Saturday, April 7, 2012

Centre-Army spat hurts Sikkim, alternate highway proposal rejected

GANGTOK, 06 April: The Army is reportedly peeved with the Central government and bureaucracy over its ‘lack of urgency at all levels’ on matters concerning national security. Army chief Gen VK Singh has spoken of shortcomings in India’s defence preparedness with its infantry lacking critical weapons and air defence turning ‘obsolete.’ These, in a letter [since leaked], from the Army Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister detailing the shambles in which the security of the nation lies. Apart from tanks running low on ammunition, an obsolete air defence and an infantry short of critical weapons, aspects of the letter which have hogged media headlines, China - it seems - was at the forefront of the General’s mind when he wrote the letter on March 12. The letter has specific references to the Indian Army’s lack of preparedness vis-a-vis China and speaks volumes about the bureaucracy that is least bothered about modernising India’s defence. All of these have a direct implication on Sikkim as well.
With the recent fallout between the army and the civilian government in New Delhi, many of the complaints, grievances and criticisms which the army has been nursing with the bureaucracy have now come out in the open. This has led to several revelations. Particularly annoyed is the army to the response of the government over the necessity of developing infrastructure along the border regions along China especially in Sikkim.
It is now reported that the Central government has rejected the proposal for an alternate route from Siliguri to Sikkim and even infrastructure projects in North Sikkim where there is heavy deployment of troops along the border.
The existing national highway has become more of a misnomer and cannot be trusted during times of emergencies. In this regard it has been reported that the army is not happy with the rejection of the Ministry of Environment and Forests of the proposal to create an alternate all-weather route from Siliguri to Sikkim. Not only would this have benefited the army and national security, but definitely also the people of Sikkim who have been crying for an alternate route for a long time now. In fact, the state government here had even carried out surveys along this alternate stretch which was to exit from Rhenock in East Sikkim through Bhutan and emerge at Chalsa in West Bengal on to North Bengal.
Meanwhile, it is also reported that the Defence Ministry’s finance wing and the Finance Ministry have also rejected the Army proposal to raise a Mountain Strike Corps.
It has again been reiterated and underlined by the army that China was ‘unabashedly’ going ahead with developing infrastructure in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) but the infrastructure in India along the border with TAR was ‘far from satisfactory’.
The government might want to believe all was well on the front, but the Army, aware of the ground realities, has been trying hard to get the Centre to sanction Rs 12,000 crore so that India’s borders with China could be strengthened and a Mountain Strike Corps set up. The proposal to set up a mountain corps was put up a couple of years ago by the army, it is learnt.
While earlier, army officials here in Sikkim had always been brushing aside any reports of under preparedness or even tensions along the border with China, it is now more than evident that the army here is staggeringly handicapped by way of infrastructure in the event of any incursion and has been feeling so for a long time.
Another issue over which the army is particularly sensitive and has now openly aired its grievance is the long-pending proposal of give operational control over Indo-Tibetan Border Police to the Army. The army is reported to have stated that “…there has been no progress in this regard to the ‘stringent stance’ of the Home ministry despite the proposal was accepted ‘at all forums.’
As for road infrastructure, the army has urged the government to ensure that land is acquired for developing roads to mobilise and deploy forces effectively on the Indo-China border. There is also a suggestion that the BRO be given powers to overcome “needless bureaucratic hassles” and provided modern equipments.
“The Hon’ble PM is aware of the seriousness of the threats,” Gen Singh has been quoted in media reports as writing his letter, hoping that the PM would “pass suitable directions to enhance the preparedness of the army”.
The lack of urgency at all levels on matters of national security on the part of the Central government is appalling to say the least, however, the public could also be trusted more with the actual ground scenario by the army instead of always painting a secure and closed picture of the Sikkim borders even for locals. After all the people here too can play the part of a pressure group to push things through.

Jharkhand tribals flee GREF road project alleging ‘torture’

GANGTOK, 04 April: Two Scheduled Tribe labourers from Jharkand who fled Sikkim recently, have complained to the police there that they were exploited and not paid for more than a month by their employer while engaged in road construction work here. The two hail from Dumka in Jharkhand and were part of a road-gang of 34 reportedly engaged by GREF on road works here. The Dumka Superintendent of Police, when contacted by NOW! confirmed the complaint which was first reported in a section of the national media.
The duo reportedly escaped from Sikkim on 12 March. As per media reports, a person by the name of “Hembrom” had been tasked [reportedly by GREF] to supply labourers for road construction projects here in Sikkim.
The two labourers who escaped - Dilip Murmu and Hopna Soren – have also claimed that they were denied their wages.
The escaped labourers have lodged a complaint with the Dumka SP, Hemant Toppo, to whom they have also alleged that they were “made to work at gunpoint and also thrashed by the contractor’s men”.
The escaped duo, both belonging to Bisriyam village in Dumka district, also reportedly handed over the copy of a letter apparently sent by General Reserve and Engineering Force (GREF) to Hembrom. However, the two could not even say where in Sikkim they were working. The SP has been requested to rescue the other labourers from the group still in Sikkim where, as per the escaped duo, they continue to suffer similar privations.
The letter does not bear the signature of any GREF official. However, it asks one Mukhtar Hembrom to supply 50 labourers to work under it in Sikkim.
Talking to NOW! over the phone, SP Dumka, Mr. Toppo confirmed that he had received such a complaint a few days ago.
“Yes we have received a complaint and are currently enquiring into it. We have also written to the company which had taken these labourers to respond to the allegations. If we do not receive a satisfactory answer from the company then we will lodge an FIR,” SP Toppo said.
He further stated that the two had managed to contact the other labourers who reported that they were alright.
“However, their location is still not known and we are trying to ascertain where they were engaged from the complainants,” the Dumka SP adds. Once the location is known the Sikkim Police will be contacted, he said.
It is reported that as many as 34 labourers, between 18 to 40 years of age, and natives of Raneswar block of the Dumka district in Jharkhand, were taken by one Mukhtar Hembrom of Dhebadih village in neighbouring Shikaripara to work in Sikkim in January where they started work on 28 January. One of the complainants, Dilip Murmu, has been quoted in media reports as informing that Hembrom had promised that GREF would pay them Rs. 17,000 each for three months of work, apart from free lodging and food.
He added that before escaping from Sikkim, the duo promised the rest of the labourers that they would return with enough money to bring them back to Dumka as well.
Sujan Soren, brother of a labourer in Sikkim, said, “The contractor, on learning about the escape of two labourers, took the rest of them to an unidentified location.” He further alleged that he received a phone call from his brother saying they were being continually tortured.
“We have collected sufficient money from the kin of the labourers, but we are clueless about how to ensure their safe release, as we have no idea of their whereabouts,” said Kandan Murmu, whose sons Sanatan and Shyamlal are in Sikkim.
The SP said he would investigate the matter and bring those guilty to book if there was any evidence of the local men being forced into bonded labour.
“According to a letter, GREF entrusted Mukhtar Hembrom with supplying 50 labourers from Dumka,” he said, adding the police would probe whether GREF was involved in any foul play.
DIG Range, Sikkim Police, Vineet Vinayak, when contacted, stated that he had not received any formal or informal complaint as yet but in the event that a complaint was made, he would definitely look into it.

GREF wants proof

GANGTOK, 04 April: After facing criticism over the shabby quality of works being carried out by the GREF in various locations in and around the State, Project Swastik is once again in the news for all the wrong reasons.
This time, it is a major complaint of human rights violation against labourers engaged in road projects under GREF.
When NOW! contacted the Joint Director, BRO, AK Das, who is also the spokesperson for Project Swastik stationed at the head office at Burtuk, he refuted the complaints and asked the reporter to bring in ‘proof’ and ‘documents’ to support these complaints.
“There are labourers working here in Sikkim from all over the country and keeping tab on all their problems is not our look-out. If there is a complaint made, please provide me with the complaint letters and the documents only after which I can speak on behalf of the Chief Engineer,” said Mr. Das
Mr. Das, who did not want to give an appointment to the press even though he is the spokesperson for the BRO here [this correspondent has been trying to contact him for more than a month related to various queries regarding the works being initiated by BRO here], stated, “I am presently ill and do not have any time to give time to any reporter and speaking on the phone is also a rare possibility. Bring in the proof and then I will see what needs to be answered,” he said.

