PM Modi is planning to visit Bhutan as part of his ‘neighbourhood first’ policy, with an eye on boosting regional connectivity through a multi-modal transport system. The neighbourhood continues to be a priority for Modi as he visited the Maldives and Sri Lanka on his maiden and second trip abroad, respectively, within two weeks of taking charge in his second term.

Bhutan was his maiden destination after he was elected as the PM for the first time in 2014. Bhutan is India’s closest neighbour and the PM’s visit is expected to give fillip to sub-regional cooperation, including connectivity. Last week, Bhutan’s cargo was shipped for Bangladesh via an Indian river for the first time.

One thousand metric tons of stones from Bhutan are being transported to Bangladesh using the Brahmaputra by ship MV AAI, which set sail from Dhubri in Assam on Friday. The Inland Waterways Authority of India’s ship will reach Narayanganj in Bangladesh with the Bhutanese cargo.

The stones were transported by trucks from Phuentsholing in Bhutan to Dhubri. Transport of cargo through this route will cut short travel time by 8-10 days and reduce transportation cost 30%. India will seek to operationalise the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal Motor Vehicles Agreement that also feeds into seven-member BIMSTEC grouping. Bhutan on its part has fended off Chinese pressure and desires status quo in Dokalam. Meanwhile, West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee has suggested that India launch a dialogue with Bangladesh to discuss challenges posed by cross-border rivers. The West Bengal government believes that barrages on some common rivers in Bangladesh are impacting water flow in a drought season and it wants the Modi government to raise this issue with the Sheikh Hasina government.``