Saturday, November 8, 2014

Sikkim extends moving send off to Prince George-La WANGCHUK BHUTIA

Prince Jigdal Tsewang Namgyal, popularly known as “Prince George-La”, the youngest son of the Late Chogyal Tashi Namgyal, was cremated here at Lukshyama, the royal cremation grounds above Gangtok near Hanuman Tok, on 05 November. The late Prince was the last surviving son of Chogyal Tashi Namgyal. In that sense, even though the Prince did not lead a very public life, his passing away was deeply mourned as it marked the closure of an era, the end of a generation. He passed away aged 86 on 30 October at his home in Development Area.
A large number of well wishers, friends, relatives and lay Sikkimese including Chief Minister Pawan Chamling, the Chief Secretary, Cabinet Ministers, MLAs [from both, the ruling as well as Opposition parties], and government officials turned out to pay their last respects to the Late Prince. The Government had declared a state holiday on the day of the funeral to make it convenient for people to attend the funeral and also in mourning. Businesses remained closed in Gangtok and some other towns as a mark of respect for the departed Prince, with even banks joining Sikkim in mourning and remaining closed on 05 November.
The Kubur procession was taken out from Tashi Gartsel, Development Area, at 8:30 in the morning. The Kubur was covered with seven signs of Chakravartin emperor, a privilege reserved for male members of the Sikkimese royalty. Also draping the kubur was the Sikkim Flag. The Serbang, traditional monastic procession, was led by Pemayangtse monks.
The funeral procession proceeded on foot till White Hall where it made a brief halt for offering of Solchang Changyu rituals and then the Kubur was transported in a vehicle to Lukshyama. At White Hall, the Chief Minister, accompanied by his Cabinet colleagues and senior government officials joined the procession and accompanied it to Lukshyama.
Before the cremation, a special puja was conducted at the four corners of Lukshyama by monks from Pemayangtse Monastery along with those from Enchey Monastery, Chorten Dhodup and Zurmang Monastery [Lingdum], led by the 90-year-old Dorjee Lopen of Pemayangtse.
People turned up in large numbers to offer their last respects to the late prince on his final journey. Condolence messages came in from political parties, social and business associations and other organisations, with condolence meetings organised even in Namchi for those who could not travel to Gangtok for the funeral. Business establishments remained closed in Gangtok on the day of the funeral as a mark of respect for the departed soul. Some other bazaars, like Dikchu for instance, also shut down in mourning on Wednesday.
The Sikkim Chamber of Commerce and the Association of Old Settlers of Sikkim were especially emphatic in their condolence messages. Both held condolence meetings and observed two minute silence in the memory of the departed prince, and both organisations also took the opportunity to pay rich tribute to the Namgyal dynasty to which Prince JT Namgyal belonged. “Members recalled the golden era of the Chogyal’s regime,” a Sikkim Chamber of Commerce press release informed, while an AOSS communiqué stated, “Several members recalled the golden time of the Namgyal Dynasty,” adding, “We are indebted to the Namgyal Dynasty for giving us respect, affection and full security during their regime.”

The passing away of the last son of Chogyal Tashi Namgyal clearly triggered a strong emotional response in Sikkim, noticeable as much in the strong turnout for the funeral as in other expressions like the high number of Sikkimese, following a chain appeal, changing the profile picture of their online avatars to the Sikkim flag on the day of the funeral.

The Gentle Prince

OBITUARY: Denjong Gyalsey Kushon Jigdal Tsewang Namgyal

Denjong Gyalsey Kushon (Younger Sikkimese Prince) Jigdal Tsewang Namgyal was born on August 23, 1928 at the Palace, Gangtok. He was the youngest son of Their Highnesses, the 11th Denjong Chogyal Tashi Namgyal and Maharani Kunzang Dechhen Tshomo Namgyal. With his demise on October 30, 2014, at the age of 86, a genteel era of Sikkim’s history has drawn to a close.
Gyalsey JT Namgyal was affectionately known as “Gyalsey Georgela”. Sikkim was a British protectorate at the time of his birth, and the royal family had cordial relations with the British Political Officer for Sikkim, Bhutan and Tibet who was based in Gangtok. The strong British influence - P.O. Charles Bell personally groomed his father, Chogyal Tashi Namgyal, to take over the reins of the administration of the kingdom- explained why the royal children had British nicknames.
Gyalsey Georgela received a fine western education at the most prestigious of educational institutions in India and abroad: St. Joseph’s College, Darjeeling; Bishop Cotton School, Shimla; St. Stephen’s College, Delhi; and Christ Church College, University of Oxford. He was a brilliant student and proved his academic genius by consistently topping his class. He topped St. Stephens where he majored in History Honours. He was only 17 years when he graduated from college. He earned further laurels by making it to the elite Christ Church College at the University of Oxford.
It is from his letters sent home from Bishop Cotton School to his father that much of his innate goodness of nature emerges. These are still carefully preserved in the Palace files. He was a conscientious child, always applying himself diligently to his school work; this discipline, coupled with his natural intelligence, always resulted in high marks and glowing testimonials from his tutors. The young prince always made it a point to reassure his father that he was working hard and topping the class and hoped it pleased him. His many report cards show that he was adept at all the many subjects he studied.
He was also a talented artist, much like Chogyal Tashi Namgyal, and always signed off every letter home with a pencil sketch as varied as two boxers or a horse. Additionally, he was a fine equestrian and enjoyed horse-riding; there is a yellowed clipping from a Shimla newspaper tucked away in the Palace files announcing that the Prince of Sikkim had won an award for his excellent horsemanship.
Although his elder brothers, Crown Prince Kunzang Cholay Namgyal aka Paljor Namgyal and Prince Palden Thondup Namgyal were also studying at Bishop’s concurrently, they were seven and five years older to him respectively. Like typical elder brothers, they seem to have considered their younger sibling with something of an impatience and were glad, they wrote, that every weekend, ‘George has again been invited to his friend’s home, and we have not even seen his face.’ On his part, the young Georgela, shy and academically inclined, apparently ran away when he saw his older and more physical brothers. Interestingly, while the two older Princes routinely wrote home to their father asking him to send more money for festivals and birthdays, it was young Georgela who stoically averred that he still had money left over and would not need more to be sent. This, despite getting a princely sum of five rupees to his brothers’ fifteen or twenty.
Following the untimely demise of Crown Prince Paljor in WWII in 1941, Palden Thondup Namgyal became the heir apparent and Georgela was being groomed to assist him in the administration of the kingdom. Upon completing his studies in England and returning home, Georgela became the first Development Commissioner of Sikkim. Mr. KC Pradhan, former Chief Secretary of Sikkim, reminisces, ‘My immediate reflection of him was Dewan Rustomji in his grey bakhu standing on top of the stairs of lower Secretariat waiting for Georgela and the latter walking briskly up the stairs. Dewan Rustomji had made it a point to give him a lift to go to the Palace for lunch every working day. He was Development Commissioner then and his office was located in the same floor along with Forest and Agriculture. He was brilliant and we were often told his grasp of subjects and notations in files were superb, besides which he was a voracious reader. Dewan Rustomji loved him and was keen he should get fully involved in Sikkim administration.’
Indifferent health issues cut short Gyalsey Georgela’s career in the administration. His mother decided it was time he married. She threw a garden party at ‘Arunachal’, the Kalimpong house of his sister, Princess Pema Tsedeun Yabshi-Pheunkhang, where she had invited about 10-12 prospective brides for him. Gyalsey Georgela dutifully checked out all the young ladies but made no comment. It was only when they had returned home to Sikkim that he announced his choice, the beautiful young daughter, Sonam Yangchenla aka Soyangla, of the aristocratic Tibetan family of Namseling.
The Maharani was a little puzzled that he had chosen someone so young, 18 years his junior. But such is what we Sikkimese call ‘thamzi.’ After getting engaged in 1960, Gyalsey Georgela and Lhacham Soyangla were married in 1961. They had two children in quick succession, son Jigmela in 1962 and daughter Gawala in 1964. Gyalsey Georgela was plagued by health issues for much of his subsequent life. It was thamzi that he chose Lhacham Soyangla as she is the true embodiment of the title ‘Lhacham’ which means heavenly consort. Her infinite patience, unwavering commitment and lifelong dedication to her late husband is the stuff legends are made of. It was only because of her steadfast presence and staunch devotion that the Prince lived so long and defeated so many bouts of illness that required hospitalisation.
Due to his health issues, Gyalsey Georgela was often confined to bed rest and hence led a quiet retired life in his Development Area residence, Tashi Gartsel. Lhacham Kusho recollects, ‘He was such a nice, kind man. He never harmed anyone. He never spoke ill of anyone.’ His daughter Gawa Yangchenla avers that he was a kind and compassionate father and much loved and adored by his grandchildren. When he was well, he used to joke with them. Even when ill, he was affectionate and caring. Those that knew the departed Prince vouch that he was always unfailingly courteous and large-hearted.
In true Buddhist tradition, Gyalsey Georgela thus left behind this lasting legacy of kindness and compassion. He touched the hearts of all who knew him and loved him.
Wednesday, November 5, was the day of his funeral. The Government of Sikkim declared it a state holiday. His mortal remains were consigned to the flames on the slopes of the Lukshyama royal crematorium above Gangtok where all the members of the Namgyal dynasty have traditionally been cremated since Gangtok became the capital of Sikkim. His gentle legacy will reverberate through every Sikkimese heart that beats there and waft into collective consciousness.
Om mani padme hung!

