Bhutan’s Gelephu Smartcity Project

Bhutan’s Gelephu Smartcity Project


Bhutan’s monarch, King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, recently disclosed plans for an expansive “International City” spanning over 1,000 sq. km on the Bhutan-Assam border. The announcement, outlines the project as an “economic corridor” connecting South Asia with Southeast Asia via India’s northeastern states.

  • This project, officially known as the ‘Gelephu Smartcity Project,’ aims to leverage Bhutan’s unique position and strengthen its economic ties with neighboring regions.


GS – 02 (Government Policies & Interventions, Welfare Schemes, Infrastructure)

Key Highlights:

  • Economic Corridor Announcement: King Jigme Wangchuck’s proclamation outlines Bhutan’s ambition to create an economic corridor that connects South Asia with Southeast Asia, facilitated by the first India-Bhutan railway line to Gelephu. The railway will extend connectivity to Assam, West Bengal, and potentially to Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, and Singapore.
  • Gelephu Smartcity Project: The project envisions a ‘Special Administrative Region’ in the Sarpang district, south of Bhutan. It will include an international airport, “zero emission” industries, a “mindfulness city,” and advanced infrastructure. The King emphasizes environmental standards and attracting quality investment from international companies.
  • Special Administrative Region: Differentiating from a typical special economic zone, the Gelephu project opts for a “Special Administrative Region.” This status aims to provide a legal framework conducive to increased international investment.
  • Economic Transformation: King Jigme Wangchuck emphasizes that this project marks an “inflection point” and a crucial moment in Bhutan’s history. It is seen as a transition towards economic growth, opening avenues for markets, capital, new ideas, and technology.

How India Can Utilize the Opportunity:

  • Strengthen Bilateral Ties: It is a great opportunity to India to capitalize on this to enhance stronger ties with Bhutan. Collaborating on infrastructure projects such as the railway line to Gelephu, can improve regional connectivity and trade.
  • Economic Integration: India being Bhutan’s largest trading partner and Bhutan’s major export destination, the project aligns with India’s ‘Act East’ policy and also provides a gateway to Southeast Asia. India can strategically align economic policies to leverage the Gelephu Smartcity Project for mutual economic benefits.
  • Investment Opportunities: Indian businesses and investors can explore various opportunities in Bhutan’s emerging smart city. Joint ventures, technology transfer, and collaboration in sustainable industries can foster economic growth for both nations.
  • Strategic Partnerships: India can play a pivotal role in supporting Bhutan in attracting global investors, planners, and architects for the project. Strengthening diplomatic ties and promoting Bhutan as an investment-friendly destination can be mutually beneficial.