MonitorsPublished on Dec 03, 2018
This week we focus on India and Bhutan relations, healthcare in Myanmar — and other roundups from the subcontinent.
South Asia Weekly Report | Volume XI; Issue 48


Bhutan: India reaches out to new government

Mihir Bhonsale Amidst speculation of a strain in the ‘special relations’ between Bhutan and India due to the elevation of a new political actor, Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT), India sent its Foreign Secretary, Vijay Gokhale, to Thimphu to reinforce the special relationship shared by the two countries. Gokhale paid a two-day visit to the Bhutanese capital from 18 November and called on Prime Minister Lotay Tshering, Foreign Minister Tandi Dorji and King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck. He held talks on issues of bilateral interest with them. He also invited Prime Minister Tshering to visit India. Gokhale’s visit must be seen in the light of India’s outreach to her south-eastern neighbour when the latter is facing pressing domestic challenges and her foreign policy choices are uncertain.

Cooperation in hydropower

The bilateral economic relations between India and Bhutan rest on hydropower, Thimphu’s single largest export item. Bhutan is supplying about 5,045 MW of power to India every year. A report of the hydropower committee, set up by the previous government, has called for slowing down of hydropower development, pending resolution of outstanding issues like delays, cost overruns and the incurring of huge debts. The hydropower committee was set up in May last year to identify a clear, robust and consistent hydropower strategy for the country. Its report, titled ‘Hydropower Development Strategy Report’ and submitted to the Cabinet, has also called for more Bhutanese participation in the management and construction of hydropower. Given the increased stake of Bhutan in India-assisted inter-governmental and joint venture projects, the report recommended that project governance and management must be entirely in Bhutan’s hands, except in cases where the expertise is not available with the country. The report also pointed out the need for active participation of the country in the preparation of Detailed Project Reports. Bhutan has a hydropower potential of about 22,000 MW, but out of its target of installing a capacity of 10,000 MW by 2020, only about 5,000 MW has been completed so far. The report put forward a scenario wherein the existing projects of 720 MW Mangdechu, 1200 MW Punatsangchu I, 1020 MW Punatsangchu II, 118 MW Nikachu and the proposed 600 MW Kholongchu would add an additional 3,658 MW in the 12th to 14th Five Year Plan. The environmental degradation owing to hydropower development has also been a cause of concern.

Aid for next Five Year Plan

Thimphu eyes graduation to a developing country by 2023. The 12th Five Year Plan prepares the country for this important transition of the economy. India allocated ₹4,500 crores for Bhutan’s 11th Five Year Plan (2013-18) and an economic stimulus package of ₹500 crore. Foreign Secretary Gokhale, in his talks with the Bhutanese establishment, is reported to have assured Thimphu of New Delhi giving top priority to the 12th Five Year Plan. Reports have indicated that India is anticipating an upward revision in the plan’s allocation. This anticipation is in lieu of Prime Minister Tshering’s Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa’s election manifesto that has promised enhancement of social and health sectors. Bhutan’s predecessor government had ruled out any increase in the assistance sought from India for the 12th plan. The 12th Five Year Plan is expected to be finalised soon, after which it is scheduled to be taken up in the winter session of the parliament beginning in December 2018. India is also likely to work out a package for Bhutan which was also affected by New Delhi’s introduction of the GST and the demonetisation.

BBIN connectivity

The other important issue from the point of view of India is of Bhutan’s participation in the Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal (BBIN) Motor Vehicles Agreement. However, it is an uphill task to bring Thimphu on board whose main motivation for being part of the BBIN grouping was diversifying hydropower export to markets like Bangladesh. But, with reports cautioning against taking up new hydropower projects for now, Bhutan is unlikely to change its mind on the issue. The change of government in Bhutan, with the DNT in power, is likely to lead to more market protectionist policies. The priorities of the DNT government in all probability would be more welfare oriented domestically pleasing policies. The government is unlikely to take any ambitious foreign policy move. This brings us to an important question about Bhutan opening up to China. Such a move is also unlikely from the new government. This might assuage fears within India of Bhutan establishing formal relations with China, but at the same time will magnify perceivable errors by India in the conduct of its relations with Bhutan. The writer is a Junior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Kolkata

Myanmar: Health care deficit in rural areas

Sreeparna Banerjee Myanmar, Myanmar health, healthcare, ORF, South Asia, South Asia news Photo: Rick Senley — © Flickr/CC BY 2.0 Myanmar health care system evolves with changing political and administrative system. Consequently the relative roles played by the key providers are also changing although the Ministry of Health remains the major provider of comprehensive health care. It has a pluralistic mix of public and private system both in financing and provision. Having said so, it cannot be ignored that Myanmar has one of the worst health indicators in the world. The public health care system in the country is severely under-resourced. The discrepancies in the access and coverage of healthcare facilities further accounts for the poor health indices in the country.

