Chief Minister Pawan Chamling’s address at the 1st Governing Council Meeting of NITI Aayog in New Delhi on 08 February, 2015Hon’ble Prime Minister, Chairman NITI Ayog Shri Narendra Modiji, Vice Chairman Shri Arvind Panagariya, Hon’ble Members, Ex-officio Members, Special Invitees, my esteemed colleague Hon’ble Chief Ministers, Lieutenant Governors of Union Territories, Officers of the Government of India, State Governments, ladies and gentlemen.
It is a great honour to be a part of this new initiative wherein the erstwhile Planning Commission has given way to a new platform for carrying out the agenda of National Development by giving a new mechanism for development, the NITI Aayog (National Institution for Transforming India). The Planning Commission had outlived its utility and it was right to adopt an alternative approach to promote the country in terms of targeting a positive growth agenda and to attract global investments into the country. With the Hon’ble Prime Minister at the helm of affairs with his boundless energy and vision, the Government of India is committed to promote cooperative federalism in the country. We are committed to fully endorse, support and transform the vision of Prime Minister into a reality.
Before I go further, I would like to state that one area where NITI Aayog could intervene is to usher greater growth and development in the North East Region with a more focused approach and strategies. Earlier, I had submitted to the Hon’ble Prime Minister that specific planning is required for the North Eastern States in view of the difficulties of topography, remoteness and resource crunch in the Region.
If the North Eastern Region is to progress and come at par with the other developed States of the Country, more funding for infrastructure both social and economic is required. It is also important that the NER work together in a coordinated manner with judicious use of its abundant natural resources like generating hydro power, promoting tourism growth, encouraging farming practising organic farming to production of local handicrafts etc. This will enable the region to become an economic bloc, at the same time, the area could be transformed as an economic hub of the nation by becoming the gateway of the Indian Sub-continent to South East Asia.
The recently formed NITI Aayog is to replace the erstwhile, one way flow of policy from the Centre to the States by an equal and continuing partnership of the States in policy formulation for overall development of the country. It has been created with 13 major objectives, while acknowledging that we need to find and adopt our own strategy for growth, with less or no dependence on imported models. The objectives include providing a framework for a national agenda to foster cooperative federalism through structured support initiatives and mechanisms with the States on a continuous basis. Keeping in view that strong States make a strong Nation, the NITI Aayog is intended to develop mechanisms to formulate credible plans at the village level and aggregate these plans progressively at higher levels of Government. The objectives also include designing strategic and long term policies and programmes, monitoring and evaluating their implementation and progress and identification of resources that are required for strengthening delivery systems, while focussing on the upgradation of technology and the building of capacity.
As stated earlier, duly endorsing the objectives of NITI Ayog, the fear of resource starved states such as the North East need to be taken care of. The NITI Aayog should have a constitutional mechanism for transfer of grants from the Centre to the States. This is important for balanced economic development of the country. Separate development projects in backward States can then be implemented.
It should empower the States to take their own decisions rather than exercising budgetary control over them and to act in a pre-determined manner.
The Government of India has liberalised the Foreign Direct Investment Policy in the construction sector in hi-speed railways and also in the defence sector including insurance. Some of the defence connected industries which are pollution free could be set up in Sikkim. The Government of India is further committed to build smart cities with world class amenities. We want to be a part of this liberalisation and a beneficiary of the outcome from these initiatives as equal partners.
As far as the Special Category States are concerned, I would like to state that the Gadgil Mukherjee Formula, 1991 should be maintained for the Special Category States so that National Central Assistance of 30% is provided. As you are aware, the North Eastern States have a narrow resource base compared to the rich developed States. Its difficulties like remoteness, backwardness, inhospitable terrain etc. is well known. Therefore, I feel the Gadgil Mukherjee Formula, 1991 needs to be maintained by the NITI Aayog. No uniform criteria or yardsticks should be followed for all states. They vary from state to state. Therefore, it should be addressed separately.
There should be less Central earmarking in plan funds allocated to the States to ensure flexibility. If the States are given more freedom, perhaps the Country can fully realize the spirit of cooperative federalism as envisaged by the Hon’ble Prime Minister. The North Eastern States should be provided block National Central Assistance which could be planned and accessed by the States themselves as per State specific needs.
