Wednesday, May 30, 2012

High Court finds pace of BRO work too slow

GANGTOK, 29 May: The Sikkim High Court has recorded dissatisfaction with the pace of work on highway repair and restoration being carried out by Project Swastik of the Border Roads Organsiation in the State. A division bench of the High Court, in fresh directions to the Ministry of Surface Transport and Project Swastik, has sought a fresh comprehensive and detailed report within a month. BRO is submitting its quarterly reports in the Court on the status and pace of work undertaken in Sikkim including on the National Highway 31-A.
The Sikkim High Court had taken up a PIL suo moto on the poor condition of NH-31A and other border roads in Sikkim in the year 2010 and, in orders passed in 2011, directed the BRO to submit quarterly progress reports.
The division bench of Chief Justice Permod Kohli and Justice SP Wangdi, in its order passed yesterday, observed that “the pace of progress is either too slow or static at the same place,” adding the in some cases, even though the required sanctions were accorded in the year 2009, the progress is “not encouraging except few items”.
Regarding the NH-31A, the Court observed that some of the works, though approved have not even commenced.
The Central government Standing Counsel Karma Thinlay submitted that in some of the works, the State Forest Department has not given clearance and in some of the cases [for areas falling in West Bengal] clearance from National Wild Life Board is waited.  
The High Court has directed the State Government to clear all the proposed projects/ issues pending with the State Forest Department for grant of clearance for widening and upgradation of roads wherever it has been asked for.
The Court has also directed all authorities “whether under the Government of India, West Bengal or State of Sikkim” consider passing “appropriate orders to ensure that no hindrance is created in widening, upgradation of National Highway 31-A and other various roads for which various works have been undertaken by GREF and state Public Works Department.”
Project Swastik has identified 26 “most troublesome spots” which, it states, are being constantly monitored since the 18 September Earthquake of last year.
Meanwhile, Project Swastik has submitted an initial estimate of Rs. 100 crores to the Centre for full restoration of damaged roads along the JN Marg and North Sikkim Highway. It has also proposed three tunnels - one of 600 metres at Theeng on North Sikkim Highway and two of 1.5 kms length each on JN Marg - at an estimated cost  of around Rs. 160 crore, in addition to repairs of damage caused by the earthquake.
BRO sources add that undertaking back-cutting and widening works on National Highway 31-A at night [to avoid traffic snarls] was not feasible because of the increased risk of working in darkness.

Motor pumping blamed for inconsistent water supply in capital

GANGTOK, 29 May: Electric motor pumps, now being used extensively by hoteliers and residents, especially in the town area, have been causing uneven supply of water in the capital. The Water Supply & PHE Department [WS & PHE] has been receiving complaints of irregular supply from many areas in the capital, an complaint which had initially flummoxed them since supply through the main waterlines has been uninterrupted for a while now.
The Water Security & PHE Department Chief Engineer, TB Gurung and his team of officials today met the Mayor, KN Topgay, to discuss the problem and seek support and cooperation from the Gangtok Municipal Corporation in addressing the issue.
The Chief Engineer mentioned that despite sufficient water supply to Gangtok, people from different areas of the capital have been complaining of water shortage and it was found that the problem was due to motor pumps being used by hotels and even in private residences to take in more water. These pumps, it is now being contended, are sucking away the supply from other connections. He stated that it would be difficult for the department to address this problem on its own, so the department has sought help and support from the GMC.
The Mayor, in turn, informed that he will be meeting with the representatives of Sikkim Hotels and Restaurants Association and others concerned to discuss this problem. As a first step, he said that an appeal will be made to the public to stop such practices following which such motor pumps will be confiscated by the Councilors and Municipal Inspectors and strict action would be taken against those who still persisted.
The Mayor further appealed to the hotels and people in the capital to stop using motor pumps to ensure even water supply to everyone.
Chief Engineer, Mr Gurung highlighted that due to such practices around 15% of the people in the capital have been suffering water shortage problems even thought sufficient water is being supplied by the department. He also mentioned that despite the ongoing renovation of the water distribution system, the department has been able to ensure consistent water supply to the people. This revamp, he added has been put into effect because the old system was made to cater to the requirements of a smaller population and now the requirements have increased. The renovation is likely to be completed soon, he said.
Mr Gurung further informed that the department will also be setting up the valve operated meter reading system and this system would help to address the present problems. With this new system the department will know how much water is being used by a particular house and the billing would be as per the utilization.

State objects move to make Sikkim Subjects go to Matigara for IT exemption certificates

GANGTOK, 30 May: The State Government has taken serious note on the Income Tax Office’s decision to have IT Exemption Certificate applicants from Sikkim approach the IT Office in Matigara, Siliguri. Sikkim Subjects and their descendents are exempt from paying Income Tax on incomes earned in Sikkim. Thus far, they could apply for and receive IT Exemption certificates [for such conveniences as not having tax deducted at source] from the IT Office in Gangtok itself [for details, read news-report headlined, “Sikkim applicants now required to approach Matigara IT office for IT Exemption Certs”, published in NOW! issue dated 28 May 2012].
An IPR Press release informs that on 28 May itself, the Chief Secretary convened a meeting in his office with IT Commissioner, Siliguri, CL Denzongpa, Assistant Commissioner, IT, (TDS) Siliguri, DN Bhutia, and Assistant Commissioner of Income Tax, Circle Gangtok, LD Lepcha, “to address the issue that was reflected in the local news papers, so as to assuage the apprehensions of the people accordingly”.
The release details that at the meeting, the Chief Secretary, “in no uncertain terms, very strongly advocated the fact that an Income Tax Office located in Gangtok was for all practical purposes to aid and assist the people of Sikkim in filling their returns, etc”.
He strongly objected to the move to shift the issue of Income Tax Exemption Certificate to Siliguri and “even questioned the logic of having a full-fledged IT Office located in Gangtok”.
“It was very clearly known to the delegation of IT officials that they should re-look at the whole issue and make full use of the IT office in Gangtok and continue with the process of IT Exemption Certificates being issued from Gangtok instead of Siliguri. This would not only cause convenience to the people of Sikkim, but would also justify the logic of having an IT office located in Gangtok. The Chief Secretary also informed the IT officials, that either an officer be posted at Gangtok or the Assistant commissioner of IT, Circle Gangtok be delegated with the powers for issuing such IT Exemption Certificates,” the release states.
The matter is now being taken up with the Commissioner, IT (TDS), Kolkata by the Commissioner, IT, Siliguri under whose jurisdiction the matter falls, and would be sorted out in due course of time, the release assures further.

Chungthang unhappy with delay in rim treatment at Teesta Stage-III

CHUNGTHANG, 29 May: Residents of different wards under Chungthang GPU expressed their dissatisfaction with the Teesta Urja Company, which is developing the 1,200 MW Teesta Stage III project at Chungthang in North Sikkim, for non execution of rim treatment in the area. The public of Chungthang raised the issue at the Gram Sabha convened here on 28 May.
It may be informed here that rim treatment seeks to mitigate the geo-environmental hazards in a project area.
Samdup Lepcha from Pegong ward claimed that tremors rippled by blasting undertaken for project construction had resulted in maximum damages in his area. Highlighting that the company has not fulfilled its commitments under its Rehabilitation & Resettlement policy, he informed that proper rim treatment is required below Pegong village where the project is under construction.
The locals also contended that the company is issuing contract works at old rates [of 2006 vintage] and local contractors are incurring losses due to this. This, they further stated, had been intimated to the company officials but they have remained willing to make any changes.
The public further mentioned that the company has not provided details with regard to the duration of the scholarship awarded to students.
The footpath and land in the Chorten ward has also been extensively damaged due to project construction works, it was informed. The people of the affected areas have demanded that the project developer fulfill its commitments towards the public.

High Court initiates Contempt proceedings against DoP officer

GANGTOK, 29 May: The division bench of the Sikkim High Court has initiated Contempt proceedings against Additional Secretary, Department of Personnel, Trilochan Sharma, for violating the High Court order to not give effect to the transfer order served on Special Commissioner, Commercial Tax Division, HB Rai, Special Commissioner Commercial Rax Division, Finance Revenue and Expenditure Department, until his petition was disposed off.
Mr. Rai had been transferred out as Registrar, Sikkim Manipal University, on 28 November 2011. The High Court had impugned this order on 14 March 2012 and directed the DoP not to give effect to it until disposal of the case. The Department initially abided by the Court order and issued an order on 04 April allowing Mr. Rai to continue as Special Commissioner.
However, on 11 May, 2012, the Department withdrew the last order allowing Mr. Rai to continue as Special Secretary. “This amounts to put in operation the original order of transfer dated 28.11.2011 which had been stayed by this Court in presence of Mr. Karma Thinlay Namgyal, learned Govt Advocate on 14.03.2012,” the High Court Division Bench comprising of Chief Justice Permod Kohli and Justice SP Wangdi records in its order of 22 May.
The division bench has now issued notice to the Additional Secretary to show cause “why rule be not framed against him and he be punished for Contempt of Court”. The officer was directed to appear in person before the Court on 29 May.
The Court was not satisfied with the affidavit filed by the Additional Secretary today, and the Government Advocate withdrew the affidavit and will now be submitting a fresh affidavit as per the directions of the Court.