Situation in rural areas

The situation is grave among the rural areas. Almost 70% of the population resides in rural areas. Basic health staffs are the main health care providers for them. In rural areas, sub-township hospitals and station hospitals (16–25 beds), rural health centers (no beds), and sub-rural health centers (no beds) provide health services, including public health services. Generally, one rural health centre (RHC) has four sub-centres. The staffs are made up of one public health supervisor, four public health supervisors, five midwives, one lady health visitor at the RHC, and one health assistant at the RHC. The basic health staff is responsible for maternal and child health (clinic or homecare), school health, nutritional promotion, immunisation, community health education, environmental sanitation, disease surveillance and control, treatments of common illnesses, referral services, birth and death registration, and training of volunteer health workers (community health workers and auxillary midwives). In reality only 7% of rural health centres met the 13 health workers standard; while 19% of subcentres did not have sheltered premises for service provision. Poverty, low education, financial, geographical and social barriers were key demand side barriers. The topography of the region which is a combination of plains and mountains makes it more difficult to reach out to the remote villages, with meagre resources and support. The rural residents on mountain ranges often experience barriers to healthcare that limit their ability to obtain the care they need. So most rural people are still reluctant to rely upon sub-rural health centres (SRHC) and they prefer traditional and folk medicines. For an ordinary sickness, they tend to get an injection from an illegal health practitioner in the village. Due to a variety of access barriers, township medical officials are unable to come to the villages frequently. As for aches and pains, villagers buy the medicines advertised in the media from the nearest shops. However if the situation gets worse they just go to the illegal health practitioner to take an injection. Let alone health assistants, even administrative authorities barely visit the villages which are on the mountain ranges so when the elderly and children fall sick they are carried by the villagers to the sub- rural health centres, but if the situation deteriorates they are taken to the nearest clinic where the treatment facility is extremely under resourced and primitive. In these areas, although civil societies are helping out and providing assistance in projects such as anti-malaria campaign, they still lack in providing basic healthcare which is most important for the villagers. Lack of easy transportation plays a vital role in the neglected health sector at rural areas. Snake bite cases are common in some areas in the central regions of Myanmar. Previously there was no antivenin in every village track health centre but it is being advocated that sufficient amount of antivenin has been provided to all the villages in the region. On the other hand villagers from those village tracks say that they have purchased antivenin on a self-helped basis in an attempt to save the lives of their villagers. According to health officials although these villages have purchased antivenin in case of snake bites, nobody has any training with regard to the method of its use. Now, it is to be noted that antivenin injection cannot be given to the patient without having any knowledge as side effects may be severe. Due to lack of health services, healthcare conditions are still worrisome in villages in Magwe Region. Although natives of this region have been expecting skilled health assistants but they still have to depend on their traditional medical treatments to survive. Treatment towards other communicable disease like HIV AIDS, Tuberculosis is also extremely neglected.

Foreign aid

JICA, an executing agency of Japanese Official Development Assistance (ODA) has been working on a variety of healthcare projects in Myanmar since 2000. The projects include projects related to healthcare system preparation and reinforcement, infection control projects like HIV/AIDS, TB, malaria and others, maternal and children’s healthcare projects and projects related to traditional or alternative medicine. Recently, United Kingdom, Sweden, the United States, and Switzerland have pledged to provide $215 million (K342.69 billion) for programmes aimed at improving the health of the Myanmar people in remote places. The programme will be conducted by the Access to Health Fund, managed by the United Nations Office for Project Services. The five-year project will start in January 2019 with the aim of carrying out national health goals and priorities, especially supporting the achievement of universal healthcare coverage by 2030 as laid out in Myanmar’s National Health Plan 2017-2021. The fund will focus on the most underserved and vulnerable populations in a rights-based approach. It will help bring services where they are most needed and will concentrate on conflict-affected areas that government health providers may find difficult to reach or where health services are limited or of poor quality. It will also dedicate funding and resources to strengthening the health system, sustaining and building on the gains achieved by the previous, 3MDG Fund. The Access to Health Fund will support Myanmar’s response to communicable diseases such as malaria, HIV, and tuberculosis, as well as mother and child health. It will also allocate resources to support Myanmar’s health system through investment in human resources, infrastructure, and management systems. The government now allocates only 3.65 percent of its total budget for health, which is extremely low by global and regional standards, according to the national health plan. Thus, an increase in fund allocation to public healthcare services will not only expand the services, but also improve the quality of health services which is the need of the hour. For foreign aids tighter networks among the donors is essential. Such networks may reduce the overlapping functions of the donors, avoiding duplicated donations. The civilian government can allow the donors to discuss the healthcare systems more openly to one another. The author is a Research Assistant at Observer Research Foundation.