[The writer is Senior Researcher, Namgyal Institute of Tibetology]

Strays run dangerously wild


The problem of feral dogs running in wild packs in ecologically sensitive regions of Sikkim would not have been a worry if dogs were part of the natural food chain. That is however not the case in the higher reaches of Sikkim, in regions stretching from the cold desert of North Sikkim to the border ridges of East district. Dogs, innocently taken up by army personnel to their posts in these otherwise inhabited remote locations, have grown in number, moved away from army installations and now roam wild, imperiling the fragile ecosystems they now inhabit. The concern has been flagged often by those working on wildlife and forest matters, and now, even local populations have noticed the problem and are seeking solutions. The situation is worrisome, but experts believe still manageable if a concerted effort is to humanely correct the balance. Ignore it for too long, and the damage will be permanent.
A recent visit to Lachen in North Sikkim revealed that the public and even the Dzumsa there is grappling with the now noticeable presence of feral dog packs in the forests and grasslands where the closest one got to dogs in the past were the magnificent Tibetan Mastiffs. Ironically, the valleys above Lachen no longer have purebred Tibetan Mastiffs anymore. Tibetan Wolves also lived in these rarefied heights, but now the terrain is on the verge of being overrun by feral dogs, descendents of puppies picked up from the streets of Gangtok and other towns, retained at army camps and which have now outgrown the confines of the army establishments.
Areas like Yangri, Talung, Gochung and Giagong above Thangu have seen a marked increase in the number of feral dog packs, locals inform.
It is unclear whether any formal study has been undertaken on the impact of this new “predator” in the higher reaches of Sikkim [this has become a problem along army establishments in high altitude areas], but locals like the Lachenpas are convinced that the dog packs are preying extensively on local wildlife and even winning the competition against leopards and snow leopards for food since dogs hunting in packs in much more efficient that the solitary leopards.
Some Lachenpas who know the lay of the land well insist that wildlife sightings have substantially decreased in their area because of hunting by feral dogs. Where there were no wild dog packs till a decade ago, locals estimate that there could be anything up to 150 now, roaming in several packs.
Chewang Lachenpa is convinced that these packs, apart from foraging on easily preyed local feasts like marmots and migratory birds, are also hunting Blue Sheep and even attacking livestock like sheep in the pastures.

The worry is not unattended. Forest officials have raised concern in the past and Sikkim Anti-Rabies and Animal Health programme [SARAH] has attempted to address this problem and work in some longterm solutions.
When contacted, Dr. Thinlay N Bhutia, Programme Coordinator/ SARAH Division at the Animal Husbandry Department, underlines that before anyone delves into the issue of feral dogs and their impact on local ecosystems, it is important to understand the genesis of the problem. He believes that feral dog population has grown from camp-dogs belonging to the armed forces and local communities. The camp dogs have been around for at least the past 30 years and their numbers have been growing since then and in the recent past, have outgrown camps and moved out.
“As these dogs have been breeding unchecked, their population has increased rapidly and many now live in the wildlife parks and cold desert areas, largely independent of humans. The situation has been further aggravated by the improper garbage management of Army and Paramilitary establishments as more garbage will attract and provide food for more dogs and sustain bigger populations,” he states.
As mentioned, it is not just army camps, but even villages from where dog populations can grow out.
“It is a pertinent fact that these feral dogs are having a negative impact on endangered endemic wildlife such as the Bharal (Himalayan Blue Sheep), Red Panda, Shapi (Himalayan Tahr) and Kiang (Tibetan Wild Ass) by hunting them. The dogs are also competing with the Snow Leopard and Tibetan Wolf for scarce food resources and as these dogs hunt in large packs they have a significant advantage over the leopard or wolf,” informs Dr. Bhutia.
He adds that the SARAH Division is implementing a feral dog control/wildlife conservation programme in Sikkim. This flagship programme under SARAH was started in April 2008. Since then, SARAH has carried out numerous programmes in various places of Sikkim where more than 3,000 feral dogs have been sterilized, vaccinated and given veterinary care. SARAH even assisted in Leh where they also have similar problem with feral dogs, it is learnt.
Dr. Bhutia explains that it is now accepted internationally that measures such as mass culling, impounding or relocation do not solve dog overpopulation problems. Temporary reduction of the street-dog population in one area increases the chances of survival of remaining dogs, provides opportunities for newly-abandoned dogs and promotes the influx of dogs from neighboring localities. Sterilization presents a more humane and long term solution.
The Programme coordinator adds that dog population and rabies control is most effectively and sustainably achieved by a range of coordinated measures including, dog population management through family planning, Pet Registration and responsible pet ownership, Habitat/ Food Source Control (Proper Garbage/ Waste Disposal Programme) and Rabies control through systemic administration of Anti-Rabies Vaccination.
As per Dr. Bhutia, each of these components must be complete and functional programs in themselves, capable of making significant contributions to an overall Dog Control Program.  By combining these programs together into a complete Dog Control Program, it becomes possible to provide a viable long term solution to Sikkim’s rabies and dog population problems.
It may be informed that many places like Lachung, Bichuu, Chaten, Yumthang in North Sikkim have already been covered in collaboration with different stakeholders like army and paramilitary units posted there. In East Sikkim, in collaboration with the Forest Department and World Wildlife Fund, places like Phadamchen, Zuluk, TR Junction, AP Salami, Tamzey , Kyonglasla have been covered and over a thousand dogs sterilised and rehomed!
One team of SARAH has been working in Lachen area since the last week of Oct 2014.
The main objective of this Feral Dog Control Programme is to reduce the number of feral dogs in national parks/cold dessert, sterilise and vaccinate community dogs and thus prevent unwanted dogs from joining the packs of feral dogs which roam and  hunt in the national parks, Improve the chances of survival for many endangered wild species, Reduce the risk of dog-bite injury and rabies outbreaks in local communities, including for military and para-military personnel, Reduce the risk of spread of communicable disease between wild and domestic animals in and around wildlife protected areas
The Project Director informs that this initiative poses many challenges and involves substantial risk for the team as the feral dogs living in the cold desert are difficult to catch and handle. SARAH has designed a special protocol for this programme and some of its personnel were trained under famous wildlife Vets from Global Wild Life Resources. The team performs this project very tactfully and sensibly as the place is known to be ecologically fragile area and the feral dogs themselves are so clever that the team needs new and innovative ideas, protocols and patience. “Great care is taken to ensure the safety of the dogs and prevent hypothermia before, during and after surgery in the colder weather,” he informs.
It is also informed that the project uses large specialized portable dog pens with trap door which has been specially made to catch whole packs of dogs (up to 12 at a time). Dogs are fed in the capture pens on the daily basis and when a large number of dogs confidently enter the pen, the trap door is closed. SARAH has applied other new strategies such as wearing camouflage army coloured scrub-tops as the dogs run away from civilians [and are more comfortable around army fatigues]. Smaller individual box traps specially imported from Canada are also used to catch the more timid dogs. All dogs at local communities and army camps are routinely sterilized & vaccinated against rabies so that there is no further possibility of dogs being abandoned irresponsibly & being left to fend for themselves in the National Park / Cold Desert.
“We must keep in mind that if humans had not abandoned these dogs in the first place these feral dog packs would neither exist nor be hunting wildlife,” Dr. Bhutia points out.
It may also be mentioned here that these semi-wild dogs presented many challenges for the team.
“We have to observe them closely to learn their habits, where they hide and how best to find them. We even use psychology by disguising ourselves somewhat by changing into Army fatigue scrub tops (surgical dress) and applying army personnel’s perfume. We set dog traps, bait the traps for weeks to draw the dogs and finally catch them in large cages.  On the day of the surgery the animals are, as gently as possibly, netted and sedated prior to the full anesthesia and surgery,” he states.
He further adds that the surgery is performed to the highest standards just as in Gangtok in the OT with IV fluids and state of the art anesthesia but outside in the sunshine. “Our high level of experience and good technique results in fewer complications and these dogs are very resilient, only the tough ones would have survived this long in the harsh environment,” he explains.