High Court issues notices to respondents in writ petition challenging recruitment process at Sikkim University

GANGTOK, 02 Apr: The High Court of Sikkim has issued notices to the Sikkim University and other respondents named in a writ petition challenging the recruitment process at the university initiated by the Vice Chancellor, an issue which has courted much controversy of late.
In the first hearing today, counsel for the petitioner, DR Thapa, submitted before the Single Bench comprising of Chief Justice, P Kohli, that the entire process of recruitment of faculty and teaching staff at the University was illegal and arbitrary. The petitioner, Rajendra Prasad, an Assistant Professor on contract with the University, was not retained, and as per the submission before the Court by his counsel, was not even informed of his non-selection in the recruitment process.
Interestingly, Mr. Prasad had originally petitioned the Executive Council of the University with his complaint against the VC and contending that prescribed processes for recruitment which would have ensured fairness and transparency had been ignored.
The main contention of the petitioner is that the VC initiated the recruitment process when neither the Executive Council nor the Academic Council were in office. The recruitment process is recommended to be conducted under their guidance with the selection panels going through two levels of screening – from the Academic Council to the Executive Council which finalises the interview panels. In finalizing the recruitment process, including the interview panels, the VC invoked emergency powers [by taking on the responsibility of the EC], which, in as far as routine processes such as recruitments are concerned, the Union Ministry of Human Resources has specifically forbidden through an Office Order of 2001.
The Chief Justice, after making some observations and seeking details on some points, directed that notices be issued to the respondents.
Made respondents in the petition are the Sikkim University Vice Chancellor, Professor MP Lama; Registrar, Sikkim University; the University Grants Commission (UGC); and the State government.
It may be recalled that last week, an organization called Sikkim Sachet Swarozgar Berozgar Sangathan had filed a public interest litigation against the University along similar lines and raising several other issues related to the recruitment process for non-teaching and non-executive posts as well. The hearing on the PIL has been adjourned to a later date. Recently, there had also been picketing against the recruitment process by various groups, including the affected landowners of the SU campus to come up in Yangang and disgruntled youth who claimed that they were job applicants who had not been informed about the written exam and the interview later.

Sikkimese among 7 killed in US shooting rampage

GANGTOK, 03 April: Tshering Rinzing Bhutia, 38, of Sikkim was among the seven people killed in Monday's shooting rampage at Oikos University in East Oakland, USA. Media reports coming out from Oakland inform that Tshering Rinzing lived alone in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood and was studying nursing at Oikos University. He worked nights cleaning terminals at the city’s airport and also worked in restaurants to pay his way through.
He was reportedly shot down when the crazed gunman stole his car outside the college on Monday morning. The rest of the six victims are all women students except a lone staffer, it is learnt.
The shooting rampage suspect, One Goh, who has since been taken into custody has reportedly confessed to the killings and told investigators he was “angry at school administrators and students, saying they teased him and were not treating him respectfully,” Police Chief, Oakland, Howard Jordan, has been quoted as saying.
“We don’t believe that any of the victims were the ones that teased him,” he has expressly calrified.
Seven people died, and three more were wounded in the Monday morning shooting at the small Christian university.
According to eyewitnesses, the gunman entered the reception area of the Oikos University and opened fire before walking into one of the two classes in session, spraying the room with bullets. Tshering Rinzing, it may be recalled, was killed later when the gunman stole his car while fleeing from the scene.
All the victims were recent immigrants. While Tshering Rinzing hailed from India, the rest were from Korea, Nigeria, Nepal, the Philippines and one was a Tibetan woman, Sonam Choeden, 33, employed in the Department of Education of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile in Dharamsala. She was on a two-year unpaid leave.
A memorial service for the slain is planned for 6 p.m. Tuesday at Allen Temple Baptist Church, 8501 International Blvd. in East Oakland.

42 yr old SAP Lance Naik bags bronze at Eastern India bodybuilding championship

GANGTOK, 06 April: Sikkim Police has congratulated Lance Naik Pema Dorjee Bhutia of Sikkim Armed Police for having flexed impressively enough bagged the bronze medal for Sikkim at the 7th Eastern India National Bodybuilding Championship held earlier this month in Jharkhand. Mr. Bhutia competes in the 75 kg weight category.
At 42, Mr. Bhutia has turned many notions about bodybuilding and even fitness on their head, dispelling the belief that bodybuilding, at least competitive bodybuilding, was a ‘younger’ man’s sport. What is more, he arrived at bodybuilding at an age when most bodybuilders are peaking. He was 32 when started sculpting his physique to compete. Mr Bhutia is also a certified trainer from the National School of Bodybuilding and Nutrition, Jalundhar, Punjab.
Speaking to media persons yesterday, he shared that he was inspired to take up bodybuilding by the then SAP Commandant, Akshay Sachdeva, in the year 2002. As mentioned, he was 32 at the time and within a year of working out in the gym, was taking part in the competitions. He also thanked his family, colleagues and friends for supporting and encouraging him in his pursuit.
With reference to his continuing passion with bodybuilding, Mr Bhutia hoped that the youngsters will take inspiration from his experience and pursue health and fitness, if not bodybuilding, with more earnestness instead of hiding behind excuses of lack of time or motivation. Towards this, he has invited any interest youth to contact him for free consultation on fitness and nutrition. He is a certified trainer, remember.
And he is also an experience veteran now, having participated in the Mr Sikkim contest 10 times, starting in 2002 itself, and having won 6 gold medals in his weight category. He was crowned Mr Sikkim in 2009 and stood 10th in the Senior Nationals Mr India contest held in Goa in 2010. His other crowns include second place for three consecutive years - 2005 to 2007 - at the Mr Himalaya BB Championship in Kalimpong and a third position in the Mr North Bengal BB Championship at Siliguri. Earlier this year in January, he bagged the third position in the Mr. Himalaya Classic BB championship. Mr Bhutia is also a two-time gold medalist - 2008 and 2009 - of the state-level weight-lifting competition.

Three Sikkim schools in top-5 of Green Schools of India list


GANGTOK, 06 April: Three government schools from Sikkim have risen to the top from a pool of 30,000 participating schools from across the country to figure in the top-5 of the Gobar Times Green Schools National Award 2011-12. What is more, the top two positions have also gone to Sikkim schools with Dentam Senior Secondary School of West Sikkim bagging the first position and Deorali Girls Senior Secondary School of Gangtok taking the second slot. Tingley Secondary School of South Sikkim has been ranked fourth in this prestigious rating undertaken by the reputed Centre for Science and Environment.
A press communiqué received from PCCF-cum-Additional CS, Manjit Singh, informs that the award is based on the performance of these schools in the Green Schools Programme (GSP) and come in recognition for having brought about “positive change” in the schools environment in terms of practices followed to improve the quality, usage and sustainability of land, air, water, energy and waste resources.
The schools were presented with certificates and Green Leaf trophies by the Chief Minister of New Delhi, Sheila Dikshit, at an awards ceremony held in New Delhi on 28 March.
The Green Schools Programme is being implemented in Sikkim by 182 schools since the year 2009 and Sikkim schools have been doing consistently well in it. In previous years schools from Daramdin, Reshi, Middle Camp and Lower Samdong have been awarded by CSE. “This continued acknowledgement and recognition of Sikkim schools at the national level through the Green Schools Programme is a matter of great pride and honor for the state,” Mr. Singh conveys.
To facilitate the programme, the ENVIS Center under the Forests Department here has been providing resources to the schools like Green Teacher’s training, environment kits, green school manuals, permanent flex banners, environment calendars, waste segregation bins, environmental information support and so on, he adds. The programme is now being extended to 197 Junior High Schools of the state. Thus far, only Senior Secondary and Secondary schools were participating.
The Green School Programme complies with the State Government’s aim of achieving “100% Environment Conscious Citizens” by 2015, the PCCF adds. With the main focus of this mission being on school children, the State Government has instituted its own award scheme on this effort as well with the Chief Minister’s Green School Rolling Trophy which includes handsome cash prizes of up to Rs. 5 lakh. This is a first of its kind initiative in the country and the award is presented to the meritorious schools on the occasion of the World Environment Day.

Vigilance raids Golay’s wife’s house in Namchi

NAMCHI. 06 April: The first raid in connection with the Vigilance case registered against SDF MLA PS Tamang [Golay] in the year 2009 was effected yesterday when a Vigilance Police team from Gangtok raided the house of the MLA’s wife, Krishna Kumari Rai, here at Tinzir, College Road.
While no official comment on the reason or the findings of the raid could be sourced till the time of going to print, the raid is reported to have begun when Ms. Rai was still away at work.
Upon hearing of the Vigilance raid, Ms. Rai is reported to have rushed home and was also questioned on her sources of income and details of expenses. It may be mentioned here that the Mrs. Rai’s house, where the raid was conducted yesterday, was constructed before her marriage to Mr. Tamang.
The dissident MLA’s supporters are already questioning the timing of the raid, pointing out that comes on the heels of his aides – Bhojraj Rai and Jacob Khaling – alleging Roads & Bridges Minister RB Subba’s involvement in the SBS Soreong branch scam during his first term in office.
This sentiment is echoed by the Indian Youth Congress Sikkim-unit returning officer, Avinash Yakha, who in a press statement issued today, has alleged a “serious political conspiracy” behind the vigilance raid. Mr. Yakha sees the raid as proof of the SDF government’s “autocratic and undemocratic” governance and abuse of government machinery against lay people to settle political scores.
While condemning the incident, Mr Yakha has alleged that the government was using the Vigilance Police to target dissidents and opponents.

