Thursday, April 12, 2012

Bodies of Namchi couple recovered from Teesta

NAMCHI, 11 April: The bodies of couple from Namchi, Prahlad Rai and his wife Lata  Rai, missing since they left here for Siliguri on 02 April, were finally recovered today.
Poonam Pradhan, Assistant Engineer, Irrigation Department, who, as the co-ordinator of Sri Satya Sai Sewa Sangathan, Sikkim, has been assisting the search operations, informs that Mr. Rai’s dead body was recovered from near the NHPC dam at Kalijhora along National Highway 31 A at around 9:30 a.m. The vehicle in which the couple was travelling on 02 April, it may be recalled was recovered from the Teesta near Seti Pool [a few kms short of Kalijhora] only a few days ago.
The dead body of Mrs. Rai was discovered in an inexplicable coincidence later in the day.
After Mr. Rai’s dead body was recovered, it was sent for autopsy to Siliguri Medical College. This, after the procedural formalities were completed at Sevoke Police Station. Even as Mr. Rai’s body was at the medical college, friends and family were scouring the Teesta for signs of his wife even as a group was awaiting the completion of the autopsy so that they escort the body home.
As this group awaited the doctors to finish, they learnt that the Phansidewa Polcie Station had sent in a dead body of an unidentified woman to the same hospital this morning. This dead body had washed up at the Mahananda Barrage under the Phansidewa Police Station’s jurisdiction. Initially the family did not pay any heed to this information beyond offering sympathies for the unclaimed body. However, later in the day, they decided to see the body in the outside chance that it might be of Mrs. Rai.
Their fears proved right. The dead body in the mortuary was of Mrs. Lata Rai. The body was identified by her son who was at the hospital in connection with the autopsy at the time.
A group of family members then proceeded to the Phansidewa Police Station under Kurseong sub-division to inform them that the body they had brought to the hospital earlier in the day had been identified. They also extended their gratitude and thanks towards the Officer in Charge at Phansidewa Police Station for having taken the body out of the river and sent it to the mortuary.
The OC handed over the personal effects and items recovered from the body, among which were gold ornaments and a wrist watch. A locket with Satya Sai Baba’s photograph was also handed over to the family members. The wristwatch recovered from the body of Mrs. Lata Rai by the Phansidewa PS personnel had stopped at 6.27, most probably on impact at the time of the accident. The couple, it may be recalled, had left Namchi on the afternoon of 02 April and are recorded as having exited from Melli shortly after 5 in the evening.
The post-mortem on both bodies was carried out today and the bodies have been brought home to Namchi. The funeral is scheduled for Thursday, 12 April.

Mourning siblings blame BRO negligence for accident
The son and daughter of the deceased couple, still distraught over their loss, today revealed that someone had seen the car go off the road on the evening of 02 April and even informed the Sevoke Police Station. Shockingly, the personnel at Sevoke PS ignored the report claiming that the area where the accident was reported to have taken place did not fall under their jurisdiction!
One will never know if a more humane response from the cops at Sevoke would have ensured a different ending for this unfortunate incident. The family has been at their wits ends since 02 April, grappling with suspicions of foul play and the trauma of uncertainty about the fate of the parents.
They deceased couple’s children are blaming BRO, contending that negligent work by the Border Roads Organisation and the deplorable condition of the roads led to the accident.
They point out that the accident occurred a spot where the BRO has marked a slight diversion at a section where the road has caved in. This diversion is however not prominently marked and can be easily missed in the twilight hours, which is when the accident took place; the couple obviously did not see the markers at this spot and went off the road.
The brother and sister believe that their parents met with the accident because of BRO negligence and have called on people to speak out strongly against such oversights because such a fate could befall anyone who uses roads maintained by BRO, in Sikkim and elsewhere.
Then, there is the problem of rash and inconsiderate driving on the highway with oncoming traffic seldom using dippers and blinding people with their high beams.