(The following write up is totally my assumption and not to harm anyone’s feelings or emotions)
A very interesting topic that caught my eyes in your paper was “Awaiting a coherent approach in the battle against TB” [NOW! issue dated 28 May 2012]. It was in fact a very good task done by the writer, who herself went and did research on the prevalent conditions of TB in Sikkim. Case of Dawa and the phase he went through really touched my heart. There are and were many people like Dawa, who are going through the same phase and few who are no longer with us because of the same problem he (Dawa) faced.
Having closely observed on the current scenario of TB & MDR TB cases in Sikkim, it can be said that TB in Sikkim is still very dangerous after all these years of research and findings. Undoubtedly, TB can be termed as a Dangerous Comeback as read in one of the papers published on World TB Day. In Sikkim, 300-400 cases of MDR-TB alone is a massive one. The problems faced in Sikkim as understood is lack of accredited laboratory where culture and DST could be done in less time and also lesser money. Though this test is done in lesser amount from STNM Hospital, the time it takes to deliver the report is very long as in Dawa’s case.
Another problem that I assume is the lack of proper knowledge and social stigma in the society. Many a times it has came to notice that the patients after starting their treatment starts feeling good and healthy as a normal people and gets lost to follow up. They even stop taking their pills and again turn smear positive. This in turn leads to higher transmission and spread of disease. Social stigma can also be considered one of the main causes of the spread of disease and deaths due to the disease. Recently, I came across a person who was confirmed MDR TB after the DST. But he refused to visit doctor and hid his disease by saying that he was food poisoned, what we say in Nepali “Kapat”. This shows that in Sikkim people are still hesitant to tell that they are infected with micro bacterium TB.
The IRL which was to be set up in Sikkim last year at the ground floor of Red building where DTC was situated, couldn’t be done owing to 18 September Earthquake. This in turn led to shifting of DTC to another building and bringing halt to setting up of IRL. The setting up of IRL would have played major role in early detection of MDR TB patients and starting of treatment. A proper counselling and awareness campaign is also a need of hour I believe. As we can see that there are various awareness programmes to curb or stop AIDS, there are hardly few programmes on TB. Here I am not saying that the awareness on AIDS should be stopped, but what I am saying is that the TB issue is equally important. The role of private practitioner like in Dawa’s case is also a matter of concern. These practitioners also prescribe drugs to MDR TB patients which are kept reserved for the Extensively Drug Resistant (XDR) TB patients. This furthermore results in resistance to more drugs.
After all these years of research in the international and national arena, TB and curbing it is still a challenge in Sikkim. Reading the articles like the one mentioned above, it has helped people like me to understand more clearly the prevalent issues surrounding TB. I hope more people will understand the disease and at least make an effort to stop the spread of TB.
Tashi Rai, Bye Pass Road, Gangtok [recvd on email]


The blatant defiance by the teachers challenging the right of the government to transfer them on flimsy grounds and to politicalise the situation is not a healthy trend. My congratulations to you for your Editorial Dated 22 May 2012 [“To Staff Schools Better, End Interference”]. While others saw the incident as an another opportunity to sensationalise for greater readership, you stood apart by standing for the village school students. Thank you.
The teachers in Sikkim are the most pampered lot, government having given the highest salary among all category of employees and being a very potent political force having clout in almost every part of the state they have always managed to get what they wanted. As a consequence, the government always acquiesced to their whims and fancies and with ever vote hungry politicians, most of them have managed themselves well with the choice postings whether, they are required in the school or not. As a consequence, East District has excess teachers while other Districts are reeling under the shortage of teachers. The HRDD has already made public the figures which is rather disturbing.
It is evident that the action of the department is void of any vindictiveness and taken in the larger public interest and in the interest of the students in the villages. But the teachers associations have taken the unfortunate stand that the transfer in the mid-term hampers the students or the department has no clear cut policy on transfer etc. but they have not contested the fact of surplus teachers. But one wonders, if the transferred teachers were surplus in their existing schools then how would it hamper the study of the students in those schools! And then when there is such huge shortage of teachers in other schools, how come the associations are not worried about the students in such schools? Or is the transfer policy, which the state government or any other government in the country has not framed is more important than the future of the students in other district?
Are the teachers association trying to further the politics of convenience at the cost of the future of the village students and lock horn with the department issuing their own directives in defiance to the heads of such institutions to allow the teachers to continue in their schools despite the transfer order from the department setting aside all decorum and openly challenging the government order which smacks of utter lawlessness.
The government for the first time has taken a bold step in the interest of its future generation instead cowing down to the blackmailing by a strong political segment knowing fully well that they may again leave no stone unturned to unturn the government rather leaving no stone unturned to do their duties diligently as pledged in their application for job.We must congratulate the govt for their boldest decision.
It is time for all right thinking citizen to support the department in its bid to cleanse the system and the media must also take a positive stand instead of fuelling the fire and disgruntled politicians must not also muddle the issue and stop fishing in the troubled water for the sake of our children at least this once. Say enough is enough. If the other members of the same teaching fraternity can go and serve in remote schools why can’t the present lot do so? And if they don’t go where they are required who do they expect to go and teach the poor students in our villages when the government in the hope of alluring them to teach well paid them so much that it cannot afford now to recruit more teachers. Some of the transferred Teachers have already joined their new schools, while others are still playing politics and awaiting HCM, but Govt must tell them -it is simple - if you want to get paid also pay back to the society what you are taking instead of blackmailing the government on the strength of potential political strength.
Gajendra Gurung, Jorethang [recvd on email]

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


Mountaineer Kazi Sherpa who successfully scaled Mt Everest on 19 May, 2012 [above pic] is returning to Gangtok on 30 May. A warm reception has been planned by the Tourism & Civil Aviation Department at Rangpo at 2.30 pm.

Left out hawkers demand stalls at Lall Bazaar

GANGTOK, 28 May: The All Sikkim Hawkers Association [ASHA] today marched in strength to the Urban Development and Housing Department [UD&HD], their numbers making a veritable gherao, demanding allotment of stalls to the left out hawkers totaling around 125 at the Kanchanjunga Shopping Complex [erstwhile Lall Bazaar].
Addressing the media, the ASHA vice president, Lakpa Sherpa, informed that in the year 2006, the hawkers and traders of old Lall Bazaar were promised a stall each at the new complex by the department, but after completion of the construction work only 262 hawkers and 225 traders were allotted stalls while 125 hawkers were left without any allotment.
These 125 hawkers possess trade licenses but are operating at Lall Bazaar without any proper stalls. The association representatives, in their meeting with UD&HD officials placed a three-point charter of demands seeking stall allotment orders for the left out within a week, 2002 to be made the cut-off year for the allotment of space or stalls in the complex and the conditions placed by the Gangtok Municipal Corporation or UD&HD on allotments to hawkers be lifted.
Mr. Sherpa iterated that the department, in the year 2006, had promised that stalls would be allotted to the left out hawkers and stressed that until and unless the problem is solved, it will keep creeping up in regular intervals.
At today’s meeting, the UD&HD is informed to have asked the protesting hawkers for the document in which the department had assured allotment to the left out, as claimed by the hawkers.
The association on the other hand has also expressed gratitude towards the GMC Mayor for setting up the vegetable market at Lall Bazaar, which according to them, the GMC accomplished in a span of four days, a task that the UD&HD could not do in the past six years.

SNT deploys entire fleet of 22 buses for Gangtok commuters


GANGTOK, 28 May: With most of the local taxis catering to tourists, share cabs, the routine option for commuters here, have become rare to come by, much to the consternation of Gangtokians. Taking this “distress call” on top priority, the Sikkim Nationalised Transport (SNT) has deployed its entire fleet of 22 JNR&UM buses for public service in Gangtok with immediate effect.
“Peak tourist season has put a sudden load on taxis in the capital and long lines of anxious commuters waiting for cabs in the heat have become a common sight, thus we decided that we address this inconvenience with maximum deployment of buses [22]. Now, commuters in Gangtok can expect buses at a frequency of 15-minutes at every bus stop,” stated Transport Secretary, Tsegyal Tashi, while speaking to NOW! today.
Usually, SNT plies anywhere between 10-15 JNR&UM buses in-and-around Gangtok every day.
“We are not doing this for profit. Like always, we have reviewed the situation and extended the required services for the people. We invite all to avail the bus service which is also very reasonable since the cost is only Rs.1.20 per kilometer in-and-around Gangtok and Rs.1 per km for any distance more than 20 kilometers,” the Secretary added.
The bus fare for a journey from the main town to say Samdur, 6th Mile, Tadong, comes to Rs.10 to Rs.15 for a journey down till Ranipool. The bus service plies from 6:30 a.m. to 5p.m.
“Before this situation arose, we used to ply buses after calculating the occupancy rate; now, even when the occupancy is between 60-70 percent, we decided to go for maximum deployment since it is the need of the hour. We believe that this occupancy rate will go-up since the tourist season is still at its peak. The public should now start boarding buses,’ the Secretary stressed.
He also informed that this was a temporary deployment keeping in mind the current requirements and that as soon as the lean season sets in, the SNT will withdraw the service and revert to the regular routine.
“We will review the requirement and since we do not want to ruin business for the taxis in the lean season, we will remove the extra deployment of JNR&UM buses. We just want to tide over this crisis for the moment,” he reiterated.