5-day Tourism Carnival in May

GANGTOK, 03 April: Following up on the Snow & Culture Fest held recently, Sikkim is all set to organize a 5-day tourism carnival in May to celebrate Spring with tourists with events spread out across the State. The carnival is scheduled for an 11 May kick off.
The Tourism & Civil Aviation Secretary, R. Telang, today informed that the Carnival will showcase every aspect of hill life.
Stressing that the objective behind organizing such a grand show and including such varied activities as adventure sports, cultural and religious events, nature, handicrafts, music and traditional foods was to provide an “additional bonanza to tourist who visit the state at that time”, the Secretary said. All the government department and tourism stakeholders of the state will be involved in the festival, he mentioned, while adding that the Army will also be present as an integral part of the events.
The 17 Mountain Division will perform paragliding, paradiving, sky-dying, a dog squad display and motorcycle stunts and many other adventures activities, informed the Secretary.
Another attraction on the inaugural day will be a carnival through town, a flower show, food court [both traditional and exotic], he added.
On activities beyond Gangtok, there will be special yak safaris at Tsomgo lake side, a Bhajan Sandhya at Siddheswara Dham at Solophok, and a special performance by Jhakris.
Mountain Biking and Paragliding activities will be hosted in East and West districts.
The Secretary further informed that the Department will sitting in a final preparatory meeting with the Chief Secretary and Heads of Departments on 05 April. “We will have a detailed discussion on all aspects, especially the financial part at that meeting,” informed the Secretary.

Truckers form JAC to pursue 10-wheeler ban demand

SINGTAM, 03 April: A Joint Action Committee of Truck Owners and Drivers was constituted during a joint meeting of Truck Owners Association and Truck Drivers Association at the Marwari Dharmasala here on Monday. The meeting was chaired by Robin Lepcha of Singtam.
The JAC has Dhanraj Philemon as president, Madan Chettri, Nain Kumar Pradhan, Krishna Chettri and Uttam Rai as vice-presidents, Shyam Kumar and JB Chettri as general secretary, Krishna Chettri as office secretary and DK Rai as treasurer. The committee has also appointed Santosh Agarwal as the chief advisor and 30 other members.
The meeting has decided that the tenure of the committee will be for 3 years. The meeting has further decided that the newly formed committee has to start working on issues mandated to it immediately. One of its main tasks will be to pursue a ban on entry of 10-wheeler trucks on Sikkim roads since these larger vehicles were taking away the livelihoods of local truckers. [from NANDU DUTRAJ]

Eight tourists injured in North Sikkim road mishap

MANGAN, 01 Apr: A North Sikkim holiday was cut short for a group of eight tourists today when the vehicle they had hired for the journey met with an accident at Ambithang near Mangan this [01 April 2012] afternoon. All nine people on board, eight tourists and the driver, were injured, with the condition of four reported to be grievous when the Mahindra Maxx [Sk-03J 0348] they were traveling in to Lachung from Gangtok tumbled about 200 feet off the road at Ambithang at around 2 p.m.
The injured persons were evacuated to the District Hospital at Mangan for first aid and referred on to the Central Referral Hospital at Gangtok.
The injured tourists are: Devarshi Battacharya, Ms. Juni Das, Sampo Chaudahry, Rahul Bose, Santanan Chuodhary, Ms. Nikita Choudhary, Ms. Sutpadeep Das and Mihir das and the driver Md. Mustaq.

One killed in South Sikkim road mishap, driver absconds

JORETHANG, 01 Apr: One person was killed and five injured when the vehicle they were returning in from a visit to the Solophok Char Dhaam on the occasion of Ram Nawami today met with an accident at Nandugaon, a short distance from here.
The group, hailing from Mangsabong Yuksam in West Sikkim, was travelling in a Tempo Trax [SK-02J-0529] and were on their way back when, upon reaching a spot near the Nandugaon Panchayat Bhawan, the driver, who is also the owner, lost control and the vehicle skidded off the road falling around 25 feet below.
25 year old Deepa Subba, wife of Siliman Subba of Mangsabong basti, was killed on the spot while the other occupants suffered minor injuries. There were 15 people on board the vehicle including the driver. The injured passengers were rushed to the District Hospital at Namchi.
OC, Jorethang Police Station, Shenga Bhutia, informs that the taxi was taken on hire by the group from Mangsabong for a pilgrimage tour to Char Dhaam. The driver, who also hailed from the same village, has absconded, the OC informs, adding that the passengers have revealed that the driver had fallen asleep while driving, leading to the accident.
As per the statement reportedly given to the Police by the victims, the vehicle was plying in a high speed and the driver dozing off. The Police have registered a case under section 279/ 337/ 338/ 304A against the driver at Jorethang Police Station and a search is underway to nab the absconding driver.

Power Minister rejects Stage-IV public hearing as a failure

GANGTOK, 01 Apr: Power Minister Sonam Gyatso Lepcha, who is also the Dzongu MLA, has dismissed the public hearing called for the Teesta Stage-IV hydel project held at Namprikdang on 29 March as a failed meeting, contending that a majority of the affected people had stayed away.
Speaking as the Dzongu area MLA, he claimed that 95% of the affected people were from Upper and Lower Dzongu and added that they had not turned up for the public hearing. “How then can the public hearing be called successful as pronounced in the different newspapers?” he challenged.
Addressing a press conference on Saturday, Mr Lepcha explained that important components of the hydel project like the dam, the intake area, tunnels, power house etc. fall between Namprikdang to Pheedang onbthe right bank of the Teesta in Dzongu, making the land to be acquired here the most important aspect of the acquisition process.
In this regard, he highlighted that from this area, only around 13 people, only two of whom are affected landowners, attended the public hearing. This, almost nil participation of the most affected, made the entire public hearing process a failure, he argued, alleging further that NHPC labourers had been brought to the public hearing to give an appearance of large attendance.
On his problems with the NHPC vis a vis Stage-IV, the MLA pointed out that MoU between the State Government and the NHPC was for a 490 MW project with strict guidelines that the Namprikdang ground should not be submerged given its religious and emotional quotient with the Dzongu residents.
The Power Minister further informed that during discussions on this stipulation, NHPC engineers had stated that the Naprikang ground could be saved from submergence only if the capacity was reduced to 280 MW.
“This being the case, without even I as Power Minister or the Department having been taken into confidence, NHPC ungraded the capacity to 520 MW!” he revealed.
He went on to warn NHPC not to underestimate the people of the State and announced that he would also be raising the issue strongly in the concerned national forums.
The Minister clarified yesterday that he was in the favour of hydel projects “because they will bring development and prosperity to Sikkim”, and was upset because NHPC, with its questionable acts was seeding too many doubts in the minds of the people.
He alleged that the rock and soil investigations in the DPR of the said project were incorrect and desired that an independent agency carry out a fresh investigation into the viable capacity for the project.
He also called into question NHPC’s commitment to the State and its people by arguing that while the 18 September earthquake had received the support and assistance of people and agencies from around the world, NHPC had volunteered no such support to help the State overcome the devastation.

Bodybuilder flexes compassion

GANGTOK, 01 Apr: Mr Sikkim Arun Gurung, has dedicated a part of his prize money to provide a set of essential materials to Sita Panchawati Ashram, an orphanage at Sama Lingdum in Ranka. Mr. Gurung, it may be recalled, was crowned the 12th Mr Sikkim at the state level bodybuilding championship held here on 24 March.
Mr Gurung handed over sport kits, blankets, buckets and other materials for the children at the orphanage during the foundation day celebrations there today.
Speaking to media-persons later, Mr Gurung informed that remaining amount of the prize money would be shared with a destitute home and a recently-opened Rehab Centre in Gangtok.
Sita Panchawati Ashram is a self-run home founded by Thagu Maya Bardewa, a housewife, with five children in 2009.
Ms Bardewa informed that at present there are 13 children at the home who are all receiving education and growing in a caring environment. She has received State and the National awards for her efforts in the year 2009 and 2011 respectively.

Tsomgo traffic to move beyond 3 Mile only after 10 AM

GANGTOK, 04 April: Concerned officials, at a meeting convened on 02 April here in the office of Commissioner-cum-Secretary, Tourism and Civil Aviation, agreed that from 09 April onwards, vehicles playing towards Tsomgo, Baba Mandir and Nathula will be allowed past the 3rd Mile Checkpost only after 10 a.m. This, so that BRO gets a clear working time of 5 to 6 hours everyday on its road widening and extension works on this alignment.
The meeting, an official press release informs, was held specifically to discuss traffic management on JN Road to facilitate the road works, and was attended by the Tourism Secretary, Deputy GOC 17 Mountain Division, Chief Engineer BRO, DC (East), Sr. SP (East) and officials of the Department.
All stakeholders have been requested to “strictly adhere” to the arrangement.