Bhaichung’s USFC opens winning account by downing league topper

GANGTOK, 11 April: United Sikkim Football Club [USFC] registered a crucial victory, its first in the Gangtok leg of the second division of the I-League Football at Paljor Stadium today. The home club, which has struggled with a loss [to Royal Wahingdoh] and two draws [Kalighat MS and Vasco SC] in the Gangtok leg, made it all good for its strong fan base here today by downing the league toppers ONGC [Mumbai] 2-1.
USFC, which had arrived in Gangtok [after the Siliguri leg of the second division I-League] as the top team with 13 points, had, because of its poor first three games, had slipped to fourth place. With the 3 points earned from today’s victory, USFC has 18 points and climbed one notch to reach the third place. The top-2 teams from the pool after the Gangtok leg will be promoted to the first division. To confirm this promotion, USFC should both its remaining two matches.
However, despite losing the match, ONGC still retains its top spot with 20 points from 10 matches. USFC has also played the same number of matches and has 18 points. Mohammedan Sporting stands between the two with 19 points.
The home club received full support from a packed stadium, especially students from different schools in and around the capital blowing vuvezelas right till the end of the match, their lungs gathering strength from the team’s first win at home.
USFC started strong, launching constant attacks from the moment the starting whistle blew and even missed some good chances in the early minutes.
After missing some good opportunities, Babatunde J Oladels earned the first lead in the 25th minute and within ten minutes, the referee offered a penalty shoot to USFC for a foul in its opponent D-Box, which was successfully converted by Daniel Bidemi Ayeni. USFC was 2-0 ahead in the first half itself.
With 10 goals to his name now, Daniel is still the highest scorer so far in the league.
Towards the end of the first half, well into injury time, ONGC was reduced to 10 men when Alhassan Abubakar was marched off the field with a red card after he intentionally injured Romen Singh of USFC who received medical attention for the bloodied face he was left with.
The injured Romen Singh was replaced by Nim Tshering in the second half against the 10-man ONGC team and soon Bhaichung Bhutia replaced Babatunde. In the 67th minute, the referee offered another penalty kick, this time to ONGC, which was converted as the face-saver for the league toppers by Yusa Katsumi.
The attacks and counter attacks continued and the home team missed some good opportunities to extend the lead in the match which finally ended with the home club registering its first win on home ground.
USFC will now be taking on Aizwal FC on 13 April and Mohammedan Sporting Club on 17 April in the final round. In the Siliguri leg, USFC had drawn its match against Aizwal FC and had lost to Mohammedan SC. Although USFC is a better team on paper and the field than the two, it will have to work past the Siliguri history with the two teams to seal a position for itself in the first division, and with it, becoming the first club from the region to play among the big boys.
The club has extended its thanks to the home crowd, especially the students, for their support and encouragement throughout the match and further urged them to continue with their support for the upcoming two matches of the final round.

Editorial: Anonymous Road Workers Should Not Go Unheard

It has been some days since this newspaper reported about the flight of two labourers from a GREF/ BRO road gang and of their allegations of inhuman working conditions bordering on torture which convinced them to flee Sikkim. These labourers had been brought in from Jharkhand, and it was only after they had made it back that they went public with their horror story. They have filed a police complaint and pleaded that their friends, taken along with them as labourers to a road project in Sikkim and still engaged there, be rescued. Unfortunately, they duo does not know where in Sikkim they were engaged. What they do clearly remember is that the work was dangerous and the working conditions even more so. They were obviously unwilling to work at the site they were deployed to and have claimed that they were forced to labour away. Agreed, theirs is only one side of the story, but it is still a story corroborated by the police authorities in Jharkhand as one which has been officially lodged with them. Shouldn’t the allegations have fetched a response from the BRO? Do not other agencies in Sikkim, say the Labour Department for instance, have a responsibility towards labourers brought in from outside Sikkim to repair and restore infrastructure damaged by last year’s earthquake? As per rules in place, every agency which ships in labourers from outside, is required to submit detailed lists of personnel, and where they are deployed, with the Labour Department. As per the duo, they were part of a work-gang of 36; surely some record should have been maintained somewhere about them. As a first step, the names of the labourers who have filed a police complaint in Jharkhand, should be crosschecked, and the Labour Department should visit the work site to ensure that no one is being forced. Anyone who has seen the kind of damage Sikkim roads have suffered due to the earthquake will attest to the fact that repairing/ restoring them is not going to be an easy task. Even driving through stretches where BRO is undertaking road expansion works is unnerving when the weather turns foul, and the earthquake-damage zones on North Sikkim Highway take the harrowing factor to whole new levels. For all the engineering or funds BRO might marshal, the repairs will need human muscle and nerves to complete. It is a daunting task no doubt and there is also the need to have the road network repaired, but these challenges/ requirements should not be allowed to justify instances of people being lured into road gangs with promises of higher than normal wages without being told of the risks involved. To do so is cheating, and then forcing them to work when they obviously want to leave is a criminal offence. In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, Sikkim learnt to its chagrin of how shoddily labourers are treated here. Labourers from villages which have never seen an earthquake in living memory were left abandoned and forgotten in remote recesses of North Sikkim, left to their own devices to escape the trauma and in many cases, taking flight without even collecting their dues. Unfortunately, no State agency or civil society groups demanded better treatment last September, and none appears moved enough to even comment on the latest instance of tribals from Jharkhand spilling the beans on the working conditions in Sikkim. No one even notices labourers at road project sites. They should be feted because they run a gamut of risks and dangers on a daily basis so that Sikkim can travel and remain supplied. And even if thanking them is too much to ask for, they least that the State and the Sikkimese can do is ensure that they are not abused. The anonymity and destitution which leads them to accept work in faraway lands and at potentially hazardous sites have already made victims of them, and a disinterested people take away even hope...