All Centrally Sponsored Schemes should be 100% centrally funded including the NLCPR and the NEC projects so as to ensure timely completion and avoid time and cost overrun. While designing programmes and schemes by the Centre, the policy of one-size-fits all should be avoided as the ground realities in the hilly states of the country is totally different from the States in the plains.
Though the DoNER Ministry devise development planning and growth programs for the North Eastern Region, we generally feel that its role over the years has been somewhat diminishing. For example in the Annual Plan 2014-15 of the NEC, the projected outlay for the 12th Five Year Plan (2012-17) was Rs. 13027.38 crores and the approved outlay conveyed by the Planning Commission was Rs. 6108.00 crores only.
While this itself was inadequate, to make matters worse, the actual allocation for NEC since 2012-13 has been static at Rs. 770.00 crores, reflecting a decline in real terms.
Under your leadership, we keenly look forward to a larger allocation under NLCPR and NEC and for faster releases for timely implementation of our projects and schemes.
10% Gross Budgetary Support (GBS) a substantial amount of funds have accumulated in the non lapsable pool reflecting unspent balances by the Union Ministries. Allocation from this pool to the North East however, is regulated by the yearly budget ceilings fixed for DoNER by the Ministry of Finance. I would like to propose that the non lapsable pool be kept in a revolving fund to be operated by DoNER and the funds made available to the States based on their project proposals, their annual demands and utilisation capacities with fund allocations not constrained by yearly budgetary ceilings. A portion of this should also be placed with the NEC for funding their activities.
A crucial infrastructural gap in respect of inter State connectivity by road needs to be a priority for the North Eastern Region as unless this is supported by the Government of India, roads constructed by one State will be limited to its own administrative jurisdiction only. This will fail to provide continuity to connect to important roads of the other neighbouring States.
In Sikkim’s context the National Highway 10, is the sole life line connecting the landlocked Himalayan State with the rest of the country. This National Highway is currently under the charge of the Border Roads Organisation for maintenance and development. The Highway basically serves the border needs of the defence forces and the people of Sikkim. Keeping in view the importance of NH 10 to the State of Sikkim and the Armed forces guarding the border with China, we request that the BRO’s role be further strengthened under Defence Ministry or the Highway be entrusted to a central agency such as the National Highway Authority of India.
Greenfield Airport, Pakyong
With the completion of the Pakyong Greenfield Airport Sikkim hopes to be connected to the air map of the country. It is a matter of satisfaction that the Central Government has a long term vision of development of the North Eastern Region through modern connectivity in rail, road and air. With improved connectivity the tourism potential of Sikkim can be fully harnessed. Without proper connectivity the people, the economy, tourism etc. will suffer adversely.
Under Phase – I, the physical progress of the Airport at Pakyong is 76%. Major constraints such as the extended rainy season and other natural factors have caused undue delay.
Under Phase – II the construction of the new terminal building, control tower cum technical block cum fire station is under progress.
Till such time the Greenfield Airport at Pakyong is not ready the Airport at Bagdogra, West Bengal will continue to be of importance for the State of Sikkim.
Sikkim and Rail Connectivity
The Broad Gauge rail link project connecting Sevoke in West Bengal and Rangpo the border town in Sikkim is a national project. This railway line passes through some important forest preserves such as Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary etc. The field survey through the wildlife sanctuary is completed and work in the remaining areas are held up due to non availability of land.
On Sikkim side also the work has not commenced due to issues concerning land acquisition. A resettlement and rehabilitation package plan is being prepared for the affected land owners by a committee constituted by the State Government. Land for resettlement has been identified and assessment is being carried out. In the meantime, the topographic survey has been completed and geotechnical investigations are underway. I would therefore, urge this forum and the railway authorities for speedy implementation of this project keeping with vision of Hon’ble Prime Minister to link all the State capitals of the NER by rail and air connectivity.