The Project Director lastly states that SARAH Division is making sincere efforts where the achievements and benefits of this state wide animal birth control and anti-rabies (ABC/AR) and animal welfare programme are widely accepted in Sikkim.
[reporting by Anand Oberoi and Wangchuk Bhutia]

Winter’s here, and so is a Carnival - REBYNA RANA

There is a nip or maybe more in the air, the woolies and the cherry blossoms are back and so is the time for the annual Winter Carnival. The festival attracts tourists from all over the country to Sikkim while also bringing the local community together.
The Tourism and Civil Aviation Department is all set to hold the Winter Carnival 2014, slated to be held from 14-19 December here in the capital. This will be the second time that the Carnival is going to be held in the state. From adventure sports that include mountain biking and paragliding to showcasing traditional culture and cuisines, photo exhibition etc. the event will also feature singers and musicians from Kathmandu, including local bands entertaining the crowds.
While speaking to NOW!, the Tourism Secretary, C. Zangpo, said that the main purpose of the carnival is to boost tourist footfall in Sikkim during winters, a time that traditionally sees a decline in the number of visitors. The event also seeks to provide opportunities for the local people to generate income, he added.
As for promotion, an official from the Tourism Department informs that the department will be holding a press meet in Kolkata to publicize the event since the state receives a large number of tourists from West Bengal. Banners at Bagdogra and Rangpo will also be put up to inform visitors about the Winter Carnival, he added.
MD cum Owner, Sikkim Tours and Travels, Lukendra Rasaily, who is also former president for TAAS, says that the trend is positive and in another 7-10 years the number of visitors in autumn and winter is expected to go up. However, Mr Rasaily points out that the department should try and get some inputs and advice from tourism experts when organising such events.
“Every time such events are organised haphazardly and preparations are done in a short period of time. Most of the time we hear that the department does not have money for wider publicity of such events. I have been hearing this for the last 25 years,” he says.
He adds that there is no proper coordination with the media either so there is not enough awareness or publicity of such events. With the help of tourism stakeholders, media persons, IT experts and other agencies, a proper promotional and publicity campaign is possible and would be very effective in making such events successful, he adds.

Mr. Rasaily further stressed the need for advance publicity of any event where he expressed dissatisfaction over the fact that there is no fixed calendar of events in Sikkim.

North Point’s Raman spells a winning story

Raman Mohara’s entry, “Abode of Snow”, has won the ‘Spell a Story’, pegged as the “biggest story writing competition for schools in Sikkim and North Bengal, contest. A student of St. Joseph’s School (North Point), Darjeeling, Raman’s effort was given the top ranking by Bangalore Writers Workshop (BWW), a firm which grooms budding writers and provides support in professionally evaluating short stories.
Meanwhile, Anurag Mukhia from Himali Boarding School, Kurseong, came second for his story “Victim” followed by Carmel Sharma of Bahai Senior Secondary School, Ranipul, in third position for her short story, “A Priceless Gift”.
The creative writing competition helmed by lifestyle magazine “Good New Sikkim” in association with 24Hrs Inspired received more than 250 entries from across the region. The entries were screened at the local level and 60 shortlisted stories were sent to BBW for the final evaluation.
The top thirty stories would be receiving cash prizes. The winner takes home Rs. 50,000 in cash with 50 percent of the amount earmarked as development fund of his school.
“When we sat down to decide the judging parameters, we had three essential criteria apart from the other rules. First, the stories had to be creative, second, the stories had to be original, and third, the use of words and sentences had to be appropriate. We are glad that all the participants gave their best shot and that all the stories showed the best effort that the students had put in,” says Dewaker Basnet, Chief Learning Officer, 24hours Inspired.
Speaking on the experience of BWW partnering in the initiative, BWW co-founder and director Bhumika Anand said: “Many of the stories that came for evaluation were marvelous and some of these children are really talented. It was a pleasure working with Spell a Story and we look forward for working together in the times to come.”
Good News Sikkim Chief Executive Editor Ugen T Ladakhi said: “The objective of Spell a Story was to encourage young students from our State and North Bengal schools to bring out their creativity on paper. We are very happy to report that we succeeded in our objective to provide a platform to these next generation writers. We are positive that our initiative has ignited their passion for writing and that they will continue writing irrespective of whether they have won this competition or not.”
Good News Sikkim operations head Thinley Choden Bhutia thanked all the students and their schools for participating in the contest. She thanked Casino Mahjong and other well wishers for coming forward to sponsor the contest. The date for distribution of prizes will be announced shortly, informed the organizers.

Pendam FA and Gangtok FC to play in senior league

GANGTOK, 04 Nov: Pendam Football Academy emerged champion at the Second Division Sikkim-League 2014 played here at Paljor Stadium. In the final match of the division played on 034 November, Tuesday, Pendam FA outplayed Gangtok Football Club three goals to one.
Pendam FA had topped Group-A with 7 points, while Gangtok FC was the topper in Group-B with 9 points from 3 matches each. While the final match decided the winner of the 2nd Division, senior division chances had already been decided in the league stage itself and both Pendam FA and Gangtok FC have qualified to play in Sikkim Premier Division S-League 2015.