Stand By the Tibetans

This time, four years ago, Bhaichung Bhutia had done Sikkim proud and earned some semblance of virtue for the nation at large, when, on 31 March 2008, he wrote to the Indian Olympic Association communicating his refusal to be part of the Beijing Olympics torch relay when it jogged through India. “Given my understanding of Tibet, its people, the situation there and Tibetan aspirations in India, my conscience would not allow me to carry the Beijing Olympic torch,” Bhaichung had shared in explanation, stressing that it was a personal decision in response to the call of his conscience. With his stand, Bhaichung had underlined the role that citizens of a free country need to play – exert moral pressure on the powers-that-be to discover some spine and make the citizens proud. His stand had received wall to wall coverage in the media and the Tibet issue, had, for once, figured in television news studios. Four years to the day, and the situation in Tibet is even worse and now the hysteria and dejection has spread to the community in exile as well. Unfortunately, no celebrity [in the Indian context] has spoken up for Tibet of done something as exceptionally earnest as Bhaichung did in 2008. As a result, the media at large goes about acting as if nothing has happened even as a Tibetan youth has immolated himself to attract attention to the Tibet issue and lakhs of Tibetans have marched across India in the hope that their hosts will listen. No one, unfortunately, appears to be paying heed and one is left with the ignominy of the Chinese patting India for its forceful controlling of Tibetan protests against China. In their earnestness to please China and slap down Tibetan protests, the authorities have targeted everyone in Delhi who looks ‘Tibetian’, and this includes the entire Himalayan span bordering China.
Governing a population which is intuitively suspicious of China and by extension thus, sympathetic towards Tibet, it is expected of Delhi to at least conduct itself with more self respect when dealing with its northern neighbour. Do we need to appear desperate to please China at all costs? Unfortunately, Delhi believes so. They cracked down so hard on the Jantar-Mantar protest rally [in which Jamphel Yeshi immolated himself] that they rounded up more people than the jails could accommodate. They had displayed similarly embarrassing obsequiousness in 2008 when the Beijing Olympic torch ran in Delhi with burly Chinese security and with the people barricaded a safe distance away. The DD cameras beamed only tight shots of the torch relay and a mistaken wide angle shot revealed that the sponsored celebs were waving to people more than 20 feet away from the torch. As an Indian, one would have wanted Delhi to prove that people of this free land, its citizens and guests alike, were free to protest, demonstrate and criticize. But Delhi did not. It granted this right only so long as it was not in the line of sight of its Chinese guests. But Delhi has made it a habit of being disgustingly inconsiderate, and although it does not excuse either the governmental insensitivity or the media thoughtlessness, the Tibetans can draw solace, if at all it is possible, from the fact that Indians too have similarly suffered. The dismissiveness with which arguments against the Armed Forces Special Power Act continue to be handled by the government and the media and the hilarity with which attempts are made to police the internet, suggest that instead of China learning from India, the lessons are travelling the other way round. Instinctive compassion is enough for everyone to sympathise with the Tibetan cause; this is one issue which does not demand expansive arguments to win support. But now, the time has come for more Indians to stand up in support of the Tibetans and their right to continue aspiring for a Free Tibet and express it at every forum, street or meeting. The protest by a group of Indian students in support of Tibet had only a handful of participants in Delhi recently and the Tibet peace rally even in Gangtok was an almost exclusively Tibetan affair. The Americans have a strong people’s lobby for Tibet, as does Europe and hence their governments do from time to time take a stand and comment. In India, the Tibet support groups remain mostly fringe players, meeting and preaching among the already converted. They should spread their activities wider or we stand at risk of becoming the most ungracious hosts to one of the longest-suffering people. What is worse, if governmental intolerance to the Tibetan right to protest and the media’s blindsiding of the Tibet issue continue to be sanctioned [with our silence and non-involvement], we will be subjecting the Tibetans to double subjugation – one inside Tibet and one in Free India. More of us need to stand alongside Tibetans, do a Bhaichung, and get their situation noticed and addressed.

High Court stays Rs. 7 crore road construction project

GANGTOK, 01 Apr: The High Court of Sikkim has taken a stern view of the manner in which the contract for a road construction work in the East District was handled by the State government, particularly the Roads & Bridges Department. The Court has termed the awarding of the work by the Department as “illegal and arbitrary”, and in the process, has also stayed further execution of the project.
This order of the High Court came in the last week of March, 2012 on a petition filed by Delay Namgyal Barfungpa who has drawn the Department for Development of North East Region (DoNER), the North Eastern Council (NEC) as well as the state government and the Roads & Bridges department to the court in his petition.
The project is the Sangkhola-Sumin Road construction which the Cabinet had sanctioned for Rs. 7,08,46,979 some months back. The construction was sanctioned under a Central government scheme for the NE Region.
Chief Justice P Kohli observed that it was “absolutely clear” that the respondent contractor had been allotted two different contracts without advertisements. The two works included upgradation and premix carpeting, including protective & drainage works, on Sangkhola Sumin Road, 1st km to 5th km, and the new cutting, including pavement works, carpeting, protective works, on Sangkhola Sumin Road from 6th km to 12th km. Only the latter work was advertised. This contract had been awarded to the respondent contractor.
However, the Court noted that before the said contractor could commence the work allotted to him, it was found that the said work had already been advertised and allotted by the department to another agency under a different scheme of the Central government. Thereafter, the officials decided to execute the work on another stretch of land for construction of the road along with Sangkhola Sumin Road from KM 15 to KM 19 and still another work comprising 3 kms of road from Sangkhola Sumin to Mangthan.
It was noted by the Chief Justice that both these works are totally different contracts. The plea of the state respondents that this was not a new contract, and that only the alignment in the road had been changed was rejected by the Court.
In fact, the Court further noted that the allotment of the two different works to the respondent contractor without advertisement is prima facie arbitrary and illegal action on the part of the department and has ordered a stay on further execution of the works by the respondent contractor.
Earlier, the Court had demanded from the State government whether formal agreement had been executed between the department and the contractor to whom the work had been allotted. Also demanded was information on the amount of work done so far, amount of bills paid to the contractor along with a certificate from the engineer in charge of the work as to how much works had been executed and the amount of payments made and also the progress report submitted to the NEC.
With the documents made available, it was observed that work to the tune of Rs. 46,39,880 out of the total cost had been executed, which comes to only 6.5%. This submission was made by Additional AG, JB Pradhan, who also sought that the court permit re-tendering of the work by the department, if so desired. This was granted.
Appearing for the petitioner was advocate Sudesh Joshi and Manita Pradhan.

SU picketed again

GANGTOK, 29 March: There is an obvious communication gap between the Sikkim University management, the state authorities and the protest groups agitating against the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Mahendra P. Lama. Of course, the protestors remain convinced that at the root of the continuing confrontation is the VC’s “refusal” to take them “seriously” and frequently resorting to “sly tactics” to bypass the protest and renege even on commitments made by University officials to the people.
Today’s confrontation erupted after the University started issuing appointment letters against interviews held on 16 March for teaching and non-teaching vacancies at the University. The groups protesting the recruitment process at the University had begun their protest with simultaneous gheraos of an interview [for non-executive vacancies] venue and management block on 23 March. The interviews were cancelled that day. However, the University went ahead with interviews called for the next day for system analysts and when even this was protested and picketed, the Registrar issued a notice announcing that all remaining interviews stand postponed.
The protestors since then have approached the HRD Department here and written to Ministries in Delhi demanding that the entire recruitment process be cancelled, an investigation ordered and the recruitment process started afresh in a more transparent manner. It was informed today that the six groups including the Sikkim Sachet Swarojgar and Berojgar Sangathan and Sikkim University Development Committee [comprising of affected landowners from Yangang where the campus is to come up], have even filed a PIL in the High Court here challenging the manner in which the VC directed the entire recruitment process. These developments and past assurances had led them to believe that no new surprises would be pulled on them.
This afternoon, however, word spread that the University was issuing appointment letters on the sly. With clear information difficult to come by, the protestors returned to picket the SU Management block at around 5 p.m. this evening. Soon, there was aggressive sloganeering at the spot and as their numbers grew, so did the tension. Traffic along NH 31A at the spot was also held up and cleared only after the confrontation was resolved for the day at around 8 p.m. The protestors stayed at the spot through the heavy rain and hailstorm which lashed the capital late this evening.
Although the slogans were loud and aggressive, no untoward incident transpired today either except the picketing of the SU office and the holding up of highway traffic till around 8 p.m. A State authorities also deployed a strong police detail at the spot to keep things from getting out of hand.
The protestors were insistent that the University not be allowed to force its way on the recruitment “agenda” and demanding that the appointment letters being issued today be suspended as well until the complete process of recruitments was resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.
As the slogans grew louder and the heckling stronger, the district authorities intervened and three representatives of the SSSBS were taken to the SU office for a meeting with the Registrar mediated by the DC and SP East. The trio – Anoop Thatal, Santosh Shivakothi and Hem Kumar Gurung of the organisation returned from the meeting with a one-sentence Notice issued by the Registrar Prof. Jyoti Prakash Tamang, which read: “Sikkim University has decided to keep in abeyance, acceptance of offers of appointment issued today”.
The level distrust became apparent when members of the protest groups refused to accept this notice at face value and started nit-picking, pointing out that the notice did not have a memo number or date clearly mentioned. The notice was sent back to the SU office and it was only when the Memo Number and date were included that the protest was withdrawn and the highway reopened for traffic. By then the hailstorm had also passed over.
District officials inform that the University management decided to issue the notice “looking at the situation” and that the appointment letters in question were issued against interviews conducted on 16 February for the posts of Laboratory Assistants, Library Attendants, and teaching posts in the Earth Sciences Department. All of these, as per the SU Notice, are now kept in abeyance.
The VC, against whom the entire protest is directly focused, was incidentally not in station today either. The recruitment process at the University was called into question first by a group of assistant professors who petitioned the Executive Council alleging that clearly prescribed processes and norms had been ignored by the VC in the rush to hold the recruitments when no statutory body was in place and so that he could have his way. Interestingly, the Executive Council, instead of addressing the complaint directly filed with it, decided to terminate the services of two of the faculty members who had made the complaint. This action, supposedly justified on disciplinary grounds, was taken because they had gone public with their complaint [having released copies of the complaint to newspapers here]. The matter was eventually taken up by the groups now leading the protest and has since pulled in more allegations of nepotism against the VC.