CM and colleagues submit details of assets and sources of income to Patra Commission

GANGTOK, 28 May: The Chief Minister along with twelve sitting and former Ministers and MLAs have submitted their response to the corruption allegations leveled against them by the Sikkim Pradesh Congress Committee in its booklet ‘Mahaloot in Sikkim’ along with details of material assets and sources of income to the state government appointed Justice (Rtd.) RK Patra Inquiry Commission here at his office near Tashiling Secretariat today.
SPCC’s ‘Mahaloot in Sikkim’ had made various allegations of corruption during the 16 years of rule of the Sikkim Democratic Front government in the state. The Patra Commission was then instituted to enquire into the allegations.
Earlier this year, Justice (Rtd.) R K Patra Commission had issued summons to the Sikkim Pradesh Congress Committee (SPCC) directing them to appear before the Commission with all the documentary evidence to support their allegations.
However, members of the SPCC including the party president Nar Bahadur Bhandari, congress youth leader, Avinash Yakha and two others had refused to appear before Justice (Rtd) Patra to give their depositions.
The Patra Commission will begin its hearing after examining the documents related to the sources of income and allegations made in the Congress booklet.
It may mentioned here that the State Government had called a special session of the Assembly on 10 January last year and passed a resolution to hand over the case to Justice (Rtd.) R K Patra, former Chief Justice of Sikkim who also holds the post of the Law Commissioner of Sikkim.

Landslides disrupts traffic to Mangan

MANGAN, 28 May: Vehicular traffic to Mangan has been disrupted due to landslides near RangRang around 7kms short of Mangan [when approached from East Sikkim]. Huge boulders blocked around 70 feet of the road this afternoon.
Vehicles plying to North Sikkim have been stranded on either side while light vehicles are plying from Dzongu over the Hee-Gyathang and Sangkalang route. The huge boulders from the slides also smashed one half of an excavator belonging to the BRO but no one was injured.
Restoration work by the BRO is underway and traffic is expected to resume from Tuesday evening. It is learnt that tourists were charged an extra Rs. 1,500 to 2,000 [per vehicle] today owing to the diversion in the route.

North welcomes teacher transfers

MANGAN, 28 May: Pipons of Lachen and Lachung, all Panchayats and School Management Committee (SMC) members have welcomed the government’s decision to transfer excess teachers to their district.
In the Lachen-Mangan constituency of North Sikkim, several schools are facing problems due to shortage of teachers and it was a long pending demand of the constituency’s public. Under the Right to Education (RTE), all students have a right to education and literacy. To achieve the target under the literacy mission programme this decision of the State government will be very fruitful for the whole State, expressed the public.
The North District has a shortage of 19 primary regular teachers. The Department has transferred 16 excess teachers from East Sikkim to the North district. The teachers and their associations are however protesting the transfers and have not reported to their new posts yet.

Army presents field guns to Raj Bhavan

GANGTOK, 28 May: The Army at a special ceremony held at Raj Bhavan today, presented two majestic 5.5 inch bore guns to the Raj Bhavan. These guns were manufactured in the United Kingdom and are of 1941-45 vintage. They have been used by more than a dozen countries, including the United Kingdom, France, Australia, Canada, Iraq, India and Pakistan in different theatres of war. These guns were employed during World War-II, the Korean War and many other conflicts. Weighing over 6,000 kgs each, the gun fires 45 kg shells over 16 km at the rate of 2 shells per minute.
These guns were released after a series of approvals at various levels, with final sanction given by the Defence Minister on behalf of the President of India. This was made possible, only due to the keen interest shown by the Governor Balmiki Prasad Singh, the diligence of 17 Mountain Division and the support and guidance provided by GOC 33 Corps, Lt. General K Surendranath, a press release details.
The ceremony was addressed by the Governor and by the GOC 33 Corps and was attended by a host of dignitaries, which included the Speaker of the Sikkim Legislative Assembly KT Gyaltsen, members of the State Council of Ministers, MP [Lok Sabha], Chief Secretary, Additional Chief Secretary, DGP, Secretaries, besides others.
The Governor, in his address, thanked the Defence Minister and the Army Chief for the gift, which, he said, would now form an integral part of the Raj Bhavan complex. He also dwelt on the history of civil-military relations in the State which has always been marked by cordiality and mutual trust. He commended the Army Commander and his jawans for the swift response in undertaking relief and rescue measures and other assistance to the State during the aftermath of 18 September, 2011 earthquake in the State.
The Governor also took the opportunity to share two ideas which would go a long way in further cementing the ties between the military and civil authorities in the State. First, he wanted the Eastern Air Command, which is located at Shillong to consider setting up a small base at Pakyong. This would help urgent requirements in natural emergencies in the state which is located in a seismic belt. It may be recalled that an airport at Pakyong near Gangtok is under construction.
Second, Sikkim is one of the few states left in the country where there is no Sainik school. The Governor said that a Sainik school should be set up in the state by the Ministry of Defence. Towards this, he also suggested that this could be an integral part of the Ranipool-Pakyong stretch where Naya Gangtok is going to emerge. He mentioned that his vision of Naya Gangtok is well known to the State Government and they have also taken some initial measures in this regard.

Editorial:Congratulations, Ladies!

Girls once again outshone boys in class XII CBSE results announced on Monday, which recorded a pass percentage of 80.19 at the national level. Girls have performed better than boys with a pass percentage of 86.21 as compared to 75.80 per cent of the boys who passed across the country. The class XII CBSE examination results replay a data which everyone who has been through school has experienced – girls outshine boys in performance, this year, even more substantially. Although the official statistic for Sikkim is not at hand, in all probability, it will mimic the national trend. If it does not, then gender issues demand a relook in Sikkim because the womenfolk have been making strong forward strides in Sikkim in the recent past. When it comes to school examinations, one could argue that girls in our country are short-changed when it comes to accessing education and only the more academically consistent of them reach the class X and XII levels and hence a higher percentage of them get through. This would however be a superficial reading of the situation because girls outperforming boys has been a trend which has been consistent for a while now. What has, however, not been consistent is the access this academically more perseverant section receives in later years. In less than half a decade since the girls trump boys in class X and XII exams, they start fading away in the years when their education should be in its strongest expression and reinforcing their presence in careers and research. Centuries of societal discomfort with a women-on-top scenario starts manifesting more strongly in these years and discourage women away from ambition. The society suffers as a result, when the section which has consistently been more responsible [like learning well when in school] is pressured away from the responsibilities of policy-making and programme delivery. Male domination of these sectors has been instituted by the historic oppression of women in our country. Our major religions, Hinduism and Islam, are in scriptural and practical terms deeply inhospitable to the emancipation of women. They fool us with the celebration of women as the mother and the homemaker, but prescribe strongly against individualism and independent women. In Sikkim’s case, the experience with Buddhism has not been much better because at heart even this faith is not gender neutral as is made obvious by the preponderance of male reincarnates against the extremely few women who return as Rinpoches. The Dalai Lama appears to have noticed this imbalance and has in the past even commented that he could even return as a girl. While this might not mean that he will in fact do so, what it highlights is that it is time for faith to become gender-neutral if not pro-women. There is a staggering baggage of historic oppression and its attendant prejudices that women have to negotiate in our country, which is why their outshining males in education [for long dominated by men] should be celebrated every time it happens, even if it has become routine...