Other teams in the Second Division were Aakraman XI [6 points], JVC Singtam [4 points and Boy’s Club A [zero points], FC United Jorethang [3 points], Howler’s SC Singtam [3 points] and Sikkim Royal Sports Academy [3 points]. 

SDF welcomes Modi’s comments on Pakyong Airport

The Sikkim Democratic Front has welcomed Prime Minister Narendra Modi's comments on the Pakyong Airport project at a meeting he chaired on Wednesday to review progress towards achievement of targets in the connectivity-related infrastructure sectors of roads, railways, shipping and civil aviation.
A Press Information Bureau press release informs that while reviewing the civil aviation sector, the Prime Minister said that states should be made partners in working out and maintaining the viability of new international airports proposed to be set up within their territory. “The Prime Minister expressed satisfaction over the beginning of work at Pakyong Airport in Sikkim. It was noted that with the beginning of the second route for the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra, and the thrust of Sikkim as an organic state, this airport would be able to cater to a huge demand for air services. A new civil aviation policy is under preparation,” the PIB press release details.
The Prime Minister’s continuing recognition of developments in Sikkim and its future prospects has clearly spread joy in the SDF camp. “The SDF party welcomes the positive observation and the decision adopted in the said meeting chaired by the Prime Minister,” states a press release issued by SDF spokesperson KT Gyaltsen.
During the course of the review, the Prime Minister also directed strict monitoring of projects, based on monthly completion targets. Emphasizing that there is now no delay in decision-making at the highest level, the Prime Minister said it should now be possible to achieve all infrastructure targets. He urged top officials to undertake cyber-visits of all major project locations at least once a month, so that they could keep track of the progress of work on a real-time basis.

Gangtok GVK wins East district sports

Gangtok Gram Vikash Kendra has emerged the overall champion of the First District-Level Rural Sports Competition 2014-15 held under the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Abhiyan for East Sikkim.  Duga GVK has come in second and Ranka GVK is on the third position.
The final day of the competition, 06 November, featured the final matches of girls and boys football. In Boys football, Duga GVK, thrashed Pakyong GVK 05-00, while in Girls football, Duga GVK beat Gangtok GVK 02-00.
The competition was organised by the Department of Sports & Youth Affairs and is sponsored by the Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs. The competition was held in nine disciplines – athletics, archery, badminton, boxing, football, kho-kho, table tennis, taekwondo and volleyball at different venues in and around Gangtok. Ten Gram Vikash Kendra in east district had participated in the competition.

Postmortem of a Tragedy

An editorial in Kathmandu-based English weekly, Nepali Times, argues that Nepal’s preparedness [for disasters] was disastrous and underlines that instead of namecalling, the focus should be on how to reduce the chances of needless casualties in future blizzards

As with the other disasters in Nepal this year (Bhote Kosi landslide, Surkhet-Dang flashfloods and the Everest avalanche) there has been a lot of blame-throwing after the Annapurna blizzard last week that claimed at least 45 lives. This is not helpful.
The easiest scapegoat has been the government. There is a lot of things the government didn’t do that it should have done, no doubt. Had there been better regulation, enforcement of existing rules and on safety standards for porters and guides, the death toll may have been lower. But that would be too much to expect from a bungling state that is so incompetent it could not even designate an official spokesman to provide the international media with a coherent and consistent message about the search and rescue.
The Disaster Response Committee did meet at the PMO, but it underestimated the scale of the disaster, and in typical Nepali fashion, hoped for the best. The Nepal Army and its rescue helicopter pilots, battle-hardened during the conflict, did an exemplary job flying in difficult terrain and tricky weather to rescue those stranded in the high passes. If some of its choppers had not been commandeered by the army brass for an ill-timed inspection visit to western Nepal on Sunday, more lives may have been saved.
The private sector filled the gap with air support as well as communication through social media. Much of the information from the local administration was contradictory, sketchy and too obsessed with numbers of dead, missing and rescued when relatives and friends in Nepal and all over the world really needed were lists of names, times and places. This would have demanded better coordination between the army, local administration and the private sector.
It was pointed out in this paper last week that the blizzard was not unprecedented, and there was plenty of warning. Information is important, but much more important is to get that information to where it is needed the most. Trekking lodges in Manang Village and Jomsom had the news, but hundreds of trekkers had already moved up the valley on the trails to Thorung La and Tilicho who could not be reached.
Where the government can come in is to require telecom companies to build cell phone towers on places like Thorung La, Larkya La, Gokyo and Renjo La which have heavy trekking traffic in the peak season. This may actually be a business proposition for telecom companies which will benefit from trekkers uploading selfies and videos on social media from phones.
ACAP collects $30 from every foreign visitor, and the government makes another $10 on the TIMS card. Multiply that by the 100,000 trekkers in Nepal and it adds up to a whopping $4 million a year just from fees. It would only take a tiny fraction of that as a one-time cost to build shelters every one hour walk up to Thorung and other popular high passes. These shelters could be leased to tea shop owners in the peak season.
The Thorung traverse is not for beginners, and many trekkers underestimate its altitude and terrain. Trekking companies taking clients to passes above 5,000m could be required to have satellite phones, and better equipment and clothes for their porters and guides.
None of the above measures need a lot of money. In fact, had only one of them existed (cell phone signal) many people would have perhaps survived the blizzard. The reason trekkers did not get prior warning of the approaching danger was this lack of communication, and that was also the reason the outside world had to wait so long for news of the identity and whereabouts of the  survivors to assist in timely search and rescue.
The wrong response to last week’s tragedy would be for the government to make even more regulations that will add yet another layer of bureaucracy and corruption. Experience from the TIMS card and trekker permits for national parks have shown that the original purpose of those measures has been lost. As with the Everest avalanche in May that killed 16 Nepali high-altitude guides, the best way to honour the memory of those who died so terribly and needlessly on Annapurna is to make sure that we do our best to minimise the loss of life in future.
Himalayan climbing and trekking will never be risk free. But it is in Nepal’s self-interest to make such an important source of employment and revenue to be made as safe as possible for us and our visitors in future.
[published in Nepali Times issue dates 24-30 October, 2014]