MoU for electricity

The Afghan Ministry of Finance and the Asian Development Bank has recently signed a 250 million US dollar Memorandum of Understanding in the presence of President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, for establishment of a National Electricity Network in Afghanistan. It is hoped that this will pave the way for balanced economic development for all provinces across the country. Five provinces; Daikundi, Uruzgan, Nuristan and Nimroz will be connected in the first phase and benefit from proper and cheap electricity.

Talks on consultative board

Afghanistan’s President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani and First Vice President General Abdul Rashid Dostum held talks on key national issues, including the consultations about the formation of a consultative board for reconciliation. Interactions are now being organised with the political and Jihadi leaders and the representatives of various sects for the establishment of a peace consultative board. This interaction is part of a series of meetings that Ghani has held to formalise the establishment of the reconciliation consultative board.


Opposition demands withdrawal of 90 officials

Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) led coalition, Jatiya Oikya Front (JOF) has demanded withdrawal of around 92 government officials, accusing them of being partisan. The list included senior officials of civil and police administrations. The opposition alliance has submitted the list to the chief election commissioner (CEC).

Election Bangladesh’s internal issue

Indian envoy in Dhaka, Harsh Vardhan Shringla, has categorically said that elections are internal affairs of Bangladesh. The envoy said the next national election, scheduled for 30 December, is an issue for the people of Bangladesh and political parties.

Chinese visa on arrival for Bangladeshis

The Chinese embassy in Dhaka informed that people of Bangladesh could enjoy visa-free entry to China. The port entry can be availed for urgent humanitarian causes, businesses, repair works, tourism, or other urgent needs.

Euro 285.3 million from Germany

Germany committed to provide euro 285.3 million for development in Bangladesh. Germany made the announcement during the Bangladesh and Germany development cooperation negotiations 2018. The bilateral meeting was held in Dhaka.


PM invited to visit Bhutan

In the first high-level exchange between India and Bhutan after the Lotay Tshering led government assumed charge, Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale concluded a two-day visit to Thimphu on 20 November. Gokhale is reported to have invited Tshering to visit India. He also accepted an invitation for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to visit Bhutan.

National revenue records 24 percent growth

The financial year 2017-18 saw significant growth in the national revenue amounting to Nu 36.87B, recording a growth of 24 percent compared to the fiscal year 2016-17. This was stated in the provisional revenue report. The growth was attributed to increased royalties from hydropower, excise duty refund and higher collection from CIT, PIT, customs duty and sales tax.

Pay Commission report

The new government is keen on instituting the fourth pay commission to revise salaries and allowances of civil servants at the earliest, its spokesperson Dr. Tandi Dorji has said. The Cabinet has instructed the finance ministry to draft the Terms of Reference.

Committee calls for more Bhutanese participation

The Hydropower committee, established in May 2017 by the then Cabinet, in its report called for more Bhutanese participation in the management and construction of these projects to allow for better accountability and capacity building. The ‘Hydropower Development Strategy Report’ is currently in the cabinet and is expected to be taken up for consideration.


India decides to build Kartarpur corridor

The Union Cabinet has agreed to build the Kartarpur corridor from Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur district of Punjab to the international border with Pakistan. The corridor will facilitate pilgrims from India who visit Gurdwara Darbar Sahib, Kartarpur, on the banks of the Ravi river in Pakistan every year. The resolution regarding the corridor was passed by a Union Cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to celebrate the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev, which falls in 2019. The corridor was proposed by the then PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1999.

India protests against harassment of high commission officials in Pakistan

India on 23 November lodged a strong protest with Pakistan that despite having been granted prior travel permission by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Pakistan, the Consular officials of the High Commission of India in Islamabad were harrased and denied access on 21 and 22 November to Gurudwara Nankana Sahib and Gurudwara Sacha Sauda to meet Indian pilgrims visiting Pakistan under the Bilateral Protocol.