50% of affected landowners show up for Stage-IV public hearing

NAMPRIKDANG, 29 March: The public hearing for the 520 MW Teesta Stage-IV hydel project proposed to be developed by NHPC in North Sikkim was held today here at Namprikdang ground in Upper Dzongu. Around 50% of the affected landowners turned up for the public hearing conducted by the State Pollution Control Board represented by member secretary CS Pradhan, and chaired by DC North, TN Kazi who is also the ex officio chairman of the Public Hearing Panel. Although affected land-owners from all GPUs where land will be acquired for the project turned up today, the participation from Dzongu on the right bank of the Teesta was very low. Two GPUs of Dzongu will be affected by the project - Hee-Gyathang GPU [which has seven wards] and Lum-Gor-Sangtok GPU which has five wards.
Rounding up the public hearing, the DC commented that there appears to have been some misconceptions about what attending a public hearing entails. “It appears that some people were under the wrong impression that attending the public hearing means that NHPC can take their land for the project. It is not so, and the affected people should know that this is the forum for them to clear their doubts and place their demands,” he said.
A total of 250 land owners will be affected by Teesta Stage-IV.
The DC also informed that the public hearing’s verdict was not final yet and explained that the SPCB will now prepare a report on it including the minutes of the hearing and send it to the next authority for clearance.
On the issues and demands raised by the people, he expressed hope that NHPC would work responsibly and keep the people’s sentiments paramount.  He also congratulated NHPC and the people at the public hearing for the peaceful conduction of the public hearing today.
Earlier, the public hearing had started with a welcome address by BK Chettri, Senior Scientific Officer, SPCB.
Next, the NHPC Chief Engineer for Teesta Stage-IV, AK Choudhary, highlighted the salient features of the detailed report prepared by NHPC about the developmental initiatives proposed as part of the Relief and Rehabilitation plan for the project. [see box for details].
The chief engineer further informed that as per present projections, the State government, which is to receive 14.19% of the power generated free, the State exchequer stands to earn Rs. 121.5 crore per annum from the sale of its share of free electricity.
He also announced that BPL families in the affected area will be provided with free electricity connections.
Regarding the employment in the project, the Chief Engineer announced that 50% of the jobs in Grade-III and IV and that 25% of the positions at the executive level would be reserved for locals with preference in all these to be given to land oustees and affected people.  Apart from these, the NHPC will also develop schools and dispensaries in the affected area and assist in upgradation of roads.
Landowners from all affected GPUs: Thingchim-Mangshila, Mangan, Namok-Swayem, Ringhim-Nampatam, Hee-Gyathang and Lum/Gor/Sangtok, attended the meeting, although, as mentioned, only 50% of the affected landowners turned up, with the representation from Dzongu extremely low. It might be recalled that the Affected Citizens of Teesta had called for a boycott of the public hearing and announced that none of its members, affected by the said project, would attend the hearing or give up their lands for it. The Dzongu MLA, Sonam Gyatso Lepcha, who also holds the Power & Energy portfolio has also been critical of NHPC’s delivery on commitments vis a vis Teesta Stage-V.
The landowners placed their respective demands at the public hearing and raised various queries about the project and sought clearer explanation of the benefits assured by the NHPC for the region. Primary among the demands was substantially higher rates of land compensation.
Dugey Bhutia, an affected landowner from Thingchim-Mangshila, raised this issue and informed that the land owners were not satisfied with the notified rate of Rs. 18 per sq ft announced in the year 2006 for the project and demanded that this be revised.
CT Kazi, an affected landowner representing the Left Bank Teesta Stage-IV steering committee, enumerated the price that the affected people were looking at. He specified that land acquisition should be done at Rs. 200 per square feet, development of Mangan Bazaar promised and that NHPC should undertake to reconstruct Ringhim Gumpa in Mangan which was devastated by the 18 September earthquake.
Both speakers welcomed NHPC to the project and underlined that they were neither against the project nor the Government and were only seeking that all their demands were fulfilled.
Similarly, Pemchung Lepcha from Tareng village under Lum/Gor/Sangtok GPU, speaking on behalf of affected families from his area, demanded that at least one member from each land oustee family  be given employment with NHPC compulsorily and seconded the demand for an enhance compensation rate.
Panchayat President Kado Lepcha, in turn demanded insurance cover for affected families by NHPC and sought that all locals working at the Forest Nursery be given employment.
Likewise, local employment should be ensured at the PHCs, schools etc. which the NHPC proposes to develop in the affected area, demanded RB Limboo from Mangshila.
Dawa Bhutia, an affected landowner from Thingchim, argued that inflation has hit everyone hard and hence land compensation should be adequately handsome. He also demanded that NHPC should not “lock” away the lands procured by it and allow access to the people.
The queries raised by the landowners were addressed phase-wise by Lendup Lepcha (Manager, NHPC).  Regarding the land acquisition rate, he assured that this would be reworked to the satisfaction of the landowners in consultation with the Land Revenue Department. He also assured that NHPC would do its utmost to meet all the demands raised by the people today.
The Rs. 3,594.74 crore Teesta Stage-IV is proposed over river Teesta. The Memorandum of Understanding for the said project was signed between NHPC and the State Government on 01 March 2006. The project is scheduled for completion in 74 months from the date of CCEA approval.
Also present for the public hearing today were AP Giri, Secretary Power Deptt, Dhiman Parija, Executive Director NHPC, D Chattopadhya, Chief Engineer Incharge NHPC, officials from various departments, NHPC officials and landowners.

One killed, 5 injured in Dochum road mishap

GANGTOK, 28 Mar: One labourer was killed and five others grievously injured when a ‘utility’ vehicle ferrying them and a consignment of LS Cables for Power Grid Corporation lost traction and skidded back from a steep incline near Dochum on the way to Sang from Singtam last evening at around 6 p.m. Apart from the driver, who was arrested and later released on bail, there were ten labourers on board the vehicle at the time of the mishap. Four of them sustained minor injuries.
As per police records, all the labourers were from Jharkhand. 45 year old Bhola Yadav from Giridhi [Jharkhand] succumbed to his injuries, while five others - Ram Pukar Matho [35], Prem Chand Matho [35], Subad Kumar Matho [18], Mahabir Matho and Gandhi Matho [21], sustained grievous injuries and have been referred to the Central Referral Hospital at Tadong for treatment.
Four occupants: Bikhan Thori [25], Jaganath Thori [36], Dinesh Thori [38] and Daneshwar Yadav [32] sustained simple injuries and were released after first aid.
The vehicle, WB73A-7449, was being driven by Am Bahadur Chettri [26], a resident of Bijanbari, Darjeeling in West Bengal, and as mentioned, was ferrying the LS Cables and the labourers to Sang. It is learnt that while negotiating a steep incline, the vehicle skidded back out of control and fell around 30 feet off the road.
A driver was taken into custody and booked under sections 279/ 337/ 304 ‘A’ [rash driving or riding on a public way, causing hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others and causing death by negligence] of the Indian Penal Code and later released on bail.