Pendam powers football from rural Sikkim

The Gram Vikas Sangathan of Central Pendam has been running the Pendam Football Academy for the past six years. The academy is now on the verge of exploding on to the soccer scene in the region
Football has always enjoyed a passionate following in Sikkim. While this passion has rarely enjoyed the indulgence of professional grooming, whenever young footballers here received proper coaching, they excelled in the sport and impressed fans everywhere. Access to organised training and professional coaching was rare in the past; fortunately however, in the recent years, a good number of football academies have come up not just in Gangtok but across the State and these dedicated units have been regularly churning out impressively well-rounded talent. This clutch of football academies has been doing an appreciable job by refining raw talent into tough and skilful footballers, and no list of consistently impressive football academies will be complete without a prominent account of the Pendam Football Academy.
The academy has achieved much which commands admiration and even the current month of November 2014 is significant for Pendam FA because it has now been promoted to the Sikkim Premier Division S-League 2015. Pendam FA topped the second division tournament recently, and after several instances of having prepared dazzling individual players, has also now achieved the feat of having put together a winning team.
Pendam FA, based in Central Pendam in East Sikkim, was started in 2008 and is managed by a Central Pendam based organisation, Gram Vikash Sangathan.
The academy’s birth is very interesting and celebrates the success of grassroots involvement. The idea to start the academy came at a winter coaching camp organised in end-2007 by Gram Vikash Sangathan to engage the village youth in sports instead of abandoning them with too much idle time. The residential football camp was a first for Central Pendam and received a very enthusiastic response with around 80 boys enrolled from different parts of the State.
The successful completion of the coaching camp that year fetched high praise for GVS not only for its youth-oriented initiative, but also the professional manner in which the boys were trained. Parents and wards alike were all praises for GVS. The applause motivated the GVS to move a step ahead and start a football academy. Without wasting any time, GVS started the academy in February 2008 itself. 24 talented U-14 footballers, shortlisted from the 80 who attended the coaching camp were offered berths in the academy.
Pendam FA now has 30 footballers in its rools.
The academy has residential facilities for these boys at the Central Pendam Senior Secondary School where these footballers are also enrolled.
The club has AFC C-Licensed coach, Bharat Tamang as the head coach. At present, the footballers in training also have the talented and experienced Michael Lepcha, who also recently received his AFC C License, looking over them.
“Pendam Football Academy has aimed to promote rural football and search out more raw talent from the unreached rural parts of the state,” explains PFA in-charge, Karma Zigmee Bhutia.
He adds that despite of many constraints and challenges since its formation, GVS has managed to stay the course on its commitment to rural footballers.
“The academy has not only been able to discover and groom talent, but has also been very successful in motivating local people towards healthier lifestyles and patronising sports,” Mr Bhutia shares. In this regard, he points out that since GVS started the academy, local youth [not with the academy] have also started practising on the same ground every day. “Nowadays, the ground is always seen busy and packed and our coaches provide training to everyone who is interested,” he adds.
Mr Bhutia stated that PFA is fast becoming a nervecentre for football in the area. “The people of the area have appreciated the efforts of the GVS and have also come forward in supporting the academy morally and some are also helping us financially from time to time in our initiatives,” he shares.
GVS general secretary, LD Dulal, mentions that the success of the PFA has been encouraging the younger generation to live healthier and more productive lives. “Of late, all young people in the area are engaged in healthy sporting lives and the area is not suffering any antisocial activities. This has been a big contribution of the academy to the society here,” he states.
Mr. Dulal highlights that not only the academy, but even footballers of the academy are now serving as role models. “Among the around 1,200 students at Central Pendam Senior Secondary School, these 30 students of the PFA are taken as an example by the whole school in recognition of their discipline and good behaviour,” he explains.
“It is the collective effort and team work of the members of the GVS supported by the people that has brought PFA to the present stage,” he adds.
PFA coach, Michael Lepcha, in turn observes that the success and achievements of PFA have proved that an academy in rural Sikkim can deliver professional and consistent support to footballers and the sport. “PFA footballers are very promising and have huge potential to do much better in the days to come,” he believes.
The PFA footballers begin their days early, starting with morning training from 6 to 8 AM, after which it is off to school and then back to the ground from 4 to 6 PM. The morning sessions mainly cover skills and exercises while the evening sessions cover technique and tactics.
Zilla Panchayat Member, Lochan Khatiwada, when asked to comment on PFA and its contribution to the locality, was all praises and appreciated love for sports and health that the academy has revived in the region.
“The PFA was successful in leading the younger generation of the area towards healthy lives by keeping them away from harmful pursuits,” he expressed.
An important annual event of the academy continues to be the Winter Football Coaching Camp which starts in December and continues to January every year since 2007. Also included in the list of activities at this camp are yoga classes and leadership training for students. PFA also provides exposure tours for its students within and outside the state from time to time.
PFA had also started the Pendam Football League in 2011 and was continued in 2012 as well but was later discontinued due to lack of fund and supports. But this is clearly a minor hiccup in the academy’s consistently rising graph.

They are PFA
The Pendam Football Academy won the second division Sikkim League earlier this year and will now debut in the senior league next year. This is only the latest in its impressive list of achievements…
1.       The PFA team represented Sikkim in the U-15 Manchester United Premier Cup at Jamshedpur in 2012. It made it to the semi-finals where it lost to Jharkhand.
2.       This year, PFA finished the Independence Day MLA Challenge Cup at Namthang School as runners-up. It lost in the final match to a team from Nepal.
3.       A PFA footballer Dakman Rai was adjudged the Best Player in Bajaj Allianz Junior Football Camp Season 4 which took place at Mohun Bagan Football Stadium in Kolkata in 2013. He received a cash award of Rs 30,000. This year again, Prashant Biswakarma of PFA was selected from the state to participate in Bajaj Allianz Junior Football Camp Season 5.
4.       Likewise, PFA footballers, Prashant Tamang and Sunil Rai were conferred the Grameen Football Gaurav Award by Sikkim Express in association with the Videocon d2H in 2011 and 2012 respectively.
5.       Five PFA footballers featured in the Sikkim squad for the Mir Iqbal Hussian Trophy in 2013, where Reshav Tamang was selected for the U-17 India camp held at Kalyani, Kolkata.
6.       On 23 May 2013, GVS felicitated Bhaichung Bhutia and a friendly match was also played between Bhaichung’s United Sikkim FC and PFA. The friendly attracted an audience in the thousands, a rare success for rural Sikkim.
7.       Similarly, several renowned Sikkimese players in different big clubs- Sanju Pradhan, Nim Tshering Lepcha, Ong Tshering Lepcha, Bikash Jairu, Bijendra Rai and Mobin Rai visited the PFA on 07 August 2013.These footballers spent three days with the academy boys and passed on footballing tips and skills during their time there.

8.       Sanju Pradhan has also accepted the request to promote the PFA as its ambassador. 

Horticulture inspection team returns impressed with Sikkim’s efforts

Dr. RC Upadhyaya, Chief Consultant (MIDH), heading the joint inspection team constituted under the Union Agriculture Ministry is on a seven-day visit to the State to review progress made in horticulture sector through central funding in the form of various programmes and missions.
An IPR press release informs that the team expressed deep appreciation for the “unprecedented initiative taken for the advancement of horticulture in the State and overall progress achieved in different fronts of horticulture sector”. Dr. Upadhyaya has given assurance for unlimited support in the coming days for horticulture development, the release adds.

Grameen Patrakarita Puraskar for Rudra Kaushik

The Press Club of Sikkim has decided to confer the Grameen Patrakarita Puraskar for this year on journalist Rudra Kaushik. His name was selected on Thursday, 06 November, from among several entries submitted before the PCS executive committee. Mr. Kaushik’s reportage from rural West Sikkim has earned him the award instituted by the Raj Bhawan to encourage rural reporting in the state. Mr. Kaushik will be presented the award during the National Press Day celebrations on 16 November 2014. 