An accessible and reliable Telecom/IT infrastructure continues to remain an aspiration and a dream for the Sikkimese people. Better communication links for Sikkim need to be taken up as a strategic priority. This would involve improvement in voice and internet connectivity. The OPGW (Optical Ground Wire) needs to be strung on power lines, service ducts for utilities along the National Highway and State Highways with provision for solar/renewable energy solution for all mobile towers. This may require more budgetary support to BSNL. The other crucial National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN) needs to be expedited for providing telecommunication and broad band internet connectivity to the Gram Panchayats in Sikkim.
Kailash Mansarovar Yatra
The people and the Government of Sikkim lauds the historic decision of Government of India in finalising arrangements for opening the second route of the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra for which India and China agreed last year to open it for the Indian pilgrims. Both India and China have formalized the modalities of the additional route through Nathula Pass in Sikkim. The route through Nathula Pass in Sikkim will facilitate comfortable travel by buses through Tibet Autonomous Region. The pilgrimage tour beginning June 2015 through Nathula route will benefit the people of Sikkim and whole of the region. Sikkimese landscape is dotted with numerous monasteries, mandirs and other religious centres. Sikkim already occupies prominent place in terms of promotion of Buddhist Circuit tourism in the region and the Country. With the opening of Kailash Mansarovar Yatra through the Nathula corridor and Sikkim with Siddheswara Dham having the facilities of all Char Dhams/four sacred Dhams in one place nowhere else in the Country needs to be promoted as Hindu Circuit Tourism now. Sikkim converge both Buddhist and Hindu pilgrimage tourism.
Look East Policy to Act East Policy
The Look East Policy is of significant importance to the NER as it is the gateway to the success of the policy. The Country has to look East through the North East, therefore, a detailed roadmap is required to achieve this goal.
The Act East Policy involves construction and improvement in connectivity by road, air and rail. Provision for sufficient energy and reliable telecom connectivity is urgently required with construction of infrastructure for trade and customs. Further, there should be less restrictions in the international border trade with China, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Thailand. The Hon’ble Prime Minister has taken up issue of the Look East Policy in the 18th SAARC Summit in Kathmandu, Nepal. He also visited Myanmar to improve the bilateral ties to make the Look East Policy a vibrant reality. Bangladesh has reciprocated and Tripura State has begun opening up with Bangladesh. The Imphal and Agartala Airports have been declared as International Airports.
In Sikkim, since the border trade with the Tibetan Autonomous Region (China) takes place through Nathula, a high altitude pass, there are limitations due to the all-year-round cold climate and heavy snowfall during the Winter. The rudimentary infrastructure for border trade that exists at Sherathang and Nathula needs a major overall and further improvement.
Sikkim can play an active role in the region by strengthening Buddhist Circuit route for pilgrimage tourism, promotion of Organic farming and leveraging horticulture and floriculture, the strength of the State.
The Act East Policy has scope to bring tangible benefits to the whole of NER. The Government of India has to champion the cause of improving land and air connectivity between NER and South East Asia, and also permit formal border trade at as many places as possible and viable. This factor can have a unique turn-around effect on the economies of the North Eastern States.
This mission was conceptualised by the Government of Sikkim way back in 2003. We fully appreciate the Hon’ble Prime Minister’s announcement to make Sikkim and the entire North East region as organic region. This programme was telecast in Satyamev Jayate a popular talk show hosted by Aamir Khan in 2012. We want to convert the entire State into a totally organic State by 2015 whereby any agriculture produce from Sikkim is grown using organic fertilisers and is healthy for consumption. We have voluntarily adopted to go organic.
The process of bringing the total cultivatable land of 58,168 hectares under organic farming commenced at the ground level from 2010. Agencies accredited by Agriculture and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority are certifying the organic process in Sikkim in three phases.
Organic produce of Sikkim, mostly vegetables, would not only fetch more value for the Sikkimese farmers but also offer multiple benefits to the State. Tourism stakeholders of Sikkim are convinced that Organic Mission when connected with eco tourism would be a double attraction for tourists particularly at homestays. Visitors can enjoy the natural beauty of Sikkim and also gain health benefits by consuming organic products.