SPDC joint venture with APPL, not ATPIL

Reference to your article dated 09.04.2012, we would like to point out the discrepancies of the following facts; That 49% stake in SPDCL [Sikkim Power Development Corporation Limited] was disinvested to M/s APPL [Athena Project Private Limited] not ATPIL, as reported in the news item.
Further that APPL through its special purpose vehicle [Teesta Urja Limited] is developing 1200 MW Teesta – III HEP and as on date no agreement has been cancelled with the aforesaid mentioned company.
In view of the above kindly issue a corrigendum for the news published in your newspaper as on 09.04.12, in order to avoid misguiding the readers and legal problems and in future you are requested not to publish the news which is not based on actual facts.
Joint Managing Director, K Thupten
The error is regretted - Editor

Housing Data from Census 2011 released

GANGTOK, 11 April: Sikkim has recorded an improvement in the coverage of drinking water, dwelling units, latrine facilities, communication, and lighting according to the Housing Data of the Census of India- 2011 released officially by the Directorate of Census Operations, Sikkim for the State today. [For complete details read NOW! dated 16 March 2012].
PIB Gangtok Director, CK Dorjee, who was present as the chief guest, released the data today.
In his power-point presentation, Joint Director Census Operations Sikkim, Dr DK Dey informed that the number of houses in Sikkim was 169,022 which included 115,395 in rural and 53,627 in urban areas and the total number of households in the state was 128,131, which includes 92,370 in rural and 35,761 in urban areas. He added that the housing data consists of the number of houses, households, the condition of the census houses, amenities available and assets.
Dr Dey mentioned that the objective of this census was to know the condition of the houses, amenities available to the households and assets possessed by the households. He mentioned that Sikkim has shown a tremendous improvement in different areas of its coverage compared to the 2001 census. He stated that Sikkim has become urbanized in banking facilities, improvement in communication and mode of transport. He informed that in tap drinking water source, Sikkim stood on the fifth position in the country after Chandigarh, Puducherry, Himachal Pradesh and Goa.
The PIB Director stated that the population census provides valuable information about the land and its people at a given point of time which are essential inputs required for planning and developing sound policies and programmes aimed at fostering the welfare of the country and its people. Mr Dorjee added that the data sources have become indispensable for effective and efficient public administration besides serving the needs of the scholars, businessmen, industrialists, planners and electoral authorities. He stated that the Directorate of Census has already released Provisional Population Paper-I &II, containing Provisional population of the state, literacy rate, sex ratio, Rural Urban Population, which was based on enumerators’ abstracts.