Managing waste - ANAND OBEROI


Gangtok can admittedly be counted among the cleaner towns of the country, but residents here will also accept that garbage disposal has become a vexed problem for most localities. Erratic collection of garbage, incorrect means of disposing household waste [even when deposited to the collection trucks], inefficient garbage recycling practices, composting and treatment plant and the lack of awareness continue to plague waste management efforts in the capital.
But collection and dispatch is only part of the problem. The collective stench of 40 tonnes of garbage deposited untreated to the landfill at 32 No., Majhitar, by 20 trucks from Rangpo, Singtam, Gangtok, Rhenock, Rongli, Pakyong and the Indian Army everyday overwhelms passersby on the highway above and highlights the unscientific disposal method which is only now being corrected; after a long hiatus of 10 years. The Gangtok Municipal Corporation only began repairing the plant machinery at the dump after locals of the area raised a stink about their condition. With the area MLA, Dr. Mechung Bhutia stepping in, residents of the area drove the GMC to expedite corrective measures, following which, after about 8 years of disuse, the plant machinery has now begun to function and the huge mountains of raw garbage are now being “treated”.
The GMC Commissioner, CP Dhakal, informs that the requirements of garbage management for the next 15 years could be met if the existing garbage disposal plant at 32 Number functions to its full capacity with all the machines running. While admitting that there was a lapse by GMC and the UD&HD in allowing the treatment plant to lapse into erratic functioning for the past 8-10 years, he assures that now the situation is different as the GMC has understood the gravity of the situation.
It may be informed that the garbage treatment plant at Majhitar will be fully operational starting Saturday, 08 November, after a series of trail runs and long-pending repairs initiated by the GMC over the past two months. The GMC Commissioner explains here that since the repair works started at the plant, 60 percent of the problems for the residents living in the vicinity have been resolved.
“The machines installed by the UD&HD were lying idle for want of repairs. The repair works were not undertaken and attention to proper waste management was not there. But the situation has completely changed since we have started works on a war-footing and have been at work here for the past two months,” states the GMC Commissioner.
Here, he adds that the GMC has already started carrying out “mud-capping” works at the plant. Mud-capping entails pressing of the dumped garbage and covering it with soil which has resulted in the stench wafting from the yard to decrease to a large extent.
It is also informed that the GMC has also proposed additional composting machines for the site to resolve the problem of waste piling up at the plant.
He adds here that as soon as the existing plant is operational and running to full capacity, a bilateral plan of construction of scientific landfills under ADB-funding will be initiated at the same area and that this would further alleviate many existing problems at the plant.
While stating that managing garbage was not an easy task, he, on behalf of the GMC, underlined that garbage disposal and management required cooperation from every sector. “From the local people who still do not segregate their garbage before disposing the same at the collection trucks, to people who still go and dump garbage directly into the jhoras in the dark of the night, everyone should realize that for better management, we need the people to understand that this is a joint responsibility, we are not equipped to monitor every single jhora or roadside,” the Commissioner points out.
Here he adds that to facilitate the same at the household level, the GMC will distribute garbage bins (two each) to every household to allow for segregation of biodegradable and non-biodegradable household waste at source.
“Even when we have units at the existing plant to segregate waste, it requires labour and is a tedious proposition. Thus if waste come in segregated, it will be a whole lot easier for the staff down at the plant,” states the GMC Commissioner.
He adds here that guidelines will be laid down by the GMC in this regard. “The responsibility is not only of the government but of everyone,” he adds while stating that even the local people should feel a sense of disappointment when they pass through the plant area and cover their noses, remembering it is their waste that was contributing to the stench.
He insists that people visit the garbage disposal site at least once to see in what conditions GMC workers are dealing with the situation and what problems they face. Once aware of the situation, people can also offer suggestions to GMC on how make further improvement, he states.
Meanwhile, he also informs that a new site- near Chamirey Bhir at Rorathang - has been identified for a new plant to ease some pressure on the existing garbage treatment plant at 32 Number. “We have identified the area and submitted all related papers to the Forest Department for clearance and necessary permissions. We would like to learn from the 32 No. experience to make the new plant flawless,” states the Commissioner.

Disastrously Under-Prepared

Disaster preparedness should undertaken on mission-mode
The 18 September 2011 Earthquake was a watershed event for Sikkim in as far as natural disasters are concerned. The scale of the earthquake was unprecedented for the mountain state and the Sikkimese should consider themselves extremely lucky that the nature of damage and number of casualties were not even close to what the temblor had potential to unleash. Yes, the damage to property and the loss of lives were higher than anything recorded in Sikkim in the past, but if one were to step back and take count, the devastation was clearly not of the scale or kind that one has seen in earthquake ravaged regions elsewhere. It was perhaps because of this relatively light penalty exacted by such a major tectonic event that Sikkim has not undertaken the disciplining so essential for a mountain state to continue living in relative security. Given that Sikkim has a history of living with natural calamities, preparedness should have been a way of life of it instead of a UNDP sponsored series of workshops. In fact, preparedness was an instinctive practice here until centralized planning started complicating everything and ruining lifestyles. And that brings one to the present situation where even those who have been working on disaster mitigation will admit that Sikkim is woefully unprepared for calamities. And it is not just lack of preparedness which hamstrings Sikkim; bad planning, irresponsible development/ construction and poor involvement amplify the potential threats. Even students preparing debate arguments from Wikipedia tips will passionately highlight that while disasters like earthquakes, landslides and floods might be “natural”, casualties are largely manmade. To understand what one is getting at here, sample this: In 2010, two earthquakes struck the Americas. The one in Haiti killed more than 300,000 people, but a much greater earthquake in Chile a few months later killed less than 600. The Chileans were better prepared, had stricter building codes and had trained rescue teams. After 18 Sept 2011, one knows that Sikkim has potential for Chile-like earthquakes. A follow-up question would then ask why then does it continue to live with Haiti-like preparedness?
There is also an attitudinal handicap at work here. The post-18 Sept months and years have been invested with rebuilding projects, rehabilitation efforts and have been marred with allegations of favouritism and victimization. The government has even come out with a white paper on the matter. Transparency and accountability are always welcome, but what has been inexcusably missing from official and public engagements has been any earnestness at learning lessons. There does not appear to have been any genuine effort towards documenting state and private response to the earthquake or recording what went right and where mistakes were made. This exercise not having been undertaken, no preparedness plan will be complete because lessons learnt on ground remain undocumented and unrecorded. And these lessons would still have only informed rescue operations. Safety will require a different level of engagement because that would demand stronger political will, a more responsible executive and a more involved citizenry.
Even if one were side-step responsibility from dealing with natural calamities and crediting such matters to acts of god, the state continues to lack excuses to explain why the rapidly urbanizing towns are developing as deathtraps. This Diwali saw two major fires in Gangtok and several minor ones were reported from across the State. No fire is easy to fight and Sikkim is lucky that it has brave firemen. It is also lucky that no fire has conflagrated into anything bigger than its limited resources and woefully understaffed firefighting units can manage. But that does not mean that such an inferno will not test Sikkim ever in the future. Preparedness thus becomes important in this aspect as well. It is not enough to rely on the commitment and professionalism of its firemen alone. Preparedness for worst case scenarios should be a policy-directed initiative and mitigation plans clearly spelled out and widely circulated.
There is so much more that needs to be said and done when it comes to Sikkim’s preparedness for disasters, but there is only so much space. Suffice to say that like the several missions that Sikkim is currently committed to, Disaster Preparedness should also be officially undertaken on mission-mode.

Football veterans to battle again

Football lovers are being served a rare treat later this month with the State’s oldest football club organising a tournament exclusively for teams made up of soccer veterans from the region. The tourney has already spread much excitement among the veterans and the response to the call for registration was so enthusiastic that the organisers have closed entries even though there is still a fortnight to go before the inaugural kick-off!
Dzongri Sporting Club is organising the D’zongri Veterans Football Tournament in the memory of three of its stalwarts who passed away in recent years - Pintso Lepcha, Nim Tshering Bhutia and Gyaltsen Lepcha. The tournament is scheduled to be played Paljor Stadium, Gangtok, from 23 November to 01 December.
A total of 19 teams from Sikkim and the neighbouring hills will be participating in this nine-day football festival. This tournament will provide football aficionados here with a chance to watch famous football veterans from Sikkim and the neighbouring areas battle on the football ground once again.
The tournament will feature 14 local teams [from different parts of Sikkim] and five teams from Kalimpong, Darjeeling, Pedong and Dagapur.
D’zongri Sporting Club was established in year 1980 and is one of an oldest and more respected sporting clubs of the state. It has produced many footballers who have excelled at the national level for the state, and continues to work with budding footballers. The latest tournament is an indulgence it is allowing itself to celebrate the football veterans of the region and allowing the more consistent fans of past years to relive some of their memories of the sport.
As the organisers share, an important objective of the tournament is to bring some sporting excitement back in the lives of veterans who had thrilled fans with their skills during their prime. Confident that the tournament will attract spectators as effectively as it drew entries, D’zongri Sporting Club has announced plans to make the tournament an annual event.