South cops bust burglar-buyer nexus

NAMCHI, 27 March: South District cops today busted what they are convinced is a prolific nexus of burglars and buyers of stolen goods. Following a string of arrests, six in all, affected today, the police have also solved a string of burglaries in this South District headquarter town reported during the winter vacations.
The string of burglaries unraveled with the arrest of 31 year old Budhiman Sarki, originally of Hee-Patal in West Sikkim, this morning in connection with investigations into a spurt in the theft of LPG cylinders in Namchi.
An official communiqué informs that the accused was taken into custody in connection with theft cases of LPG cylinders and other petty items reported by various complainants to Namchi Police Station. The arrest, police officials inform, was on the basis of reliable source information. Cops had reportedly been keeping a close watch on the activities of the suspect for a while, especially since theft of LPG cylinders and other burglaries increased during the winter holidays.
Today’s raid was conducted by a team comprising of PI CB Basnett, SI Renuka Chettri, Nk Tikaram Gurung, LNk Lako Tshering Lepcha, LNk Til Bahadur Rai, LNk LB Rai and Constable Dharmaraj Chettri, who arrested the suspect and also recovered stolen goods “consisting of a laptop, LPG cylinders, utensils, gold ornaments, watches, mobile phones, pen drives, audio/video cassettes, data cable, internet connections, VCDs, TV, wallet with some cash and other incriminating articles”.
The accused, it is claimed, admitted to his involvement in many cases of theft and also spilled that he has been selling the stolen articles in Namchi and Jorethang for a long time.
The release adds that the accused revealed the names of people who had bought the stolen articles from him. They are: Ajay Rai [35], son of Purna Bahadur Rai of Jorethang Daragaon; Bishnu Bahadur Chettri [41], son of Ram Bahadur Chettri of Gelling busty, West Sikkim; Santosh Sharma [51], son of Late Pabilall Sharma of Gelling busty, West Sikkim; Sunil Gupta [31], son of Mohan Prasad Gupta of Jorethang Bazaar, South Sikkim and Karma Pintso Bhutia [44], son of late Loday Bhutia of Ravangla-Kewzing Road, South Sikkim, presently residing in Jorethang.
All the five persons, who are alleged to have bought stolen goods have also been arrested by the police as per the disclosure statement made by the accused, the official release informs.
The release goes on to add: “The team has made good achievement and with this catch, a number of pending theft cases of Namchi and Jorethang police stations have been solved. He might have been involved in other burglaries and theft cases in nearby areas as well”.
The accused has been remanded to police custody till 31 March, it is learnt.

Elders flag issues of concern, resolve to continue working for Sikkim

GANGTOK, 28 March: The recently instituted Sikkim Senior Citizens’ Society [SSCS] convened its first general body meeting here at Janata Bhawan on 25 March and formalized its office-bearers even as the elders of the Sikkimese society held extensive discussions on how the organization could engage more effectively on issues of concern.
The maiden meeting of the group had retired High Court Judge AP Subba as the chief guest and JB Pradhan as guest-of-honour and was chaired by adhoc president of the society, former Chief Secretary, KC Pradhan.
The general body elected its office bearers through a consensus voice vote. While KC Pradhan was elected the President for a period of two years, DK Khati was elected vice president, TR Poudyal general secretary and Dr. Bela Cintury as treasurer. The members of the Executive Committee, Advisory Committee, District Vice Presidents and Joint Secretary were similarly chosen from amongst the members.
In his inaugural address, the SSCS president called upon the members to contribute to the strengthening of the new organization so that it could work as effectively as envisaged in the service of the Sikkimese society.
“This is an organization which can effectively discuss, develop and crystallize a model policy and advisory package on issues concerning the interests of the State as the members, by virtue of their education, experience and commitment to the cause of the State, have acquired a vast reservoir of knowledge,” he highlighted.
The issues of old-age and associated problems of senior citizens could also be addressed and resolved through this Society, he added.
Two senior citizens who hold the apex advisory posts, Justice Subba and JB Pradhan also addressed the Society, informs a press communiqué received from Mr. TR Poudyal.
Justice Subba highlighted the need and importance of the Society and briefed the meeting on the various legal and constitutional provisions that are available to senior citizens to mitigate the vagaries and vicissitudes confronting older citizens.
Mr. Pradhan, in turn, spoke on a specific issue of electricity tariff committee meeting to be held in April and suggested that the SSCS make a representation seeking a reduced power tariff for domestic uses on the lines of Himachal Pradesh with special consideration for the aged living on their own.
The possibility of seeking a payment-free meeting hall of Government Departments for holding the Society’s meeting was also brought forth by him, it is informed.
Among the issues facing the State, the SSCS president mentioned the need to make ecological contingency for the floral loss that would accompany the Teesta Stage IV hydel project. The valley over which the project is scheduled to come up comprises of unique and rich biodiversity and its loss should be compensated by raising genetic gardens as rescue homes at appropriate locations, he suggested, while calling upon the State Pollution Control Board to liaison with the NHPC during the ensuing Public Hearing on the project to finalise this aspect.
The meeting also discussed the need for a membership drive and emphasized the need to increase the number if members. Various members discussed the Constitution of the Society and recommended changes wherever inconsistencies existed, the release adds.

CM flags off Kazi Sherpa on Everest Expedition

GANGTOK, 27 March [IPR]: Chief Minister Pawan Chamling today flagged off mountaineer Kazi Sherpa of Indian Himalayan Centre for Adventure and Ecotourism, Chemchey, on an Everest Expedition.
Mr. Sherpa is representing Sikkim as a member of the Mount Everest Expedition 2012 from South Col, Nepal. He has been sponsored by the State Government of Sikkim. The expedition is scheduled to launch later this month and expected to summit Mount Everest by May-end.
The Chief Minister, after handing over the National Flag to Mr. Sherpa at Mintokgang this morning, congratulated him for being selected for the expedition and wished him luck.
Also present for the flag off function were Minister for Tourism and Civil Aviation, Secretary, Tourism and Civil Aviation and Director, Indian Himalayan Centre for Adventure and Ecotourism, Chemchey.

Cry Tibet

What drives a 26-year-old to immolate himself to protest the Chinese President’s visit to India and to draw attention to the critical situation in his homeland? It has to undoubtedly be desperation. Not a dejection with the cause, but a desperate cry against the continued disinterest of the world at large to the plight of a people.
Tibetan youth Jampa Yeshi, who had escaped into India in 2005-06 from Tibet, set himself ablaze shortly after noon on 26 March 2012 at Jantar-Mantar, the venue for all protests in New Delhi. He was part of a Tibetan Protest March taken out to rally against the India visit of the Chinese President scheduled to arrive here on Wednesday. The bloodied handprint on the face of Hu Jintao in the banners carried by the protest marchers symbolised the violence with which Tibetans remain subjugated inside Tibet. The situation in Tibet has grown so suffocating that the past year has seen a wave of self-immolations in the Tibetan Autonomous Region. Among those who have set themselves on fire, almost always in public in front of Chinese authorities, have been a Rinpoche, a widowed mother of four and even a teenaged student. Every single one of them knew that their death was neither an escape [suicide if frowned upon in Tibetan Buddhism] nor would it alleviate the situation inside Tibet. And yet they put their lives on the line – 22 of the 30 who immolated themselves inside Tibet have died. This, because they thought that the crackle of the blaze consuming their bodies would reach the conscience of policy-makers and those with influence to raise the Tibetan issue with China. The fact that more people continue to take this drastic option is proof that they are not being heard, rather, their plight is being continually ignored. Take our own country for example. Home to the largest population of Tibetans outside Tibet, after having allowed Tibet to fall to China in 1950, we continue to sidestep responsibility towards our erstwhile neighbours. The Monday incident at Jantar-Mantar failed to make it to television news, and since TV drives the national agenda, it is unlikely that Tibet will figure with any significance in any national debate either. Aren’t our Parliamentarians tired of calling each other names and staging walk-outs and other subterfuge to, for once, address an issue beyond their immediate constituency? Shouldn’t someone stand up in Parliament and ask the Government what it feels about the crisis in Tibet and the aspirations of a people it has hosted for more than 50 years now. Doesn’t our host-nation status for the Tibetans in exile shoulder us with some responsibility to also carry their dejection and the voice to forums that matter? But we don’t. And then try to ignore the fact that a youth who had escaped barely six years ago from TAR found little to hope among us and set himself ablaze so that the cry of his people could be heard...

Road gives way under parked truck, handy-boy killed

GANGTOK, 26 March: A handy-boy was killed in a mishap at Ambithang on the North Sikkim Highway near Mangan on 25 March. Police records inform that the truck was parked on the roadside at Ambithang and the handy-boy, Dharmey Giri, cleaning the cabin of the truck when the edge of the road gave way from under the truck. The vehicle tumbled around 60 feet off the alignment. The victim succumbed to his injuries on the spot.

Is boycott advisable?