ASESE&UA protests back-door recruitments at 6 govt deptts and undertakings

GANGTOK, 11 April: The All Sikkim Educated Self Employed and Unemployed Association [ASESE&UA] today reiterated its strong condemnation of government jobs still being ferreted away with favouritism and through the back door and has demanded that such subterfuge, which ends up denying the majority of the unemployed, be stopped forthwith.
Addressing a press conference today, the ASESE&UA vice president Sonam Pintso Bhutia released details of six government departments and undertakings where jobs have been cornered by a select few without any interviews being held or advertisements being released to announce the vacancies.
These appointments have been seen at the Commercial Taxes Department, Temi Tea Eastate, SPWD and Forest Department, Mr. Bhutia informed while also releasing specific details of who benefited at which posts.
He mentioned that all vacancies in government departments need to filled in free and fair manner which offers all candidates a level playing field. This did not happen in the six above-mentioned departments and has often been overlooked in the past as well, he added.
This illegal appointment system must be immediately stopped so that every citizen gets a fair chance at competing for a government job, he reiterated. “The right to equal opportunity in all sectors including services must be restored so that no discrimination what so ever for the appearing candidates is allowed,” he demanded.
“We are speaking for the unemployed youth and have been fighting for the rights of the unemployed youth since day one,” he stressed, while adding that the ASESE&UA, aware of illegal recruitment in various departments and private and public institutions, has also filed RTI applications with the concerned departments to secure more details.

State Fund created for smoother operation of MGNREGA schemes

GANGTOK, 10 April: The State Government has formulated the Sikkim State Employment Guarantee Fund Rules, 2012, under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. The rules provide for the establishment of the Sikkim State Employment Guarantee Fund (SSEGF) with the objective of ensuring operational flexibility, timely and smooth flow of the funds corresponding to labour demand and implementation needs.
The State Fund so established will be utilized to meet expenditure related with the implementation of schemes under MGNREGA, including payment of Wages- unskilled, semi skilled and skilled, Cost of material component, Unemployment Allowance, Compensation for delayed wage payment, Monitoring, Evaluation, Studies, Technical assistance for planning, Training, Expert consultation, Field visits, any other expenditure of the Council and Administrative expenses subject to the ceiling limit prescribed by Central Government from time to time.
In connection with the establishment of this fund, a single nodal Agency by the name of “Society for Proper Management and Administration of the State Fund” will be registered to strengthen the present fund system of MGNREGA. A Governing Council with the Secretary, RMDD as Chairperson and the Project Director, MGREGA as member secretary, will also be established.
As per the rules now instituted, all labour budgets of the districts will be scrutinized by the Council and forwarded to the State government with the Council also reviewing the overall performance of the Scheme in the state and making appropriate recommendations.
It will ensure the smooth flow of funds from the centre to the State Fund and on to the District Programme Coordinator. There will be review of work completion reports and utilization certificates submitted by the DPCs and besides, the Council will also ensure compliance of the guidelines and orders of the Scheme by the government for financial management. Apart from appointing the auditors to audit the accounts of the scheme it will review the audit reports as well.
The State Fund will now be maintained in a separate interest bearing Savings Bank Account in a Nationalized Bank which shall be non-lapsable and it is further directed that the state government or any other authority is not to create any encumbrance on the State Fund.
The source of the state fund will be the funds received from the centre under the MGNREG Scheme.
The Member Secretary shall monitor the operation of the State Fund and furnish audited accounts Statements and Utilization Certificates to the Ministry of Rural Development, State Government and before the Governing Council. Within three months after the end of each financial year the Member Secretary shall furnish the annual report on account of ‘Sikkim State Employment Guarantee Fund’ to the State Employment Guarantee Council and State Government.

