continued collaboration between Bhutan and India, along with careful planning and execution. It can serve as a model for sustainable development balancing between environmental protection and cultural preservation.

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