American killed by Andaman & Nicobar tribe

An American tourist visiting one of the islands in India’s remote cluster of Andaman and Nicobar has been killed by a group of hunter-gatherers who live there isolated from the outside world, the police has said. The North Sentinel Island is home to the Sentinelese community, who allegedly killed the American, identified as John Allen Chau, after he was illegally ferried there by bribed fishermen, the officials added.


Unscheduled flight landing

An Air India flight recently landed in the Velana International Airport’s unfinished runway. Investigations are currently going on about this unscheduled landing by both Indian and Maldivian authorities. India’s aviation safety regulator has suspended the pilot and the co-pilot as the lives of a 136 passengers were put to risk. Maldives Airport Company Ltd and the Civil Aviation Authority has launched a joint inquiry and the Maldives Defence Minister has termed it as a ‘serious incident.’

Removed from service

All the chairpersons, managing directors and board members of the 11 state owned companies who had been appointed by the former President Abdulla Yameen have been removed from their posts. The dismissal was announced by Mohamed Nizam the President of the privatisation and corporatisation board. Among those dismissed were the heads of Public Service Media, State Electricity Company, Housing Development Corporation, Maldives Sports Corporation and the Island Aviation Services amongst others. Twenty-one appointees have been removed in all.


State Counsellor meets KNU leader

State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi met briefly on 21 November with the leader of the Karen National Union, which recently temporarily suspended participation in the peace process. The meeting took place on the sidelines of a peace forum held in Nay Pyi Taw, at which both the State Counsellor and KNU leader Saw Mutu Say Poe spoke. The meeting was the first between the State Counsellor and KNU leader since the armed ethnic group decided last month to temporarily pull out of the peace process.

Trade increases with Japan

The value of trade between Myanmar and development partner Japan topped $1 billion in the mini-budget period (April to September this year). During the mini-budget period, Myanmar’s exports to Japan totaled $760.97 million, while imports reached $334.86 million. Myanmar’s exports to Japan include garments, marine products, rice, black sesame, green grams, and rubber. Its imports include machines and machine equipment, electronic equipment, fertilizers, chemical products, medicines and automobiles.


Uttar Pradesh CM to visit Nepal

The Chief Minister of the Indian State of Uttar Pradesh is most likely to visit Janakpur on the occasion of ‘Bibha Panchami’, a religious ceremony as a guest of the government. As per reports, Prime Minister Oli had initially invited his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi for the occasion. However, due to prior commitments, UP chief minister Yogi’s name was recommended. The Indian embassy in Kathmandu has also confirmed the information.

The Opponent’s critique

The primary opposition in the country, the Nepali Congress, has been very vocal in forwarding their critique of the Oli government. Such ideas were expressed at a Press Conference by NC spokesperson Bishwa Prakash Sharma. Areas like the lack of comprehensive law and order, derailing of federalism along with deteriorating economy with improper investments, were highlighted.

Trishuli 3B Hub Station inaugurated

A new breakthrough in the domain of hydropower has been achieved by the inauguration of the Trishuli 3B Hub Station by the Minister of Energy, Water Resources and Irrigation, Barshaman Pun. Through the station, evacuation of power will take place by different projects on Trishuli River Corridor in Rasuwa and Nuwakot districts. It also has a capacity of 220 kVA capacity. The work would be completed by next July.


Terror attack on Chinese Consulate

A terror attack targeting the Chinese Consulate located in Karachis’s Clifton area was foiled by Pakistan’s security forces. The insurgents had opened fire first at a check post and detonated a hand grenade in the area. Two policemen have lost their lives in the following exchange of fire between the security forces and the attackers. Insurgents then proceeded towards the consulate but the guards were quick shut the gates quickly. Three terrorists have been killed in the operation.

Funds for Dam

Chief Justice of Pakistan, Mian Saqib Nisar, currently on a visit to the United Kingdom, stated that construction of dams is imperative for Pakistan and that overseas Pakistanis play a crucial role in stabilising the country’s economy. His visit to the UK is aimed at raising funds for the construction of the Diamer-Bhasha and Mohmand dams. The Supreme Court of Pakistan and Prime Minister of Pakistan Diamer-Bhasha and Mohmand Dams fund has so far received ₹7.9 billion.