RTI Forum demands legal action against fake COI holders

GANGTOK, 10 April: Sikkim RTI Forum has warned that if the concerned authorities did not take appropriate legal action against the proven and cancelled 212 fake Certificate of Identification holders within one month, the Forum will file a joint FIR against these 212 fake COI holders.
The Forum revealed today that according to information furnished by the Land Revenue Department on an RTI application by it, the authorities have cancelled 212 COIs as fake till date. This cancellation, the Forum points out, proves that the concerned authority was aware that these COIs were obtained through illegal means. But cancellation is not enough, and since illegal means were used to procure such certificates, legal action needs to be taken against holders of such COI’s, the Forum argues.
Addressing a press conference today, general secretary DK Chettri and vice-president GR Rai of the Forum demanded that appropriate action be taken against government officials and employees involved in issuing these fake COIs.
The Forum has also demanded termination of services of those with fake COIs and that the government’s money spent on training students with fake COIs be redeemed as well.
Mr Chettri stated that if the authorities can file an FIR against a person for obtaining Residential Certificate by illegal means then the same should be the case for fake COI holders as well.
The Forum also released some documents of a fake COI holder which showed that the person, currently employed with the Forest Department, had his name in the voters’ lists of both Sikkim and West Bengal on the basis of fake Panchayat recommendation. According to the Forum the case of this officer is under investigation.
According to the Forum, amongst the 31,180 fake COI holders in the state, even if 30% of them are in government jobs, the system is depriving about 10,000 Sikkimese of their rights and if every two of 31,180 has one child, then there will be another 16,000 more fake COI holders in the making, resulting in a total of 47,000 outsiders enjoying the rights of a Sikkimese citizen.

Chungthang residents aggrieved with SBI and BSNL service failures

MANGAN, 10 April: The public and Panchayats of Chungthang have expressed dissatisfaction with the services of BSNL and the State Bank of India in the area. Due to BSNL’s disrupted service, for the past week customers of the SBI Chungthang branch have been facing problems in transactions because of link failures.
People have not been able to withdraw or deposit cash at the bank for the past week which has especially affected parents whose children are studying elsewhere.
The public also informed media-persons on 09 April that Chungthang has not been supplied LPG cylinders for the last 23 days and now people have no option but to use firewood.
Also, bad road conditions have already started hampering transportation even before the onset of monsoon and the public have appealed to the Food, Civil supplies and Consumer affairs department officers for buffer food stocks before the rainy season begins.
Even the CDMA network has been disconnected for the area which was provided in September 2011. With the monsoons just around the corner, the authorities need to take notice of such basic problems being faced by the public of Chungthang and take pre-emptive measures before it is too late.

Namchi raid was in connection with new case

GANGTOK, 09 April: The State government has given the go-ahead to the Vigilance Police to investigate allegations of possession of disproportionate assets by Mrs. Krishna Kumari Rai, a government school teacher and wife of dissident SDF MLA from Upper Burtuk, PS Tamang. The recent raid at her residence in Namchi was in connection with the case registered with Vigilance Directorate against her, and not, as was being speculated, in connection with a Vigilance case already being investigated against Mr. Tamang. This latest development is being seen as a sign of hardening of the SDF Government’s stance against the dissident MLA,
Following clearance from the government, the Vigilance Directorate registered a case against Mrs. Rai on 04 April 2012 under the Prevention of Corruption Act. It was in connection with the preliminary investigation of this case that a search operation was conducted in her house at Namchi the next day, on 05 April.
The Vigilance Directorate, as mentioned, already has a case registered against Mr. Tamang. This too is registered under the Prevention of Corruption Act and 120B of the Indian Penal Code and is presently in the East District courts.
The Vigilance Directorate seized several items following its search of Mrs. Rai’s house at Tinzir, College Road, Namchi. She was also questioned on her sources of income and details of expenses. After the raid, all seized items were produced before the Magistrate. The case is in its initial stages of investigation and officials remain tightlipped about the amount and range of disproportionate assets alleged against Mrs. Rai. Officials also refuse to detail the items seized during the search. What they do inform is that the Vigilance Directorate registers a case only after preliminary enquiries on a complaint throw up enough prima facie evidence to justify a full enquiry. In this present case, it is informed that the Vigilance registered the case on “reliable source information”.

East DAC collating data on crop damage due to latest round of hailstorms

GANGTOK, 09 April: Heavy rains and hail that the State has been receiving for the past week or so have wreaked havoc on the livelihood of farmers in rural Sikkim. With a number of reports of crop damage coming in from all quarters with each passing day, the concerned offices are now in the process of collating all the reports of damages caused by hail and are expected to have an accurate figure in the next few days.
Speaking to NOW!, DC [East], D Anandan, confirmed that reports of crop damage due to hail have been coming in from various areas in and around Gangtok and across the East district at a steady pace and that his office has asked these complaints to be first registered with the Agriculture Department before a final assessment can be announced.
“Accordingly, the compensation packages will be announced after all the reports are registered with the Agriculture Department,” he stated.
Most of the reports are being routed through the respective panchayats who are in the process of collecting all the complaints and seeking supporting evidence in the form of photographs. Affected persons especially farmers have been flocking to the DC office the past few days with relevant documents to claim compensation.
Further, some claims for damages are also being recommended by the respective MLAs after which the same was being forwarded to the Agriculture Department and then the office of the District Collectorate. Only after the report of the Agriculture department has come in verifying the claims and extent of damages will the compensation amount be decided upon.