The MGNREGA Route to Reviving Village Springs -YISHEY DOMA/ PIB


Sadam-Suntaley, Turuk-Ramabung and Mellidara-Paiyong Gram Panchayat Units in South Sikkim, muffled under the rain-shadow area of Darjeeling Hills, are no longer tagged as the driest areas in Sikkim thanks to groundwater recharge project under the MGNREGA national flagship programme.
This didn’t happen overnight. Just a decade back, these villages, owing to climate change impact, recorded fewer number of rainy days in comparison to the previous decade. Less rainfall meant drying up of water bodies – springs, streams, nalas, etc, thrusting people dependent on agriculture, poultry and dairy farming into seemingly inescapable problem. It was worse during the lean period – December to April. Worse still, the dependency on the spring water for drinking and other purposes increased each passing day.

Faced with dying springs, the Gram Vikash Kendra did not throw up its hands in defeat. Instead to address this growing threat, Melli GVK under the aegis of Rural Management & Development Department and with funding support from MGNREGA, conducted a survey in 2008-09 in five Gram Panchayat Units under Melli GVK and collected data on 66 springs, a majority of which they discovered had dried up or were on the verge of drying up.
“It was during this time that the springshed development initiative or Dhara Vikas, a new and scientifically proved artificial method to recharge the ground water was coined in Sikkim in the proactive guidance of Sandeep Tambe, the State Nodal Officer MGNREGA Sikkim and presently Special Secretary of Sikkim Rural Development Department. And we chose to use his expertise,” says Suren Mohra, the Field Facilitator of Sumbuk GVK.
Following a series of orientation trainings and exposure visits, this issue was placed in the respective Gram Sabhas. The efforts of the GVKS did not end here. “We motivated the PRIs and the water user groups, conducted a Participatory Rural Appraisal to explain the demand and supply of water from the springs after which it was finally passed by Gram Sabha,” said Mr. Mohra.
Astoundingly, the GVK in 2010-11 executed the project in 100 hectares of forest land and covering three GPUs – Lungchok-Kameray, Turuk-Ramabung and Mellidara-Paiyong. The recharge zone of the spring of the GPUs, however, falls under Sadam-Suntoley GPU – the largest worksite in the entire Northeast.
“Over the last five to six years, we have been working towards enhancing the hydrological contribution of the mountain ecosystem to ensure rural water security for the mountain communities, using a scientific and people-centric approach,” explains S Tambe, Special Secretary, Rural Management & Development Department, Government of Sikkim.
According to Mr. Tambe, the principles of geohydrology, watershed and GIS were integrated to conceptualize and design a new initiative – springshed development under the banner of Dhara Vikas in 2008.
“This science-based, people-driven programme, was initiated in collaboration with several government and non-government partners. During the first year, local expertise and experience was developed to identify the recharge area of the springs based on the structure, weathering and fracture patterns of the rocks. Successful demonstration of this rainwater harvesting technology started from the year 2010 onwards and now provides a successful model to revive springs in mountain region,” explains Mr. Tambe in several of his articles.

How did the GVKs help in reviving springs to transform the villages plagued by perennial drinking water shortage to a village thriving with life?
First, employment was gained by people, mostly from Turuk Ramabung GPU. They dug up thousands of staggered contour trenches and recharge ponds spread in 100 hectares of reserved forest over a period of 16,062 men days.
“Most men and women from Turuk Ramabung were employed to dig trenches. They dug 15,000 6x3x2 feet trenches, 5000 more than the project entailed and 2,500 10x10x2 feet recharge ponds,” informed the Field Facilitator.
The project was unlike other government projects as even after the completion of the project leading to discharge of ground water, voluntary people mostly the water users groups from Melli were maintaining the trenches and recharge ponds at regular intervals.
For the Panchayats – equal counterparts in the project – creating awareness and making people understand its importance remained critical for the successful implementation of Dhara Vikas in the villages.

Over the last five years, a total of 100 hectares land in three GPUs has been covered up under the spring shed development with a total investment of Rs. 20.88 lakh resulting in an annual ground water recharge of 150 million litres.
Today 21 springs which are under this project are completely revived with indicator springs – Dwarey, Nagal, Aiman and Lungeli Dhara – recording increased discharge in three drought prone Gram Panchayats, a positive sign in the rain shadow area.
For instance, discharge in Nagal Dhara was 9 LPM in December 2010 but increased to 16 LPM in December 2012. Similarly, the discharge in Dwarey Dhara was 13.5 LPM in January 2010 but increased to 28.9 LPM in January 2012.
With the revival of the spring came a better life for the people. Nearly 500 households in the three GPUs are being benefitted as visible impact is seen at Khani Khola (indicator stream) catering to Mellidara GPU for drinking.
Surely after the Dhara Vikas initiative, Sadam’s groundwater recharge project is a success story for all – springs are full, the quality of water is better and the villagers are gaining.
[The writer is freelance journalist and took part in the ‘In Residence’ programme of Rashtrapati Bhavan as a writer from Sikkim]

No Zee on cable TV

The All Sikkim Cable Operators’ Association has stopped transmission of Zee TV and its affiliate channels in the entire state starting 05 November. This was decided in a meeting held at Rangpo, East Sikkim on 02 November to discuss what the association sees as the “irrational” hike in price of these channels.
According to the Association, the hike in price will have direct impact on the amount Cable TV subscribers have to pay which is why they have decided to stop transmission of these channels altogether. They however inform that they are in constant touch with the concerned authority at Kolkata and are trying to resolve the issue. The association has also written to the Regional Manager based at Kolkata.
“This is a decision taken in the interest of our esteemed subscribers and we would also like to take this opportunity to appeal to our subscribers to kindly bear with us till we come up with an amicable solution to this problem,” the association has stated.

The employment guarantee route to reviving cardamom

MGNREGA Revives Large Cardamom Crop in Manebong Sopakha Gram Panchayat

Large cardamom (Amomum subulatum) is a valuable, native horticulture plant of Sikkim. It is probably one of the few crops which can make a farmer rich as it is a perennial, low-volume, high-value, non-perishable, cash crop.
Maneybong Sophaka Gram Panchayat in Dentam Block of West District used to once be a large cardamom growing village. All seven wards under the Gram Panchayat used to cultivate large cardamom as the primary cash crop which was the main source of livelihood for the rural households. The rapid spread of fungal and bacterial diseases destroyed the large cardamom crop in the entire belt and its revival did not succeed for several years.
Despite this, the farmers never gave up hope.
In the year 2011, the Gram Sabha passed a resolution to take up large cardamom plantations in all seven Gram Panchayat Wards of Maneybong Sophaka GP with funding support under MGNREGA. Accordingly, in June 2011, large cardamom plantation was taken up in all the 7 villages, covering 77 hectare on an investment of about Rs. 24 lakh. About 3.50 lakh large cardamom suckers were planted in the fields of 120 farmers spread across the wards.
Unlike the traditional practice of growing cardamom as a agro-forestry crop under the shade of trees, the villager adopted the new practice of growing cardamom in dry fields which were more accessible for tending, applying manure and winter irrigation. The cardamom plants started bearing suckers from the second year onwards and the villagers benefited from their sale. Some farmers transplanted these new shoots to cover additional area thereby increasing the cardamom coverage by another 50% by the third year. The cardamom harvest started from the third year, from 2013 onwards, and on an average a household sold about 40 kg of large cardamom at an average market price of Rs. 1,100/ kg. This yield provided an additional income of Rs. 44,000 per annum per household to about 120 families in Maneybong Sophaka Gram Panchayat.