Bid to resume peace

Pakistan’s Chief if the Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa has asked India to resume the course of dialogue for peace and progress in the region instead of resorting to provocative statements and ceasefire violations. This statement was made to India’s civilian and ‘military’ leadership on the General’s visit to the restive Line of Control in Azad Jammu and Kashmir. Bajwa further mentioned that lately there had been a surge in ceasefire violations and provocative statements by India.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan rupee plunges to all-time low

The Sri Lankan rupee recorded its all-time low of 179.00 per dollar. The fall came a day after the global credit rating organisation Moody’s downgraded the country’s rating, as the political crisis worsened. Sri Lanka’s rating downgraded for the first time since Moody’s started rating the country in 2010. Moody’s move coincided with a decision by the International Monetary Fund to delay discussions on its loan tranche to Sri Lanka. Moody’s cut Sri Lanka to B2 from B1. Political instability in the country begun after President Maithripala Sirisena removed the Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe and appointed former President Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister. Rajapaksa, however, lost the vote of confidence in the floor of the parliament.

Funds arranged to repay Eurobond

The arrangement of funds to repay $1 billion for a sovereign bond maturing in January have been made, a finance ministry official has said. The country is scheduled to repay over a total of $5.8 billion, including $1.54 billion in interest payments in the next 12 months. Sri Lanka has $7.2 billion foreign reserves.



Opinion pieces

Mohammad Zahir Akbari, Afghan Would Restart a Warmer Friendship with US if They Really End the War, Daily Outlook Afghanistan, 22 November 2018 Rod Norland and Mujib Mashal, At Least 55 Killed in Bombing of Afghan Religious Gathering”, The New York Times, 20 November 2018


Daily Outlook Afghanistan, Bloodshed amidst Peace Talks, 22 November 2018 Afghanistan Times, Alarming violence needs to be averted”, 22 November 2018


Opinion pieces

Tuhin Shubhra Adhikary, The Minority Report, The Daily Star, 23 November 2018 Animesh Roul, The Shifting Narrative of Women’s Role in Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh’s Islamic Jihad, The Jamestown, 17 November 2018


Interview of Sultana Kamal, noted lawyer and human rights activist by Eresh Omar Jamal, In Bangladesh, democracy was not allowed to take root, The Daily Star, 21 November 2018



The Bhutanese, Quality projects, 21 November 2018


Opinion pieces

Faizan Mustafa, An ill wind in the Valley, The Indian Express, 10 November 2018 Ramesh Vinayak, The Amritsar blast is a wake-up call, Hindustan Times, 22 November 2018


The Pioneer, A dignified exit, 22 November 2018 The Times of India, Assembly elections 2018: Will a divided opposition spell goo .., 22 November 2018


Opinion pieces

Maldives' new president warns treasury 'looted' during China-led boom, The Guardian, 18 November 2018


Hindustan Times, The Maldives’ new regime is an opportunity for India to regain its lost ground, 21 November 2018 The Shillong Times, Power-Shift in Maldives, 19 November 2018


Opinion pieces

Kyaw Phyo Tha, Lack of Constructive Ideas on Display at Pence, Suu Kyi Meeting, The Irrawaddy, 16 November 2018


Opinion pieces

Purushottam Ojha, Enhancing Nepal’s trade, Republica, 22 November 2018 Paban Raj Pandey, It’s about time, The Kathmandu Post, 23 November 2018 Bishal Thapa, Why CIAA must close, Republica, 20 November 2018


The Kathmandu Post, Justice is overdue, 21 November 2018 The Himalayan Times, Saving the brands, 23 November 2018 The Kathmandu Post, Striking a balance, 22 November 2018


Opinion pieces

Asha’ar Rehman, Century-old promises, Dawn, 23 November 2018 Talat Masood, Are multiple policy reversals good governance?, The Express Tribune, 21 November 2018


Dawn, Focusing on investment, 23 November 2018 The Express Tribune, Kashmir’s unending struggle, 23 November 2018

Sri Lanka

Opinion pieces

Kan Butani, Constitutional faux pas – President’s opinion, The Island, 22 November 2018 Elizabeth Roche, What Sri Lanka’s political turmoil means for India, Mint, 20 November 2018


Afghanistan & Pakistan: Sohini Bose Bangladesh: Joyeeta Bhattacharjee Bhutan: Mihir Bhonsale India: Ketan Mehta and T.N. Suhas  Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy Myanmar: Sreeparna Banerjee Nepal: Sohini Nayak
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