Kazi Sherpa reaches Everest base camp, now the climbing begins in earnest

GANGTOK, 09 April: Kazi Sherpa, a school teacher by profession and currently an officer on special duty at the Indian Himalayan Center for Adventure and Eco-Tourism, has reached the base camp of Mount Everest at 17,250 ft, informed the Director, IHCAE, GT Bhutia today. Mr. Sherpa, it may be recalled, is representing Sikkim and the country on a Mount Everest Expedition a part of a team which comprises of seven others, all Koreans. He has been sponsored to the expedition by the State Government.
Mr. Bhutia detailed that Kazi Sherpa and his team reached Namche on 03 April where they halted for two days for acclimatization and moved on for Duchee on 05 April, proceeding the next day to Pheraychee and on 07 April moved up to Gorakhechep which is about 1:30 to 2 hours away from Mount Everest Base camp.
The team, after reaching Gorakhechep on 08 April, even made an excursion to Kala Pathar, a peak at the height of 18,350 feet, to get a clear view of the Mount Everest and surrounding peaks.
Mr. Bhutia mentioned that Kala Pathar is the only peak which offers a full view of the Everest peak itself and the range. The views are constricted from all other halts on the final march to Everest including the base camp, he explains.
The team reached the base camp today and now the real climbing of the expedition will begin in the earnest.
The team plans to establish three camps before making the final push for the summit and becoming Everesters. Thankfully, weather, which had played spoilsport in the initial days of the expedition is now holding out well, Mr. Sherpa is reported to have communicated to his Director, and if good weather continues, the summit could be achieved any time in May, Mr. Sherpa has conveyed from the base camp.
It may be recalled that Chief Minister Pawan Chamling had flagged off Kazi Sherpa on his Everest Expedition from Gangtok on 27 March.

Mission Poverty Free Sikkim well within reach, announces DESME Director

GANGTOK, 09 April: The mission of the State Government spearheaded by Chief Minister Pawan Chamling to make Sikkim a poverty-free state is well with reach, stated Director General cum Secretary, Department of Economics, Statistics, Monitoring & Evaluation, SD Tshering, while addressing media-persons here last Saturday.
To support this projection, the DESME Director highlighted data recently released by the Planning Commission of India on poverty levels for 2009-10. As per this data, poverty level has come down by nearly 20 per cent in Sikkim in the five years, dropping from 31.1 per cent in 2004 to just 13.1 per cent in 2009. The national average for number of households below the poverty line stands at 30%.
On poverty in Sikkim, Mr. Bhutia informed that statistics reveal that poverty levels were at the highest in Sikkim in 1977-78. This high-water mark, he said, was probably reached because of a surge in influx immediately after the merger of 1975. Poverty levels have been showing a downward trend ever since, but the drop has been most substantial under Mr. Chamling’s governance, he highlighted.
“The substantial decrease in poverty levels indicates that the pro-poor schemes, economic development and the subsidies of the State Government for the underprivileged are clearly having a very positive impact and are working,” he remarked and added that while poverty levels in other Northeastern States was going, it was not only firmly under control in Sikkim, but also aggressively declining.
What is even more celebratory about the latest data is that not only has poverty gone down, but per capita incomes have also been on a steady rise, he added.
While there is an obvious correlation between per capita income and poverty levels, it has been the consistent growth of the state economy that has proved beneficial, he explained, adding that if the trend continues, the Mission Poverty Free Sikkim was well within reach.
The dream of the Chief Minister to make every citizen a Lakhpati will also be realised very soon, the Director added, pointing out that the Per Capita income in current prices for the year 2010-11 already stands at Rs. 92,808.
The Secretary further informed that the Planning Commission data provides only figures of poverty and does not identify the people subsisting below the poverty line. For this, the Rural Development & Management Department was conducting a separate census in Sikkim so that schemes and projects for the upliftment of the BPL families can be targeted more effectively, he informed.