Buddhi Man Limboo, beneficiary from Upper Mukrung said, “I planted about 10,000 cardamom plants in the dry field near my house. I sold about 13,750 saplings @ Rs 4/sapling to 15 households and earned about Rs 50,000 during the last year. Also, I sold about 40kg of dried cardamom and earned another Rs. 50,000. Also, I have expanded my cardamom field by an additional 1 hectare and expect good returns in the coming years.”

Lachi Maya Limboo, 59, another beneficiary said, “I planted 5,000 plants in my 1.5 acre land in 2011 under MGNREGA. More than 90% of the plants survived and they yielded 20 kg of dry cardamom in the first year of harvest in 2013 which I sold it for Rs. 25,000. This year I am expecting 40 kg of dry cardamom which will fetch me about Rs. 50,000. This scheme has been very useful for my family and has been providing me additional income. We have also expanded the cardamom plantation to our new fields.”

Panchayats from Kerala and Tamil Nadu visit Melli Dara Paiyong

A team of 35 Panchayats from Kerala and Tamil Nadu recently visited Melli Dara Paiyong Gram Panchayat Unit in South Sikkim in a programme organized by Rajiv Gandhi National Youth Development and facilitated by the State Institute of Rural Development. Delegates from the two states interacted with the Gram Panchayats of Melli Dara Paiyong GPU on various initiatives undertaken by the Gram Panchayat and shared their experiences. Former Panchayat President of the GPU, Ganesh K. Rai conducted a session on Panchayati Raj Institutions in Sikkim. The delegates also visited the Solid Waste Management unit and appreciated this initiative of the GPU.

Workshops on Life Skills for students

A series of workshops on Life Skill & Adolescent Education Programme (AEP) is being conducted by Sikkim Psychological Services in collaboration with Peoplepro Trainers & Consultants Ltd., Bangalore. The first workshop began on 03 November sponsored by the Sikkim State AIDS Control Society at Modern Secondary School. More than 50 students from Modern & West Point Schools participated, a press release informs.
The main objective of these workshops is to “create an atmosphere where knowledge & skills which are people-oriented are imparted and not like a production house of degrees”.

Similar workshops are scheduled to be held in around 40 government and private schools in East Sikkim during the month of November covering modules like Stress Management, Peer Pressure, Anger Management, Brand Me, Stand out & Influence, Substance abuse, Memory retention techniques, Examination Strategies, SWOT Analysis etc.

Minister inspects under construction Multi Specialty Hospital

Health Minister AK Ghatani visited the under construction STNM Multi Specialty Hospital at Sochyagang, Sichey on 04 November. He was accompanied by the Medical Superintendent STNM Hospital, Dr. Yogesh Verma, Additional Chief Engineer Building Housing, Kuldip Chettri amongst others.

The Minister directed that the work be expedited by increasing manpower in order to complete the work by December 2015. He asked the engineers and HODs of all sections and Departments of STNM Hospital and Health Department to meet at least once a month to follow up on the progress of work and discuss the requirements of each and every department of the hospital. 

Disaster Management Teams reviewed

A review programme of Disaster Management Teams and Committees of the Village and Gram Panchayat Level of East District under capacity building programme for disaster management was held here at Janta Bhawan on 04 November. The training was organized by District Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) East to review the existing committees and also to form new teams and committees at ward and GPU level in the district.  
Zilla Panchayat Adhakshya, East, Bimal Dabari, the chief guest of the occasion, spoke on the roles and responsibilities of panchayats in disaster management and instructed panchayats to place the tools and kits of disaster management programme at the Gram Panchayat centre so that they can be accessed by villagers.
ADC Development, Dr. AB Karki urged panchayats to submit contact details of new teams and committees to be formed at ward and GPU level to the respective Gram Vikas Adhikaris (GVAs).
Resource Person, Deputy Secretary-cum-State Project Officer, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Prabhakar Rai gave an overview on Disaster Management. He also informed that government schools can be used as relief camps during disasters as per the new government policy.
District Programme Officer, Sonam Wangyal Lepcha urged the participants to embrace bulk SMS system in applying disaster controlling strategy at different levels. He reiterated that teams and committees at ward and GPU level should be formed immediately, so that the basic training programme can be conducted for new members.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Zero Waste towards Swachh Bharat

An exhibition on Sanitation and Zero Waste Management completed a successful run here at Titanic Park Gangtok on Friday, 31 October. The exhibition, organised by the Rural Management & Development Department under the Swachh Bharat Mission saw the participation of various NGOs, SHGs, students and individuals.
A stall has been put up by the Zero Waste Himalayas which promotes management of waste on the concept of zero waste. Various waste related data of Sikkim and the harm they are causing, with solution as to what can be done is displayed though posters and charts.
Another stall by Khangchendzonga Conservation Committee, Yuksam, a leading NGO working on Zero Waste, has come up with various products made out of waste and also hands on demonstration on making various product out of waste such as making bags out of old T-shirts, pens of discarded magazines etc. Similarly products made out of waste by SHGs, students and individuals are displayed.
Omi Gurung, a well known designer of products made out of waste, has also put up a stall.
In addition to the above, various other activities such as display of videos on zero waste and sanitation, skits and song performances by students, cleanathaon by students and NGOs are being organized.
Students of Deorali Girls Senior Secondary School Eco-Club organised cleanathon at MG Marg upto Namnang and Tharo Line upto Denzong Cinema on 29 October. The feat was again repeated on 30 October as MG Marg was again found littered with remains of firecrackers which formed part of Chhat Puja celebrations the previous night.
Spot-fixing which is essentially a mob cleaning of a dirty spot also called the “dark spot” was organized at NamNang view point and was participated by NGOs like Subha Laxmi Social Organisation, Arithang Mahila Kalyankari Sangh, Deorali Samaj Kalyan Sangh, Dichen Choling Gumpa etc.
Spot fixing was also conducted on 30 October at Lall Bazaar by Deorali Samaj Kalyan Sangh. The objective is to involve the various social organisations towards Swachh Bharat Mission.
It may be mentioned here that after attaining Nirmal Rajya status in the year 2008, the RM&DD has been focussing on waste management and has taken various initiatives to address the issue of waste management in the rural areas and adopted the concept of Zero Waste Management which is most suited in the context of Sikkim. The Department has been providing various trainings, awareness etc on zero waste along with other likeminded groups and NGOs as a result of which many activities have been happening around the state. This exhibition was an effort by the Department to consolidate these efforts and trigger an exchange of ideas among the various stakeholders and generate awareness among the lay people and also to encourage people and SHGs to adopt waste-to-resource as a commercially viable activity.
[from Satyen Pradhan, Deputy Secretary (Sanitation), RM&DD]