The Hon’ble Finance Minister of India has announced in the Parliament, a package of Rs. 100 crores for organic farming in the North Eastern Region. Therefore, we request the NITI Ayog for evolving appropriate support mechanism in terms of funding for marketing and logistic support to Organic Farming.
Continued and enhanced funding under SCA and SPA.
As I conclude, I would like to flag that for implementation of the Central Sector Schemes, I propose that the overall allocation should be enhanced for the overall development of the State. Sometimes it is difficult to contribute the mandatory State Share resulting in non completion of projects. It is therefore, proposed to dispense with the requirement of State Share for the Special Category State or else adequate SCA provision be kept for meeting the State Share requirement.
The NITI Aayog may keep the flow of funds under Special Plan Assistance (SPA) and Special Central Assistance (SCA) funding for the Special Category States with enhanced allocation. I say this as Sikkim has 29 major committed ongoing projects under SPA and you will appreciate that these projects need to be completed for which the Central Share due to the State of Sikkim is to the order of Rs. 268.00 crores.
Central resolutions reinforcing the objectives of the NITI Ayog are comprehensive and by far the most far reaching in consequences. We endorse the view of the government as an enabler and the facilitator to facilitate a more active role for other players in the development of the nation.
The traditional strength of the Country in the agriculture and allied sector could be effectively leveraged by adopting organic farming practices. Sikkim has successfully experimented this farming practice and moving ahead to transform Sikkim into a Total Organic State by 2015.
Education and Health Sectors are to be taken up on top priority. In Sikkim, education is free upto college level and it is our humble suggestion the same policy could be adopted and applied in the rest of the Country. Under the health sector, the Sikkim Government has initiated the Chief Minister’s Comprehensive Annual and Total Check up for Healthy Sikkim (CATCH) program to undertake annual compulsory health check up for all citizens in the State. This has resulted in generating massive public health awareness. This could perhaps be adopted in the rest of the Country too. Similarly, the Government of Sikkim has also adopted the policy of conceding any state government relief to a beneficiary possessing toilets and not otherwise though Sikkim is the first Nirmal Rajya in the Country.
In order to harness the demographic dividend of our Country, a very focussed programs need to be evolved. In Sikkim, we have already instituted Institute of Capacity Building, Livelihood Schools and large number of other skill development programs to train our youths.
India’s role in the global village as a growing economic power has been evident. However, in the North East region Central Government’s guiding hand is necessary in view of the narrow resource base of the region.
We fully support the proposal for furthering the human resource potential of the country. In fact, we need appropriate platform at the national level to effectively harness the potential of our youths with pool of knowledge.
For a sensitive State like Sikkim, the process of urbanization needs to be viewed with relative caution. The socio-economic base and the demographic profile of states like Sikkim need to be taken into account while implementing the concept of smart city mooted by the Central Government.
Our Constitution provides for several remedies for upliftment of the disadvantaged sections of population. Nonetheless, certain premises need to be revisited so that the poorer section of people are actually protected and safeguarded. For example, the creamy layer specification needs to be applied also to the Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes communities as in the case of Other Backward Classes in terms of government recruitment and other such facilities.
Villages as the most important component of Nation need to be strengthened and principle of back-to-the-root should be applied to make it self-sustainable units.
Mount Kanchenjunga in Sikkim is the highest mountain peak in the Country which is also the third highest in the world. Protection of the Himalayan Mountain States are very important as these are water reservoir for the entire Country which benefits our people living in other states. As part of a long term preservation of Himalayan eco-system, we have banned green felling, grazing and adopted a large number of other measures for protection of our floral and faunal wealth. In the process, we make tremendous sacrifices for the sake of our countrymen living in other states. Therefore, the Ayog could evolve a policy framework to work out separate compensatory requirement for Himalayan states such as Sikkim for the overall economic losses and restraint.
Among others, we also fully endorse and share vision of national development priorities under cooperative federalism and the village-centric policy initiatives.
Lastly, I am hopeful that the issues put forth will receive due cognizance of the NITI Aayog. Jointly as partners in the quest for development we can unlock the true potential of the region including Sikkim. I conclude by thanking the Hon’ble Prime Minister and the distinguished guests at this august forum.