The Public Hearing for the much in the news Teesta Hydroelectric Project Stage-IV to be located between Dikchu and Sangkhalang has been re-scheduled for 29 March 2012 at Namprikdang in North Sikkim. The project entails generation of around 520 MW of hydro power on a run-of-the-river system through the GoI organization- NHPC. Unlike private sector developers which are to run hydel projects for 35 years and hen hand them over to the State Government, projects implemented and operated by NHPC will be for perpetuity.
The NHPC has, in the past, constructed the 510MW Teesta Stage V which was commissioned some three years back and the 60 MW Legship HEP at Rangit in West Sikkim which was commissioned some ten years ago. As per the terms of the agreement with NHPC, the State Government will get 12% of free power. It is understood the generation indicated in project formulation is at peak period - the monsoon. It would be good for people at large to be told how much revenue has actually accrued to the State exchequer from these two projects during the period in question. This should give a fair idea about how much revenue is likely to be forthcoming after the commissioning of the new project [Stage-IV] for which the State Government has called a Public Hearing as per GoI rules. This is an important matter and all stakeholders – nay, all the people of Sikkim - should give a considered thought. It should be fully supported if the economic gains far outweigh the damages likely to be caused. If the people do not attend the public hearing and the project goes ahead with all the usual sugar-coated pills and smooth talk, it will be the people who are solely responsible and it would be un-ethical to blame the Government or the project developers after the project is commenced. Such is the importance of the Public Hearing and it has great legal sanctity.
I have seen in the local dailies that some people of the affected area are once again likely to boycott the Public Hearing slated for 29th March as the various assurances given by the organization to the stake holders while extracting their consent for Teesta Stage V have not been delivered. People’s apprehensions have been further aggravated by to Sept 2011 earthquake as the main Central Thrust (MCT) line is said to be located in the area from the geological and seismological standpoint. Whether this has been scientifically confirmed or not is different matter, but fact remains the trauma of earthquake, during which Dzongu was badly hit, is still fresh in the minds of the people and they are still in a state of shock. It is premature to rake up the issue of a fresh hydroelectric project though the idea was mooted many years back.
It is pertinent to add here that the stretch from Dikchu to Sangkhalang holds the only expanse of tropical jungle in Sikkim and is the abode to some of the prized plant species like wild bananas, terrestrial orchids, various species of palms, bamboos of great plant genetical interest, besides  home of butterflies. Identifying some rescue homes and rehabilitating these species should be seriously considered. For butterflies, the best option is to go in for massive plantation of both nectar and caterpillar food plants suited for the butterfly species of the area. This could best be undertaken by an independent nature conservation trust with funds forthcoming from the project developers. It is equally important to take into consideration that this stretch of the river Teesta border the protected region of Dzongu - the home of the Lepchas.
The objective of entering into agreements for generation of hydroelectric power in the State is basically, besides Sikkim chipping in its share towards national interest with much-needed clean energy, to augment the financial resources in the State and thus serve not only in its developmental programmes but also meet the expenditure of a bloated Government establishment. The internal revenue generated by various sources at present can barely meet the expenditure of less than half a year. This gives a fair idea how important it is to augment internal resources, and in the given situation, to bank on hydro power generation and get the much needed resource thereof is the only ray of hope. The days of New Delhi pouring money for the asking are over. Unless you stand on your own, you will have no voice – you will rather be looked down upon in the corridors of power in the Centre. They are generous towards all developmental programmes and money will come anyway as allotted annually based on population pro-rata as ascertained by the Planning Commission. In the federal system of governance, this is an inherent right of a State of a Union.  But to run your house for day to day affairs is entirely your resposibility. As someone said: “We might have all the resources for grandiose programmes, but may not possibly have resources to buy even the basic need as salt”.
Taking this point into consideration, at the Public Hearing, if at all held, the concerned department should be able to throw these facts and figures to the participants to gauge whether the project will in reality will fulfill our aspirations. We are harping about earning between Rs. 1,200 to Rs. 1,500 crore by way of revenue by generating around 3000 MW of hydroelectricity within a few years and thus offering Sikkim and the Sikkimese people reasons to be to confident about a bright future – a future in which there will be no financial crunch to launch programmes of our liking with which our younger generation will be well equipped educationally besides maintaining our revered heritage as bequeathed in ancient monasteries, temples etc. in  a befitting manner. And then we will also be able to ensure proper maintenance of infrastructure constructed over the year under Plan Fund which are now lying in state of despair. If this is possible, there is reason to accept some immediate pains for a better tomorrow.
There are reasons for people at large to be unhappy with the deals which are not the most transparent and have been cleared with undue hurry. This has definitely brought some undue hardship, including environmental degradation - not forgetting the religious sentiments in some of the locations endowed with exceedingly rich religious significance and sanctity. But having gone so far as to nearing commissioning of projects, to retract will only lead to litigations which do not always resolve issues. If the economic projections are accurate and State really in a position to make substantial gains, there should a concerted effort to come to a meeting point. The best we could do is to apportion a sizeable portion of the revenue accrued from such projects for the upkeep of religious endowments, besides the welfare of the people in the affected area so that they develop a stronger bond and attach a sense ownership in the Project in question and even help expedite the commissioning at the earliest so that the project-related influx is cleared quicker as well. For all new projects, of course, they can clamour, but remonstrate with a well-studied and clearly reasoned line of argument. The Government, in its wisdom, has scrapped seven projects- 4 in Dzongu and 3 in the West Sikkim. This is in itself a bold political decision and people at large should appreciate the gesture.
All we could possibly say, on the lines written on monolith of Kohima War Cemetery: “For Your Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today”.
[The writer is a former Chief Secretary, Sikkim]

HSRP conversion deadline extended by a month

GANGTOK, 26 March: The State Transport Department has now been given an extension of one more month by the Government of India to complete the process of affixing all vehicles in the State with High Security Registration Plates [HSRP]. Against the earlier deadline of 31 March 2012, the final deadline as of now for vehicle owners in the State to acquire the HSRP is now 30 April 2012.
“We were informed a few days back by our Department officials that the Government of India has granted another month as extension to complete the implementation of HSRP scheme in Sikkim. So the new last date has been shifted to 30 April, instead of the old one of 31 March, 2012,” informed TT Sherpa, Secretary, State Transport Authority, while speaking to NOW! today.
The Supreme Court of India had, on 08 December, 2011, issued an order to the State Government to complete implementation of the HSRP scheme by 31 March, 2012 with a clear instruction that no further time shall be granted, acting on which the State Transport Department had also issued a notice directing that all vehicles in the State affix HSRPs within this time. Vehicles without HSRPs would not be allowed to ply on Sikkim roads beyond this deadline, the original notification had stated. This now stands shifted back another.
“Now, with the extension at hand, we should be able to finish affixing all vehicles in the State with HSRPs,” he said, informing further that as on 19 March, 2012 out of the 42,823 vehicles [government and private] registered in the State, 22,968 had been affixed with the HSRPs. The Motor Vehicle Department had started the drive of fitting High Security Registration Plates [HSRP] in Sikkim in the year 2008.
The Transport Department has directed all vehicle owners, who have not yet affixed the HSRPs to report to the concerned RTO office in Gangtok and in the districts for affixing of the HSRPs. Even mobile checks are being conducted all over the State by Motor Vehicle Inspectors [MVIs] on a regular basis so that vehicles without HSRPs are informed to get their vehicles affixed with HSRPs as soon as possible. Even the taxi and vehicle counters are being similarly briefed.
“We should be able to do the affixing in time as there are many vehilces which are off the roads, where people are just coming to the department to update their documents, but do not actually own vehicles at present, while many others [private and taxis] are plying in other states but their documents and number plates have been registered in Sikkim,” the STA Secretary further informed.
“The vehicles which have not yet affixed HSRPs, their documents such as token tax and renewal fees are not being updated by the department, and when this happens, if the documents fail the drivers or owners of the said vehicles have to pay fines, which in some cases can be double the amount, so now because of this drive by the department, people are coming and getting their number plates changed with HSRPs,” informed Senior Regional Transport Officer, PK Basnett.
The contract for affixing HSRPs was awarded to M/s Tonnjes Eastern Security Pvt Ltd of New Delhi and charges for Light Motor Vehicles [LMV] and Heavy Motor Vehicles [HMV] HSRP plates is Rs. 2,048, while for Two Wheelers it is Rs. 871 per plate, as this was the rate quoted by the company in the quotation during the tender, the prices cannot be reduced and thus is being implemented.
The HSRP number plate is \unique as the back number plate contains name of State, districtwise code, category of vehicle, snap lock [so that the number plate once fixed cannot be tampered with], rainbow effect hologram, bar code and a Unique Identification [UID] number [not replaceable], while the front number plate just had the number and the UID number [one vehicle has two UID numbers].
The Districtwise Code breakup for the HSRP is East-1, West-2, North-3 and South-4, while the category breakup is for private vehicles-P, for government vehicles-G, for taxi’s-T, for jeeps-J, for heavy vehicles [trucks and buses]-D, for luxury vehicles-Z and for government buses-B.
Further, the department has urged the people to fit their vehicles with HSRP as soon as possible to avoid compounding and fines by the department and also warn to avoid using ‘made’ or duplicate HSRP number plates as this is illegal and would be a contempt of court and if any one is found doing so by the department then they will be charged and fined.