Govt accepts White Paper recommendation, takes in ATPIL as strategic partner for SPDC

GANGTOK, 08 April: The State government has entered into a strategic joint-venture with ATPIL to run the Sikkim Power Development Corporation [SPDC]. The SPDC is now being operated by ATPIL, the company which has also floated Teesta Urja which is developing the 1,200 MW Teesta Stage-III hydroelectric project at Chungthang, North Sikkim. The State government continues to hold majority equity in the Corporation as it has offloaded 49% equity to ATPIL which was selected from among the best performing private hydel developers in the State, it is informed.
This decision was taken by the State government in light of the poor performance of the SPDC over the past years [among other factors] and in order to infuse some professionalism and expertise into the corporation. For the selection of the strategic joint venture partner, tenders were floated on the basis of which ATPIL was selected to take 49% of the stake in SPDC, it is further learnt.
The managing director, SPDC, in charge of the affairs of the SPDC is from ATPIL and the day to day operations are under ATPIL now. However, in a major policy shift, all major power development projects which were so long under the SPDC have been transferred to the Power Department. The SPDC is now in charge of developing only mini HEPs in the State. A few of these are already under development and all are under 5 MW capacity. Incidentally, the White Paper issued by the State government a few years ago on hydel power development in the State is also informed to have recommended the forging of a strategic joint venture with a private developer for SPDC.
It has been candidly stated that the SPDC, under the Power Department since its establishment in the year 1998, could not function properly due to various shortcomings. Earlier, the corporation was undertaking the big power projects in the State many of which it could not implement in time. Due to this, some agreements entered into with some companies had to be cancelled, including one with ATPIL.
The SPDC itself was established for the development of hydel projects by availing loans from financial institutions, however, several projects could not be completed due to constraints which included organizational capacity limitations, funds and expertise. So, when it could not operate to the expectations of the government and started incurring losses, it was decided to offload 49% equity to a private developer.
Today, as mentioned, the SPDC is engaged in the development of a few mini HEPs in the state while all the big HEPs have been transferred to the Power Department. The strategic joint venture with ATPIL was entered into with by the state government last year.
The government has also made it clear that the SPDC shall have no rights under any Implementation Agreement with any private Independent Power Producer (IPP) entered for development of hydro power projects in the State by such private IPPs and all land acquired by SPDC will now be under the State government.

Protestors sit on silent dharna outside lecture venue to inform delegates of complaints against SU VC

GANGTOK, 08 April: Ever since a section of the faculty went public with their allegations of irregularities in how the Sikkim University vice chancellor managed the recruitment process, protests against the VC have become more public and have started coming more often. In the latest instance, the groups protesting the VC’s handling of Sikkim University affairs, sat on a silent dharna outside Chintan Bhawan, holding up banners highlighting their points of protest and handing out pamphlets explaining these in more detail for anyone interested. Inside, the Sikkim University was holding its 3rd Spring Lecture programme and a book discussion session.
The protestors represented the joint committee formed by the Sikkim University Development Committee of Yangang, Tumin- Lingzey Youth Association, Rabongla Aastha Samaj, Students Union of Sikkim and Sikkim Sachet Berojgar Swarojgar Sangathan which have been consistently protesting against the VC for the past couple of weeks.
The focus of their protest was the group’s feeling of disenchantment with the university’s admission policy [which, they insist does not incorporate adequate presence of local students], the high fee structure, refusal to allow student unions or representative bodies to be formed among others.
“We are not trying to hamper the programme inside, but are just trying to inform the delegates, through our presence, of how things are not as rosy at SU as they would be told inside,” a member of the protesting group said.
Their demand for focus on local interests was not illegitimate, they contended, pointing out to a section in the SU Act which highlights that among the University’s main agendas would be “to educate and train manpower for the development of the State of Sikkim and to pay special attention to the improvement of the social and economic conditions and welfare of the people of that state, their intellectual, academic and cultural development”.
The protestors went on to point out that while the Admission Prospectus for 2012-23 mentions that “for the session 2012- 13, in addition to the intake capacity/ stipulated intake capacity another 25% of seats will be set aside for the foreign students in M Phil/ PhD programmes of Sikkim University”.
“If globally friendly policies can be adopted by the University then why the same can’t be extended to the students of Sikkim,” they question.
The university, under the VC, has not looked after the needs of students here and this, the protestors feel is revealed by the University’s refusal to grant permanent affiliation to any college in the State.
The University has not yet formed a College Development Council, they mention, explaining that such councils were necessary because they played an important role in the development of colleges and upliftment of education.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