Gangtok Declaration underlines right of hill people to improved livelihoods in harmony with environment

GANGTOK, 27 May: The ‘2nd Sustainable Mountain Development Summit’ of Indian Mountain Initiative [IMI] hosted by Sikkim concluded on Saturday with the announcement of ‘Gangtok Declaration’ and a momentum to carry on for the third summit proposed to be held at Kohima, Nagaland next year.
“We resolve that the mountain States in India have not received the attention due to them and we recommend that greater focus and emphasis be given to the Sustainable Mountain Development agenda without delay and continued for the next 20 years,” the ‘Gangtok Declaration’ records.
The ‘Gangtok Declaration’ on sustainable mountain development was presented here at Chintan Bhawan by Summit convener, Lok Sabha MP PD Rai before the delegates after two days of engagements on water, mountain livelihood and communities & forests.
Mr Rai placed the draft of ‘Gangtok Declaration’ with ten mandates for IMI at the valedictory session for approval by the delegates.
The declaration also undertakes to work through long term partnerships with multiple stakeholders at different levels. “The partners and collaborators of IMI may have their own charter which may be broader than the mission of IMI, yet they will adopt policies and plans to build a common yet differentiated agenda in achieving the goals,” the ‘Gangtok Declaration’ underlines.
The IMI is a civil society movement that aims to bring stakeholders of the mountain and hill States on a common platform to come together to discuss issues related to the development of the mountains and hill regions and communities, evolve consensus on priorities and action plan. It had convened its inaugural summit in Nainital, Uttarakhand last year.
“Unique needs and aspirations of each state, mountain region and their people will be taken into account by IMI in an inclusive way with the aim of making fundamental shifts in their understanding and behavior,” the ‘Gangtok Declaration’ reads, highlighting that hill and mountain people are at the centre of concerns for sustainable development and are entitled to improved livelihoods in harmony with the environment.
It was also agreed that the each partner State will cooperate on building awareness and capacity for action on adaptation and transfer technologies and practices for sustainable development. The role of women of mountain areas in livelihood generation and protection of environment has also been recognized by the ‘Gangtok Declaration’ with youths given a role to sustain the IMI initiative.
The declaration further seeks developing appropriate institutionalization mechanisms to build movement and momentum towards achieving the goals of IMI through an inclusive organization structure, network, systems and process.
The Declaration also recognizes and supports the role of communities and their traditions and commits to enhance their impact on sustainable development. Avoiding individual or bilateral concerns of the stakeholders not core to the IMI agenda has also been included in the ‘Gangtok Declaration’.
Before the ‘Gangtok Declaration’ was placed, delegate Sushil Ramola summed up the outcome of the 2-day summit.
“One of the main outcomes of the summit here is that it has given momentum to the IMI,” said Mr. Ramola. The summit has given continuity to the IMI goals and Nagaland has already taken the initiative to host the third summit, he announced.
There has been a clear commitment from individuals, organizations and elected representatives during the summit and these commitments would definitely take IMI forward, he said, pointing out that preparations for the Sikkim summit have developed processes and systems for the upcoming summits.
Formal and informal interactions took place between the delegates from different States which will go a long way in achieving the IMI goals, he added.
The two-day long summit was organized by Ecotourism and Conservation Society of Sikkim [ECOSS] and co-organised by Central Himalayan Environment Association [CHEA]. Over 250 delegates from eleven Himalayan States and Darjeeling hills participated in the summit along with parliamentarians and legislators.

Sikkim applicants now required to approach Matigara IT office for IT Exemption Certificates VISHNU NEOPANEY GANGTOK, 27 May: Residents of Sikkim who are exempted under the Income Tax Act, Section 27 AAA, will have to henceforth approach the Tax Deduction at Source (TDR) Wing of the Matigara Zonal Income Tax office in Siliguri for IT Exemption Certificates. The Regional Office of the IT Department at Kolkata, in its meeting with regional heads and Officers In-charge of different districts [Malda, Siliguri, Jalpaiguri, Darjeeling, Kalimpong] including Sikkim, on 14 May directed the Gangtok office not to issue any more IT Exemption Certificates since this power did not fall in its jurisdiction. Till now, the Aayakar Bhawan at Gangtok, established in 2008, had been issuing the IT exemption certificates. The 14 May meeting resolved that the Gangtok office is mandated to handle only the revenue section for IT assessment. Other tasks like TDS directions and Tax refunds are not delegated to it. So far, because Direct Tax laws were new to Sikkim, the Gangtok IT office was also issuing IT exemption certificates [to Sikkim Subjects and their descendents], for the convenience of the people here, on the verbal direction of senior officials. Direct Tax Laws came into force in Sikkim on 21 June, 2008 and the Income Tax Department is represented here by an Assistant Income Tax Officer. The Ministry of Finance, Tax Department, has set up an office here to manage IT returns in Sikkim. Sikkim is in a transitional phase in terms of Direct Taxes and the Ministry of Finance and Regional IT Office at Kolkata have not yet felt it necessary to set up the other wings in Sikkim. As a result, a large number of people are still unaware of Direct Tax norms like filing of returns, claims and TDS or the importance of PAN and TIN numbers. The Gangtok office has already begun directing applicants the TDS wing of the Zonal Matigara Office, Siliguri for IT exemption certificates. IT officials in Siliguri informed NOW! over the phone that after receiving the exemption application from applicants, the Zonal Office will forward the applications for Regional Office verification and after receiving the IT clearance from Gangtok office, the exemption will be granted by the Regional Office if found appropriate. What is required now for the convenience of the people is for the State Government to approach the Ministry of Finance seeking establishment of other wings of the IT Department in Sikkim.

GANGTOK, 27 May: Residents of Sikkim who are exempted under the Income Tax Act, Section 27 AAA, will have to henceforth approach the Tax Deduction at Source (TDR) Wing of the Matigara Zonal Income Tax office in Siliguri for IT Exemption Certificates.
The Regional Office of the IT Department at Kolkata, in its meeting with regional heads and Officers In-charge of different districts [Malda, Siliguri, Jalpaiguri, Darjeeling, Kalimpong] including Sikkim, on 14 May directed the Gangtok office not to issue any more IT Exemption Certificates since this power did not fall in its jurisdiction.
Till now, the Aayakar Bhawan at Gangtok, established in 2008, had been issuing the IT exemption certificates. The 14 May meeting resolved that the Gangtok office is mandated to handle only the revenue section for IT assessment. Other tasks like TDS directions and Tax refunds are not delegated to it. So far, because Direct Tax laws were new to Sikkim, the Gangtok IT office was also issuing IT exemption certificates [to Sikkim Subjects and their descendents], for the convenience of the people here, on the verbal direction of senior officials.
Direct Tax Laws came into force in Sikkim on 21 June, 2008 and the Income Tax Department is represented here by an Assistant Income Tax Officer. The Ministry of Finance, Tax Department, has set up an office here to manage IT returns in Sikkim.
Sikkim is in a transitional phase in terms of Direct Taxes and the Ministry of Finance and Regional IT Office at Kolkata have not yet felt it necessary to set up the other wings in Sikkim. As a result, a large number of people are still unaware of Direct Tax norms like filing of returns, claims and TDS or the importance of PAN and TIN numbers.
The Gangtok office has already begun directing applicants the TDS wing of the Zonal Matigara Office, Siliguri for IT exemption certificates.
IT officials in Siliguri informed NOW! over the phone that after receiving the exemption application from applicants, the Zonal Office will forward the applications for Regional Office verification and after receiving the IT clearance from Gangtok office, the exemption will be granted by the Regional Office if found appropriate. What is required now for the convenience of the people is for the State Government to approach the Ministry of Finance seeking establishment of other wings of the IT Department in Sikkim.

Dikchu Secondary School gears up for Senior Secondary status


DIKCHU, 27 May: With the HRD Department having intimated the school authorities and the SMC of the upgradation of the Dickhu Secondary School to senior secondary level, the panchayat, SMC members, teachers, NGO representatives, senior citizens and general public of the area sat in a meeting recently to assist the school in delivering on its new status. The local community here has resolved to extend all possible help to ensure a smooth growth for the school.
The meeting was convened at the school chaired by the ward Panchayat BB Gurung and resolved to begin class XI from the current academic session itself with Humanities stream. The meeting and recorded gratitude towards the Chief Minister, the area MLA, the HRD Minister and the HRD Department for having okayed the upgradation of the school.
The meeting also handed out the various responsibilities to the SMC, panchayat and senior citizens of the area to incorporate the temporary provisions required for senior secondary level. It has been decided that the SMC, panchayat and senior citizens will make provisions for a temporary classroom for class XI. An admission committee will also soon be nominated headed by the principal, it was decided.
It has also been decided that the admission forms for class XI will be issued from the school office from 29 May onwards till 15 June and admissions begun from 16 June, a press release informs.
Dikchu, on the border of North and East districts, is also touched by three constituencies and the senior secondary status will services several villages of North and East District including the Dzongu reserve.