ACT remains steadfast against Stage-IV, affected members not to release land for project

GANGTOK, 25 March: Affected Citizens of Teesta, a protest group opposed to hydel projects in the State, has reiterated its opposition to the 520 MW Teesta Stage-IV hydel project, the public hearing for which has been called for 20 March 2012. In a press communiqué issued today, the ACT general secretary, Dawa Tshering Lepcha, has also announced that ACT members, whose lands form a “major and critical” component of the Stage-IV project, have also resolved not to give consent for the acquisition of their lands for this project.
The ACT stand against the project, the release explains, is to save the last remaining free-flowing stretch of the Teesta [between the 1,200 MW Teesta Stage-III at Chungthang and the 510MW Stage-V at Dikchu]. Teesta Stage-IV, to be developed by NHPC, is scheduled to have its dam at village Chandey and Hee-Gythang downstream from the confluence of Runchu and have its powerhouse near Phidang in North Sikkim.
The first public hearing for the project, called in July last year, it may be recalled, was boycott by all the affected people. This time, however, various sections of the affected people have already announced their decision to participate in the public hearing to be held at the Namprikdang Ground in Dzongu.
“Unlike in the case of other power projects, when not a single landowner doggedly opposed the projects, the members of ACT, whose land form a major and critical component of the Teesta IV 520MW project, have pledged to oppose the project and the land acquisition process,” the ACT general secretary informs.
“No ACT member will give consent to the land acquisition for the project at any cost,” he reiterates.
The release goes on to add that the protest is also based on the experience of the devastation caused by the 18 September Earthquake last year.
“Bearing in mind the earthquake of 18 September 2011, ACT would further like to bring to the people’s attention that as per the EIA chapter on Geological and Seismicity, the Teesta-IV project lies on the Main Central Thrust (MCT) line which is an ominous and catastrophic sign and situation for the future in case of an earthquake,” the release details.
ACT has also appealed to all the people of North Sikkim to once again boycott the Public Hearing “for the sake of Teesta and the safety of future generations”.
“Help us to save the last free flowing section of the Teesta and be proud of our historic action,” the release concludes.

Garai acquitted in Indira Sharma murder case

GANGTOK, 25 March: Lance Naik Rajendra Nath Garai, the accused in the murder of Indrani Sharma, has walked scot free of all charges following his acquittal of all charges. In a quirky combination of legal requirements and technicalities and lack of sufficient evidence, RN Garai, was pronounced not guilty by the District & Sessions Judge, Special Division II, a few months ago and was ordered to be immediately set free from State Jail here where he had been languishing since he was taken into custody back in 2005.
The acquittal come in spite of the fact that there was a strong suspicion and doubt even in the minds of the court that the former Lance Naik was guilty of the offence under section 302 of the IPC for murder. The prosecution, however, could not make a convincing enough case against him, and as the court observed, could not even “fully establish” the circumstantial evidence on which it has built its entire case.
The disappearance of Indrani Sharma and the subsequent recovery of her charred dead body a few days later had created a storm and outraged the people of Gangtok an army man had been accused of first raping and then murdering her. The victim was the wife of an SAP personnel and was a resident of Burtuk. On 04 January, 2005 she had been taken by RN Garai to the quarters of his superior on the pretext of getting her kerosene oil. After that, no saw her, and a few days later, her body was recovered from the septic tank, burnt and with strangulation marks on it.
Later, the police had also discovered blood stains on the floor in the quarters of one Colonel SK Tomar. Immediately after the incident, RN Garai had proceed on leave to his home in Midnapore, West Bengal.
The murder had scandalised Sikkim and a strike was also observed demanding the immediate arrest of the accused. The needle of suspicion had already settled on RN Garai by then. The matter was even brought up with the Union Home Minister by Chief Minister Pawan Chamling in Delhi. RN Garai was eventually taken into custody in West Bengal and brought to Sikkim to face murder charges.
Originally, the police had charged RN Garai with murder and rape, but by the time the chargesheet was framed, the rape charges were dropped as the medical report proved inconclusive. This was also because the body had been burnt and only limited forensic examination possible.
This, along with other events, played a strong role in the acquittal of RN Garai, who, as per police sources at the time, had confessed to the crime while in police custody.
RN Garai had also reportedly given statements to the police which supposedly led to the recovery of certain articles at the site where the dead body had been disposed. However, the Court noted that when a recovery of article is made at the instance of the accused, and based on his alleged confessional statement given while in police custody, the court must not attach much importance to the recovery part of the case put forth by the prosecution.
The Court noted that even though there was a strong suspicion that the accused had murdered Indrani Sharma, it was for the prosecution to prove the allegation beyond doubt.
In this regard, the Court noted “…in a case where prosecution relies on circumstantial evidence to bring home the charge… the circumstance from which the conclusion of guilt is to be drawn in the first instance must be fully established and all the facts so established must be consistent only with the hypothesis of the guilt of the accused”.
The Court, in its order, has noted that there are “several breaks in the chain of circumstances”, which rather than forming a link that conclusively proves the guilt of the accused, have created doubts on the prosecution’s story.
At the same time, the Court noted that there were materials on record which gave rise to strong suspicion against the accused that he may have committed the murder. In the end though, Lance Naik RN Garai was given the benefit of doubt and acquitted of the charge of murder.
He has since been released from the state prison and has reportedly gone home to Midnapore.

Press Club releases guidelines for Rural Reporting Award

GANGTOK, 06 April: The Press Club of Sikkim officially unveiled guidelines for the Gramin Patrakarita Puraskar [Rural Reporting Award] sponsored by the Raj Bhawan and instituted by the Press Club during a meeting of the awards committee held on Saturday. Governor Balmiki Prasad Singh has already released the cash component for the said award to the Press Club, it is informed.
A PCS press release informs that the meeting decided that the award be conferred every year on the occasion of the National Press Day, 16 November. A seven-member selection committee has also been constituted comprising of senior journalists Santosh Nirash, Ashok Chatterjee, Bijay Bantawa, Kishor Moktan and Amalendu Kundu along with president, Bhim Rawat and general secretary, Joseph Lepcha of the Press Club.
Only journalists with a minimum of 5 years experience in Sikkim will be considered for the award. Reports from rural Sikkim, starting from Jan 2012 to September will be considered for this year’s award. The committee had decided that priority be given to the reports on developmental works, tourism, education, health, infrastructures, economy, agriculture, culture and traditions of rural areas. Both print and electronic media journalists can send in entries.
The meeting also decided that all journalists working in Sikkim, including freelance journalists, will be eligible for the award, but part-time journalists will not be considered.
The Press Club of Sikkim which celebrates its 10th year this year, also released its decadal logo at the meeting.

Rhenock College hosts two days of intense debates

RHENOCK, 04 April:  The Inter College and Inter School Debate competitions hosted by the Government College, Rhenock, here at the Rhenock BAC concluded in grand manner today. While the inaugural day yesterday had the HRD Minister NK Pradhan among the students as chief guest, today, the Speaker, Sikkim Legislative Assembly, KT Gyalsten, was present to encourage the contestants.
Altogether six colleges - Government colleges Rhenock, Tadong, Namchi and Gyalshing, Harkamaya College of Education, Pakim Palatine College, and eight schools - Govt. schools of Rhenock, Dikling, Chujachen, Tarpin, Sudunglakha, Mangring and St. Xavier’s School, Pedong participated in the debate competition.
The inter-college debate was held on 03 April on the topic of “Economic Development is More Important than Protection of the Environment” and was won by Sikkim Government College, Tadong.  Government College Rhenock came in second and Pakim Palatine College third. Smiti Rai of Pakim Palatine College and Arun Subba of Government College, Rhenock, were adjudged the Best and second best speaker respectively.
With the HRD Minister among them, the Principal, Dr. Lily Alley, requested his department to shift the college to its new building as soon as possible. She also requested for the opening of Science and Commerce streams at the Rhenock.
In response, the Minister assured that the college will move into its own campus with the new academic session. In his address, he stressed the importance of right education, and while congratulating the debating teams on their well reasoned arguments for and against the motion, underlined that both, economic development and environmental conservation were important and pointed out that the right balance can be ensured only by well informed societies.
The inter-school debate today saw Govt. Senior Secondary School, Chujachen, emerge as the Best Performing School followed by Govt. SSS Rhenock and St. Xavier's School Pedong. Mohan Chettri of Govt. SSS, Chujachen, Tika Devi Poudyel of Govt. SS Mamring and Mazir Hussain of St. Xavier's   were adjudged as the best speaker, 2nd and 3rd best speakers respectively. The school level debate competition was held on the topic of “Private school Provide Better Education than Government schools”.
The Speaker, Mr. Gyalsten, spoke extensively on the real value of education and urged students to keep their learning spirit alive and aim to become responsible citizens of the future.
He also announced the donation of books worth Rs. One lakh for the college library.