We Remember

Three years have passed since we lost some of Sikkim’s finest souls in Tashi, Wangchuk and Chukie to a terrible road mishap on 06 April 2009. Years pass, but memories linger and the feeling of loss deepens as I mull over some of the vexed issues that confront us so frequently and so often. They were analysts in the truest sense of the word and understood with rare clarity where the destiny of Sikkim lay. Both, Tashi Tobden and Wangchuk Barfungpa, worked with me as able lieutenants cum facilitators for long years in the administration. They were always by my side when I had to confront any hassle in the administration. Their help was always readily available whenever called for and at times even without being asked. They dropped by the moment they sensed a situation developing. If we managed to steer away from some of the worst financial tangles, it was Tashi who put forth his considered thought and put the situation on the rail.
Temperamentally, they were poles apart. But in times of crisis, when the situation needs to be grasped clearly and immediately, their minds met and in their free and forceful deliberations, unfailingly delivered clear and simple solutions. Such occasions were many during my long tenure in service, and after their passing away, I consider, and do so very strongly, a void has been created which remains very difficult to fill. Their reservoir of knowledge on all matters Sikkim is now lost forever.
They were the real custodians of Sikkim’s rules and regulations and knew precisely how to position Sikkim in the national context. Their erudition fired a forthrightness which expectedly led to misunderstandings, but they remind upright in their thinking and never minced words or held back if they had to speak out against any issue which was detrimental to Sikkim. Such confidence and commitment does not come so easily. They belonged to families which go back as long as Sikkim’s written history; this rootedness to the land, backed by education in the best of public schools and colleges in India, and then being scions of ace diplomats of the times of the British Raj, infused in them an inherent strength to speak loud and clear, without fear or favour. They were men of substance and I had high admiration for them always.
Petite Chukie was a real fighter, an environmental activist with a clear vision. Even she was misunderstood and misrepresented, but what she was crusading for, we are realizing only now to the right issues. It was her relentless fight that finally got through to people at large and eventually, four of the five hydroelectric projects proposed for Dzongu were abandoned. She was the Daughter of Dzongu in the real sense.
Sikkim is progressing on all fronts in a rapid - rather hurried - pace. What the State desperately needs at present is an intelligentsia which can point out where things are going wrong and suggest course corrections in time. But where is this intelligentsia? This is the dilemma that we find ourselves in. There are many arm-chair critics, but none with the commitment or depth to point out, with well studied reasoning, not just what is wrong, but also what the right option is. This will greatly help the policy-makers to give a considered thought - rather re-thinking – to the path charted out for the future. As our Chief Minister often reminds us, if the intelligentsia does not speak, it will be fools who occupy the public domain and influence public opinion. Needless to add, the whole State will then become a fool's paradise.
On this rather somber anniversary, it would be advisable for the people of Sikkim to remember the three we lost on 06 April three years ago from the perspective of what Sikkim has lost with their passing away and pay them a homage they have earned because of how they lived their lives.
[The writer is a former Chief Secretary, Sikkim]

Science stream to begin at Namchi College with new academic session

GANGTOK, 05 April: Science stream will be added to the courses offered at the Government College, Namchi, from the upcoming academic session onwards, informs the HRDD Secretary, CS Rao.
Speaking to media persons yesterday, the Secretary informed that the demand for the start of a 3-year BSc degree course at the Namchi college was first raised two years ago with Chief Minister Pawan Chamling when he was there for the college’s 15th foundation day celebrations.
Both, general and honours courses will be offered for a BSc degree from Namchi college under Sikkim University, he added. Thus far, only the government college here in Gangtok used to offer a BSc course.