Sikkim takes the lead, joins Global Legislators’ Organisation for Balanced Environment

GANGTOK, 27 May: Convener of the 2nd Sustainable Mountain Development Summit of the Indian Mountain Initiative, Lok Sabha MP, PD Rai, expressed “deep satisfaction” with the deliberations and outcome of the two-day summit.
Speaking to media-persons after the valedictory session on Saturday, Mr Rai underlined that the summit had been “very powerful and inspirational” and that Sikkim has taken a major lead in facilitating the reaching of hill-specific issues to the national agenda in the run up to the Rio +20 Summit. The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development [UNCSD], also known Rio +20, is scheduled to be held in Rio Di Janerio from June 22 this year.
“Recommendations and deliberations on vital issues of mountain States will be presented at the Rio +20 summit through organizations like ICIMOD and if any of us from the mountains go to Rio, then we will certainly visit the Mountain Pavilion and participate in some interactions there,” he said.
He mentioned that Sikkim has become the first State to set up a State Chapter of Global Legislators’ Organisation for Balanced Environment [GLOBE] allowing legislators and parliamentarians from the state to work towards tackling major global environment challenges. Globe-Sikkim which has become the first chapter of GLOBE-India was formally announced under the chairmanship of Sikkim Legislative Assembly Speaker, KT Gyaltsen. At present, GLOBE-International has more than 30 countries as members.
Mr Rai mentioned that the setting up of GLOBE-Sikkim chapter was an important outcome of the two-day summit.
Speaking on other outcomes of the summit, he said that Sikkim has emerged as one of the leading entities within the IMI.
“Now, we will be able to connect with all the other mountain states, stakeholders have been identified, people have committed from all the States to do something about the IMI agenda. IMI as an institution will be developing and the next summit will be held in Kohima, and that is also a great outcome”, he shared.
He highlighted that issues related with water, mountain livelihoods and communities & forests were flagged at the summit, and the deliberations will now be processed and in the overall document which will be presented to the PM’s Office and the Ministry of Environment & Forests, the National Planning Commission and to the CMs of all the 12 mountains states.
“For the first time, there was interaction at the level of the legislators, so we discussed the issue of legislation for climate change which is still awaited in India. We have found from our deliberations today that there is a need and I think that Sikkim might just take the lead and legislate at the State level in this regard,” Mr Rai commented.

Gender issues come to the fore at HRLN seminar

GANGTOK, 27 May: Gender-related issues, especially the blight of discrimination, were brought into sharp focus at a seminar organized here by the Human Rights Law Network yesterday. As the papers and experience presented and shared at the seminar revealed, early pregnancies among unwed women/ girls are emerging as a major challenge in Sikkim and triggering a slew of attended complications and denials. Trafficking is also growing in presence as a concern and the general lack of social responsibility towards victims [of both, unwed pregnancies and trafficking] has only made the situation worse.
The seminar on “Gender related issues and Discrimination” clearly underlined that a direct result of this largely unaddressed situation is an increase in the number of unauthorized, and thus also unsafe, abortions putting victims at even more risk and the social stigma which exposes victims to even more exploitation.
Compromising the situation further is the condition of healthcare facilities especially in the more remote districts of West and North Sikkim which already suffer connectivity problems due to their locational disadvantage and are also now dealing with limited facilities, manpower and medicines.
The two social workers from North Sikkim, one from Lachung and another from Dzongu, made their presentations on ‘Understanding the gender specific rights’ and urged all concerned to improve the healthcare infrastructure in North Sikkim.
Gyatso Lepcha from Dzongu detailed that healthcare facilities in Dzongu were dismal and in urgent need of special attention in terms of medical supplies and manpower deployment and pointed out that most villages cut off by the 18 Sept 2011 earthquake were still inaccessible.
Justice SP Wangdi of the High Court of Sikkim, who spoke on ‘gender aspect of coercive two child norm’, commented on the positive and negative aspects of the two child norm and expressed deep concern over the lack of proper reproductive health facilities for women in general.
He highlighted that laws do not need to be coercive and that it was more important for mindsets on the health rights of women which need to be changed.
Dr. Doma T. Bhutia of the Human Rights Law Network in Sikkim said that the seminar focused on gender issues in the hope that it was taken up in high priority in Sikkim before the situation worsened, adding that the issues of health rights and liberty and equality in society were being ignored despite several laws enacted to dealt them.
She called on members of the civil society to raise the issues of health and other rights as enshrined in the Constitution.
Dr. Meera Shiva from Uttrakhand, a leading health activist, in turn presented an outline on women’s health in India. She said that still more than 65 percent of women in India do not have access to proper healthcare. She said that the health issues of women, especially the girl child, need deeper understanding of gender healthcare.

Indian Mountain Initiative wins strong endorsement of stakeholders

GANGTOK, 27 May: Meghalaya MP Thomas A Sangma committed to campaign for Indian Mountain Initiative (IMI) along with fellow Parliamentarian from Sikkim PD Rai at the national level. The Rajya Sabha member from Meghalaya was speaking on the concluding day of the ‘2nd Sustainable Mountain Development Summit’ of IMI here on Saturday.
“I have been raising issues of Meghalaya in the Parliament and speaking for promotion of tourism in the Northeastern region. I will now join PD Rai to convince our fellow Parliamentarians to join the IMI,” Mr. Sangma said.
He committed to take IMI forward in his State and sensitize the people there towards adopting an environment friendly lifestyle. He also informed the gathering about environmental issues affecting Meghalaya.
“Meghalaya is a tourism destination but there has been such extensive environmental damage that I hesitate to invite tourists to my place,” admitted the MP, adding that “unscientific and unregulated coal mining in different parts of our State are taking a huge toll on the environment”.
Mr Sangma pointed out that two types of migration are happening in Meghalaya. “Our youth are migrating to metros for education and livelihood. Environmental refugees from Bangladesh with which we share a 500 km long border are migrating into our hill districts,” he said.
On the occasion, delegates also pledged to introduce IMI to their respective areas and to collectively work towards making IMI an influential body among the policy makers at the Centre. IMI is an idea whose time has come and there is a need for a body like IMI that will promote the interests of the Himalayan States in the Centre, they said.
“We will have to work together to protect the resources of Himalayan region, have sustainable development and network to meet challenges of water security, receding glaciers and mountain livelihood,” the delegates said.
“A message should go to the country that the needs of the Himalayan region should be seen from a mountain-perspective and policies should be tailor-made for hill issues. Our people should be given a chance to raise their problems at the Centre. IMI is the model platform for this,” the delegates said.
IMI is a civil society movement that aims to bring stakeholders of the mountain and hill States on a common platform to come together to discuss issues related to the development of the mountains and hill regions and communities, evolve consensus on priorities and action plan.

Missing Sang student remains untraced, family grows desperate

GANGTOK, 27 May: 14-year old Bhanu Bhakta Acharya, the Class IX student who has been missing from Sang Government Senior Secondary School since 23 May, remains untraced and the desperation of his family and friends has understandably reached panic levels. The distraught father, Surya Prasad Sharma, even as he makes desperate appeals for help in finding his son, is demanding answers from the school authorities. The student, it may be recalled, was ticked off on disciplinary grounds and sent away from school on Wednesday and told to bring his parents to school. The student did not return home and has not been heard of since then.
The father informs that he has looked everywhere for his son, but come up with no leads on his whereabouts.
“I had sent my son to school and if he was caught for any offence, the school authorities should have informed me directly rather than sending the child back home in such a scared state,” he said. He also alleged that the school authorities have not come forward with any help or assistance. “I demand from the government and the authorities concerned to bring back my son alive and in good health,” he adds.
Bhanu, incidentally, is an only child.
The father also stressed that once he finds his son, he will never send him to school again.
He is being assisted in the search for his son by the All Sikkim Students Association, whose president, Rohan Gurung, appealed to all concerned authorities to initiate every possible step in tracing the missing student.

Teachers reiterate demand for Transfer Policy ahead of tranfers

GANGTOK, 27 May: The Joint Action Committee of Sikkim Teachers’ Association and Sikkim United Teachers’ Welfare Association has reiterated its stand demanding a clear-cut transfer policy before teacher teachers are implemented. The HRD Department, it may be recalled, has transferred 146 excess primary regular teachers from East district to fill part of the shortage in schools in the remaining three districts. The move has not gone down well with the transferred teachers and their representative organizations even as schools in the districts have welcomed it.
In a press statement issued today, Bhanu Pradhan, the STA publicity secretary, informs that the teachers have apprised the HRD Minister and Secretary of their demand that a clear transfer policy, one which did not favour any section, be adopted before transfers are undertaken.  
The release adds that the teachers are hopeful that once the Chief Minister returns from New Delhi, the grievances of transferred teachers will be heard and resolved on priority basis.
The JAC of teacher associations also makes it a point to state that they were ready to serve anywhere in Sikkim if transfers are undertaken as per a proper policy, adding that the teachers have been demanding a fair transfer policy in Sikkim for a long time now.
They also appreciated the government effort to make quality elementary education a priority and are convinced that the Chief Minister will address the teacher grievances and requirements of students effectively.

Awaiting a coherent approach in the battle against TB

The recently established ‘DOTS Plus site’ which houses MDR TB patients is located in a corner of the STNM Hospital, Gangtok, near the private ward building. A big airy room with windows stretched across one wall receives a light breeze and sunlight. There are 10 beds, of which 5 are occupied. There are few others walking about who are there to attend to the patients. Of the five patients, three are in their early twenties while the other two are middle-aged. The stillness in the room is broken by the intermittent coughs coming from the patients. What one cannot miss are the masks that cover the mouths of most of the patients and their caregivers. What one cannot also miss is what it signifies – the dread and more importantly the very nature of the disease i.e. TB is communicable and a lethal one at that.
Just 21 years old, Dawa [name changed] knows this well. He contracted MDR TB from a close friend who was suffering from it. With no history of TB, Dawa directly contracted the Multi Drug Resistant strain of TB. He is currently undergoing treatment at the DOTS Plus site here at STNM Hospital. As his sister tries to explain the process of treatment he went through, Dawa, who is weak and angry, interrupts, “It is all their fault. It is because of them that I am like this now”. What fault is he talking about and whose is it?
Dawa’s case exemplifies the myriad problems that the treatment of TB, particularly, the drug resistant strain, is faced with, not just in Sikkim but across the nation. Understanding his case would give a clearer picture of the ‘fault’ he is talking about. Dawa was first diagnosed with TB around 10 months ago when he showed symptoms of the disease. He was then put on TB treatment at STNM Hospital under the Revised National Tuberculosis Control Programme [RNTCP] which is a WHO recommended programme followed in India. Under RNTCP, there is a standard set of guidelines to be followed in the diagnosis, treatment and follow-up of the disease.
Dawa was first put on treatment for TB for 6 months and when he failed to show any improvement i.e his sputum test came ‘smear positive’, he was directed to take a culture test. A culture test normally takes around 2 months or less, but Dawa’s culture report did not arrive even after 2 months, by which time, his condition had deteriorated. It must be noted here that almost 9 months had passed since his treatment began.
His family then took him to a private doctor who confirmed he had MDR TB and prescribed MDR treatment drugs for him which were administered to him at STNM Hospital. After waiting for two and a half months for the culture test results, Dawa was informed that there was some “problem” with the sample that was sent and was asked to send another sample. However, they had already sent another sample through a private diagnostic centre here, the result for which would be delivered between 21 days to one and a half months they were told.
Dawa’s case raises some pertinent issues with regard to the culture test and role of private practitioners. Firstly, precious time was lost in getting a culture test which could have been done earlier.  According to WHO recommendations, if careful monitoring during the first 2-3 months of treatment show suspected resistance to any of the drugs, a culture test should be immediately taken. However, these are just recommendations and different countries have adapted the WHO programme to suit their conditions and logistical challenges. The RNTC programme followed in the country uses a strategy that enrols patients with a very high risk of MDR-TB into RNTCP DOTS-Plus activities and treatment with the RNTCP Category IV regimen. This is being followed because “RNTCP does not have sufficient quality assured laboratory capacity to do culture and DST in all TB patients”. Patients who are defined as an “MDR-TB suspect” should be identified and investigated further for MDR-TB.
MDR-TB Suspect can be any of the following:
- Any TB patient who fails an RNTCP Category I or III treatment regimen;
- Any RNTCP Category II patient who is sputum smear positive at the end of the fourth month of treatment or later; or
- Close contacts of MDR-TB patients who are found to have smear positive pulmonary TB (PTB) disease
Dawa, unfortunately did qualify as an MDR TB suspect on the last criteria mentioned above and should have taken a culture test much earlier. Speaking to NOW!, a doctor here informed, “After four months of treatment, if a patient’s sputum reports are still smear positive and the patient has a history of contact with MDR TB patients, the patient has to be asked to take a culture test”.
It can also not be denied that considering the sensitive nature of treatment of drug resistant TB, confirmation is absolutely necessary before starting treatment. A culture test detects the existence of Mycrobacterium tuberculosis in the body while a DST [Drug Susceptibility Test] is used to detect if this bacteria is resistant to any particular drug.
According to MDR TB Update 2011 published by WHO - Over 60% of MDR TB cases occur in China, India, the Russian Federation and South Africa alone (“RICS” countries). When compared to the number of detectable MDR-TB cases if DST was accessible to all TB cases notified in the world, the 53,000 cases reported by countries in 2010 represent less than a fifth of the estimated burden.
The report also states that coverage of DST for TB patients remains low and resultantly a minority of drug-resistant TB patients are detected and notified.  Information remains incomplete. The number of MDR and also XDR [Extensively Drug Resistant] TB patients is rapidly rising in the state. According to this doctor here, a very rough estimate of the number of MDR patients in the state is between 300 to 400. In this context, the importance of DST cannot be emphasised enough. As admitted by the RNTCP report, the lack of quality assured laboratories to carry out such testing severely handicaps treatment of drug resistant TB. This shortage means DST is advised only after careful screening by doctors based on the criteria mentioned earlier.
Currently there are 23 such functional labs in the country, these include 4 NRLs (Tuberculosis Research Centre [TRC], Chennai, National Tuberculosis Institute [NTI], Bangalore, Lala Ram Swarup Institute of Tuberculosis and Respiratory diseases [LRS], Delhi and JALMA Institute, Agra) 12 State level IRLs (Gujarat, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Delhi, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Orissa, Jharkhand, Haryana and Puducherry). Seven other labs (BPRC-Hyderabad, PD Hinduja-Mumbai, CMC-Vellore, SMS-Jaipur, RMRCTe [ICMR]-Jabalpur, JJ Hospital-Mumbai, DFIT Nellore) and more labs are in the process of accreditation in a phased manner. The accreditation of the IRL [Intermediate Reference Laboratory] at Gangtok is still under process.
RNTCP has established a nationwide laboratory network, encompassing over 13,000 designated sputum Microscopy Centers (DMCs), which are being supervised by Intermediate reference laboratories (IRL) at the state level, and National Reference laboratories (NRL) & Central TB division at the national level.
Another factor is the cost involved, a culture test costs normally costs Rs 8,000 but in Sikkim, a referral from STNM Hospital brings down the cost to Rs 200. This is certainly a relief for patients here but in a case like Dawa’s where patients are forced to go to private labs without the STNM Hospital referral, the cost can go even higher. At present, samples of TB patients of Sikkim are sent to a RNTCP recognised laboratory for testing in Blue Peter Health Research Centre, Hyderabad. This brings us to the other problem of not only the extra time that is added to the already lengthy procedure of culture testing, but also the problem of contamination of samples, as it occurred in Dawa’s case.
The doctor here revealed that, “Earlier, the samples were sent to a lab in Chennai but there were a lot of cases of contamination, so much so that the lab refused to take in samples from Sikkim. So, now they are being sent to another lab in Hyderabad”.
Contamination is an inherent problem with culture testing as it is and the added distance and time incurred accentuates this problem, it was informed. “Even sputum samples that are collected at local centres are not done in the proper manner. The staff is not properly trained or qualified and are not aware of the significance of the task at hand. Most times they are only worried about the numbers they need to show at the end of a day or month,” expressed another doctor. It is another thing that sputum testing itself is an outdated and questionable form of testing riddled with various weaknesses. What all of this goes to suggest is that diagnosis and testing which are crucial for a TB or MDR TB patient is a serious concern in the state.
Time doesn’t wait for anybody it is said, and for TB patients time can kill. A wait of 9 months as in Dawa’s case, is “too long a wait” for a MDR patient admitted one doctor here. Caught between the need to accurately determine the MDR strain of TB for fear of further aggravating or even giving rise to drug resistance because of faulty treatment and the lack of adequate and reliable testing facilities, it is not just the patient who suffers. In a year, a single MDR patient can infect at least 15 people with the disease. This in turn could very well mean that at least 4500 in the state are infected with the MDR strain of TB.
 A test which can determine drug resistance in a patient in the least amount of time and easily accessible is the obvious solution. Good news, however, came in February earlier this year with India clearing the proposal to set up a new diagnostic test GeneXpert that will test and confirm MDR TB within 120 minutes at 18 sites across the country. Funded by USAID Country Mission with technical assistance from WHO India, the initial results of this project will come in the next few months. This facility is being planned for Sikkim as well, but there are issues of adequate space to house the equipment, it is learnt. If successful, this would significantly increase the speed of diagnosis.
That said, it remains to be seen at which stage of diagnosis or treatment this test would be used because the problem with culture or DST test also seems to lie in when it is advised to patients.
The other issue that Dawa’s case raises is the role of private practitioners. When he went to a private doctor as his condition worsened, this doctor confirmed he had MDR TB. On what basis was this diagnosis made? At the time, all Dawa had was the sputum test result and it is difficult to comprehend how the doctor diagnosed Dawa with MDR TB on the basis of this and prescribed MDR TB treatment to top it off. If his culture test results prove otherwise, then the treatment for MDR he is getting at the moment is likely to trigger further resistance.
It is here that awareness and training figure in as extremely important. As a doctor remarked: “The RNTCP and DOTS programmes are absolutely brilliant on paper, but it is in the implementation that things don’t quite turn out as they are supposed to. Training for all medical staff, both private and government, has to be taken up in earnest in order for the programme to work effectively”.
The Government of India recently declared TB as a notifiable disease which means every case of TB diagnosed in private or government hospitals will now have to be notified to the government. This would mean information on every TB case will be recorded. It is certainly a positive step towards at least having complete information on the number of TB cases, however, it again remains to be seen how it will play out on-field. Critics point out that duplication of records, human rights aspect of the effect on the patient of revealing such data in sensitive socio-cultural conditions, implementation hurdles could weigh down what at present looks like a positive step.
Apart from private doctors, private laboratories that undertake culture testing is another serious concern. Considering the importance of correct diagnosis when it comes to TB and its drug resistant strains, laboratories without proper credentials cannot be entrusted with such testing. As informed earlier, there are only a few accredited labs in the entire country excluding some private ones recently added.
Dawa’s earlier outburst does seem to hold water as someone as young, he now lies at the DOTS plus site here unable to even speak or walk properly, hand fed by his sister, a testimony of the devastation that MDR TB brings down upon human bodies.
Sharing this space is also a middle aged woman, although with a prior history of TB and treatment, she was also advised culture testing after 6 months of initial treatment. There are two other young female patients in their early twenties also in the same room. One of them has been there since it opened its doors on 06 March earlier this year and says she does not remember how many but has seen numerous admitted and discharged from this very ward.
Reports of a new TDR [Totally Drug Resistant] form of TB in January this year in Mumbai brought to light the severity of the problem that is drug resistance together with the need to intensify efforts to tackle it. Despite the labyrinth of medical jargon and complex data that can disorient, discourage and blind, the fact of the matter is that MDR TB is here and Sikkim, like the rest of the world needs to up its ante.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Hill people work towards consensus on common issues of water, forests and livelihoods


GANGTOK, 25 May: The 2nd edition of the Sustainable Mountain Development Summit of the Indian Mountain Initiative [IMI] was inaugurated by the Speaker of Sikkim Legislative Assembly, KT Gyaltsen at Chintan Bhawan today.
The two-day event is being co-organized by the Ecotourism and Conservation Society of Sikkim [ECOSS] along with the Central Himalayan Environment Association (CHEA). More than 250 delegates, including Parliamentarians and legislators from Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Manipur are participating in the Summit and will be deliberating on issues of water, mountain livelihoods and communities and forests of the Indian Himalayan region.
IMI is a civil society movement that aims to bring stakeholders from hill states on a common platform to discuss issues related to the development of the mountain and hill regions and communities, evolve consensus on priorities and action plan. This summit is an annual event of the IMI to discuss pre-decided themes that are vital to the development and well being of the region.
The themes for the 2nd Sustainable Mountain Development Summit are Water, Mountain Livelihoods, Communities and Forests and Innovations. Under each of these themes, sub themes have been included and interlinked.
The primary objective of the 2nd Sustainable Mountain Development Summit is to look at policy governing issues around the broad themes proposed and to suggest key interventions in those, based on field experiences along with academic and intellectual inputs. In doing so, the secondary objective of sharing of best practices and experiences amongst the different participants would also be fulfilled. The summit aims to discuss the policy framework around these themes and to suggest interventions to make them more relevant. The Summit recommendations would be taken up with relevant authorities at the State and Union level.
In his inaugural address, the Speaker highlighted that a majority of the world depends on mountains for water, energy and other bio-resources. Hence, issues related to mountains and hill people suffering due to isolation should be taken up at the global level, he stressed.
The Speaker expressed his confidence that deliberations during the two-day summit would lay the foundation for mountain issues, receiving the required attention at national and global levels.
Speaking in the Sikkim context, Mr Gyaltsen underlined the importance of culture in protection of the Hill State’s bio-resources. By the virtue of their culture and religious sentiments, mountains and lakes are revered by the people here as the abode of deities and activities which prevents defiling of such sacred spots, he said.
Adding that the Chief Minister has framed far-sighted policies and programmes on these issues, he mentioned that the Sikkim Government has already taken major steps to address these issues like Organic Sikkim Mission, encouraging tree plantation, prevention of poaching and other issues through strong laws. He stressed that the ultimate goal of the Chief Minister was to increase the happiness index of people by providing quality facilities.
The Speaker also placed his suggestions and points to discuss during the two-day seminar and further expressed hope that this seminar would result in constructive and tangible outcomes. He congratulated the IMI for their initiative to deliberate and discuss on these issues.
Member of Parliament, Lok Sabha, PD Rai, who is also the Convener of IMI-SMDS 2, expressed that Sikkim was on the forefront in deliberating and addressing these issues. Due to long term initiatives of the Chief Minister of Sikkim, he said that the State has been doing well in the vision and objectives of the IMI. Mr Rai spoke about the ’10 Minutes to Earth’ programme visualised and initiated by the Chief Minister to dedicate 10 minutes to Mother Earth.
Mr Rai mentioned that the response has been encouraging since 90% of the delegates have arrived so far and it is a positive indicator of love towards the hills and mountains and its rich culture and heritage. He expressed his deep gratitude to the Chief Minister of Sikkim and his government, governments of Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh, different organizations and corporate houses and every individual involved for their support of the seminar.
In his keynote address, Director General of International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development [ICIMOD], Kathmandu, Dr David Molden, stated that mountains offer solutions to the global problem of water scarcity. He recommended reduction in vulnerabilities to floods and droughts, finding solutions in the water-food-energy nexus, clean energy to address black carbon and glacier melt and to improve landscape management. He further recommended that mountains should find place in the global agenda.
In his welcome address, the Chief Secretary, Karma Gyatso appreciated the initiative taken by Sikkim MP, Mr Rai by bringing such important seminar to Sikkim and further congratulated ECOSS for organizing it.
He expressed his hope that the outcome of the seminar would help Sikkim and other mountain states. The Chief Secretary mentioned that sustainable mountain was the vision of the State Government and that the state’s effort in this area has been acknowledged in and outside the country.
The inaugural function concluded with the presentation of vote of thanks by the ECOSS Chairman, Loday Chungyalpa. There are five plenary sessions on the three themes for stakeholders. The second day of the seminar will feature a legislators’ meet on ‘Climate Change and the Need for Legislation’ to evolve consensus on priorities and action plan on issues related to the development of hill regions and communities.
The Summit will conclude on Saturday afternoon with the ‘Sikkim Declaration’ that will highlight key concerns of the discussed themes, policy prescription, and recommendations to be taken up with relevant authorities at State and Union level.

Fearing punishment, 14-yr-old goes missing

GANGTOK, 25 May: Bhanu Bhakta Acharya, a 14-year-old boy of Sang Rabdang studying in Government Senior Secondary School, Sang, is reported to be missing for the past three days.
It is informed that on 23 May, Bhanu was ticked off for indiscipline by the principal of his school after which he was sent home and asked to bring his parents. However, the boy did not reach home that day or attend school the next day and has since been missing.
Surya Prasad Acharya, the boy’s father who is a farmer by profession began a search for his son since the day he went missing, it is informed. When the boy could not be traced even after two days of search, the father, with the help of villagers, filed a missing person complaint at the Rangpo Police station today.
People of the area are alleging lackadaisical attitude of the school authorities and have accused them of not showing any concern for the missing student. The residents of Sang Rabdang have requested the police and the authorities concerned to take necessary steps in finding the child.
Some villagers of Sang Rabdang were also here in the capital to meet police officials to seek help in tracing the missing child. They informed that they have met the Secretary, Human Resource Development Department [HRDD] along with Director, School Education for necessary guidance.

Cabbies demand revision of fare rates in wake of petrol price hike

GANGTOK, 25 May: The increase in petrol prices has given rise to confusion regarding fares among taxi drivers in the capital who have long been demanding a revision of taxi fares with the Motor Vehicles wing of the Transport Department.
“Between the years 2006 to 2010 there was an increase in fuel prices ranging from Re. 01 to Rs. 05 and during that time we had approached the Motor Vehicles Division for revision of taxi fares and after much deliberation the department raised the taxi fares by 15% in2010. Even at that time we had asked for the hike to be between 30 to 50 per cent,” explained Chung Chung Bhutia [President, Central Joint Action Committee of Local Taxi Drivers Association, Gangtok], while speaking to the press here at Deorali today.
When the fuel prices increased by Rs. 5 last year, they had approached the department seeking another increase in taxi fares and even then the department had stated that another revised rate board would be worked out soon. The hike is still awaited and now petrol prices have been increased by another 10%, he added.
“Now the petrol prices have been increased by Rs. 7.30 per litre and we are still charging passengers at the old rate given to us by the department in 2010,” he said and added that now, with the increase in fuel prices, the drivers are at a loss regarding passenger fares.
“Now taxi drivers may start to charge passengers more and this will not go down well with the people and the drivers could face public ire,” expressed Mr. Bhutia adding that it would be the students and children who will suffer in the midst of this confusion.
“Even the traffic has been made one-way in many places, but we are still forced to charge the same rate as we do not have the much needed revised rate board and have to face the anger of the people when we do so,” he further stated.
Speaking on whether the taxi drivers association will be lending its support to the all India strike called on 31 May, he said that if the ‘common man’ stands up then they will definitely come out in support of the people adding that last year when they had held a meeting to discuss various issues regarding the plight of drivers, the meeting had been termed to be politically motivated, so they want to be cautious this time.
“It is high time that the department did something to revise the rate board. We have already written two or three times to the department regarding this issue since 2010,” added Lakpa Sherpa [general secretary of the association], while speaking to the press.
He suggested that it would be better if the department lift the VAT levied on petrol so that the price comes down by a few rupees or follow in Goa’s footsteps and not increase petrol prices at all. In order to avoid overcharging by taxi drivers, the department should take immediate action in view of the recent price hike, Mr Sherpa added.

Tata unveils its green cars in Gangtok

GANGTOK, 25 May: Two products from Tata Motors using low carbon technology were displayed during the 2nd Indian Mountain Initiative Sustainable Mountain Development Summit here in Gangtok today.
The two-day summit of the Indian Mountain Initiative (IMI) participated by over 250 delegates from eleven Himalayan States and Darjeeling hills started today and will conclude on Saturday.
One model each of Nano CNG and Super Ace Electric vehicles from the Tata stable have been put up for display and demonstration at the summit venue, Chintan Bhavan to raise awareness on alternative sources of energy. Both products are being demonstrated for the second time after the January expo in Delhi.
The display was inaugurated by Arunachal Pradesh Tourism Minister Pema Khandu. “It is a good initiative from Tata Motors to come up with vehicles that emit less carbon”, said Mr Khandu.
In an endeavour to make its vehicles less polluting, Tata Motors, India’s largest automobile company, is actively developing a broad range of low carbon vehicle technologies. The company has been constantly innovating its products enabling them to become more fuel efficient and also run on alternate fuels. This is for both Tata Motors passenger and commercial vehicles range, said the Tata Motors in a press statement.
The Nano CNG concept, besides demonstrating Tata Motors capability to develop all kinds of vehicles for CNG applications, has a sequential gas injection system has been thoroughly calibrated with the EMS system for smart switching between CNG and gasoline fuel systems. The car comes with software with safety strategies like automatic cut-off CNG supply even in the case of diminutive leakages and automatic fuel quality checks, the company stated. Other CNG vehicles from Tata Motors already on road are Indica and buses.
The Tata Nano CNG comes with a touring range of more than 150 km in addition to the existing touring range (375 km) of the Nano 2012, improved emissions with low CO2, best-in-class fuel economy, resulting in low running cost. It is currently in the advanced stage of development and is expected to arrive in markets by this October.
The Super Ace Electric utility vehicle of Tata Motors has a range of 30 miles and a maximum speed of 25 mph and zero percent fossil fuel consumption, said the company. It is a complete electric vehicle for specific duty cycles such as last mile urban delivery and estate and campus management.
Equipped with a lithium-ion battery for energy storage, electric motor and controller, the Tata Super Ace EV delivers a top speed of 80 km/h forward and 30 km/h reverse. The vehicle is a rear- wheel drive and comes with regenerative braking and electric heating system. It is available with flat bed drop-side, electro-hydraulic tipper, box van, or chassis cab body options, Tata Motors said. The vehicle was launched in the UK market earlier this year.

Winners of the 2nd Indian Himalayan Photography Competition declared

GANGTOK, 25 May: Winners of the 2nd Indian Himalayan Photography Competition 2012 were declared today at the inaugural function of a photo exhibition displaying the entries of the competition. Organized as a side event to the Sustainable Mountain Development Summit which also began today, the exhibition focuses on showcasing the unique natural and cultural heritage of the bioregion of the Indian Mountain states.
The photography competition received a total of 178 entries from 68 photographers from different states from which, only 67 photographs found place in the competition as others did not fulfill all the requirements of the organizers.
Judged by a four-member panel the competition was held on the Summit’s themes; Water, Communities & Forests and Mountain Livelihoods with cross cutting themes of Climate Change and Innovations.
The photography competition seeks to capture and portray the various critical issues, best practices, situations and realities under each theme and sub theme within the mountain and hill regions.
Arif Siddhique bagged the first prize of Rs 50,000 for his photograph titled ‘Stuff of Life [Children collecting bamboo for daily use]’ taken at Tato, Manchukha in Arunachal Pradesh and Chinlop Fudong Lepcha received the second prize of Rs 30,000 for his photograph titled ‘Nature’s Fury’ taken at Teesta.
Likewise, two consolation prizes of Rs 10,000 each were won by Anup Shah for his photograph ‘Village Life in Someshwar Valley in Uttarakhand and Romong Lepcha for his photograph titled ‘Fisherman’ taken at Reshi River in the Sikkim-West Bengal border.
Human Resource Development Department Minister, NK Pradhan, inaugurated the exhibition at Star Hall complex this evening. Also present at the function were Lok Sabha MP, PD Rai and Gangtok MLA, Dorjee Namgyal along with other delegates.
The photo exhibition will be open till Saturday, 26 May.

Certificate in Basic Computer mandatory to apply for LDC and above posts

GANGTOK, 25 May: The State Government issued a fresh circular on 21 May 2012 making Basic Computer Concept Certificate from DOEACC mandatory for those seeking a government job from the post of LDC and upwards.
The Department of Personnel had issued an office memo on 21 July last year making the Basic Computer Concept Certificate mandatory for job applicants. Following this, the Chief Secretary issued a circular on 21 May directing all the heads of departments and State Public Service Commission to adhere to the policy for further recruitments in the State government.

EMRS Gangyap records 100% CBSE results

GANGTOK, 25 May: Eklavya Model Residential School, Gangyap in West Sikkim has recorded a flawless class X board examination results announced on Thursday by the CBSE.
A press release issued by EMRS Principal, S Yonzone, informs that this was the first time that EMRS, Gangyap, students had appeared for the board examination and this was the founding batch of students.
“We had a total of 33 students who appeared for the CBSE X Exams. We have secured 100% pass results with all students having a minimum CGPA of 7.2 and maximum of 10,” it informs.
The CGPA [Cumulative Grade Point Average] is the average of Grade Points obtained in all the subjects excluding additional 6th subject as per Scheme of Studies.
The release informs that 12 students have scored an overall grade of A1 [91-100 marks], while 15 students have scored ‘A’ and remaining 6 have scored B1 grades.
The Principal mentioned that four students of the school, Lako Doma Lepcha, Phurchong Lepcha, Sangay Thendup Lepcha and Mikkit Lepcha, have scored a perfect CGPA of 10 scoring A1 in all their 5 subjects.


We, the public of Lower Thasa, Singbel, Rangto and Makha are highly delighted to learn that the Sikkim Lepcha Youth Association (SLYA) recently organised a traditional puja at Saemae Longchok at Khamdong, East Sikkim. We fervently hope that our deity who has been protecting us till date will continue to pour blessings on us and we will be able to live in peace, tranquillity, happy and prosperous manner.
In fact, Samar Khola is the only perennial source of water which has provided for all the needs of our area, be it drinking water or any other needs like agriculture, horticulture, fisheries etc. But unfortunately, for the last couple of years, we have been witnessing major water pollution at the source of Samar Khola at Lingzey-Khamdong PWD road where dozens of vehicles of different kinds arrive everyday for servicing and washing as a result we are forced to consume polluted water. So for the poor people of lower belt Thasa and aligned areas, we have no choice but to consume this polluted water as there is no alternative source.
Through this letter, we, the public of the above mentioned area, would like to bring to the notice of all concerned agencies like the BAC Khamdong and two major Gram Panchayat Units (Singbel and Khamdong) to accord Gram Sabha approval banning washing and servicing of vehicles at this holy place and protect us from drinking and using polluted water so health hazards and destruction of biodiversity of these areas is avoided.
And at last, we would also request SLYA to bring wider public awareness regarding this grave problems.
Amber Subba, Nirmal Tiruwa, Bhuwan Singh, Dal Bdr Rai, Pem Tsh Lepcha,Kiki Lepcha, Nalimit Lepcha &others on behalf of the concerned citizens of the area [recvd on email]