Thursday, April 30, 2015

Sikkim has lost a great son in the passing away of Balchand Sarda

(L to R) Jigme N Kazi, KC Pradhan, LD Kazi, BB Gurung and Balchand Sarda.



Before time passes and memory lapses I would like to record a few things that have impressed me about Balchand Sarda. Loved, respected and admired by a cross section of Sikkimese society, Balchad Sarda created history when he trounced former chief minister Nar Bahadur Bhandari’s influential wife, Dil Kumari Bhandari, in the Assembly elections of 1985.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Nathula Trade to begin new season next week

GANGTOK: Border trade between Sikkim and the Tibetan Autonomous Region is scheduled to resume for a new season on 04 May, next Monday, an official press communiqué informs. The Union Ministry of Commerce & Industries has notified the Indo-China Border Trade via Nathula t operate from 01 May to 30 November every year. Since the 1st & 2nd of May this year fall on non-trading days [border trade is open Monday to Thursday], and 03 May being a Sunday, the State Government has approved resumption of Nathula Border Trade from Monday, 04 May 2015.

EIILM Univ to be dissolved

The Sikkim Cabinet, in its sitting of 28 April, approved the dissolution of EIILM University proposed by the Human Resource Development Department under Section 47 of EIILM University Act, 2006. The private University’s promoters, it may be recalled had even moved the High Court some months back calling on the State Government to take over the controversy-riddled university. The promoters had subsequently withdrawn the petition and request, but matters at the university do not appear any closer to resolution, hence the govt’s decision to dissolve it.

Sikkim Govt finalises official assistance for quake-hit Nepal

GANGTOK: The Sikkim Government, at a Cabinet meeting convened on 28 April, discussed the State’s response to the devastating earthquake that struck Nepal, parts of West Bengal, Bihar and UP on 25 April, and passed resolutions in this regard. As per a post on Chief Minister Pawan Chamling’s official fan-page on Facebook, the Cabinet “expressed deep sorrow and anguish at the loss of precious lives and property”.

Cabinet approves 51 proposals

The State Cabinet met on 28 April and approved and sanctioned 51 projects and undertakings and funds for the same. Apart from the State’s contributions towards the relief and rehabilitations works in earthquake affected parts of Nepal, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, the following were approved and sanctioned. [as shared in the official Facebook fan-page of Chief Minister Pawan Chamling]:

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Relief Commissioner calls on people to refrain from spreading rumours


Sikkim and other parts of Northern India have been experiencing earthquakes and their aftershocks at frequent intervals since the major earthquake with its epicenter in Nepal on 25th of April, 2015 at around 11.41 am.
We are fortunate not to have suffered major damage in the State so far.  Not a single death has occurred due to the earthquake and there has been no report of any house collapse in any part of the State.  Nonetheless, we must not be complacent and take extra care and precaution in emergency situations and to remain alert for any eventuality.
The public are also advised to refrain from spreading unfounded rumours. There is no cause for any panic or alarm.  The State Administration is closely monitoring the situation and it is fully geared and prepared to meet any eventuality.
For any information or updates the following numbers can be contacted:
•    STATE CONTROL ROOM at Manan Kendra, Gangtok; 03592 201145, fax no 03592 201075
•    East District - 03592 204995, DPO, East 9679889137
•    West District 03595 250633, DPO, West 9593973686
•    North District 03592 234538, DPO, North 9434174767
•    South District 03595 264442,     DPO, South 9733299989/9732058999

Secretary-cum-State Relief Commissioner, Government of Sikkim

Disaster Management Secy convenes meeting to reinforce preparedness

Gangtok, 28 April [IPR]: The Land Revenue and Disaster Management Department convened a coordination meeting with civil society organisations on disaster preparedness here today.
The meeting, chaired by Secretary, LRDMD cum Relief Commissioner Tsegyal Tashi, stressed the need to form coordination committees at district and state levels with the objective to access the affected areas in an organized way with systematized plan in the event of a calamity.
The department also circulated an advisory of activities to be taken by different groups in the first 72 hours of a disaster.

Annexure to Emergency Ward inaugurated at STNM Hospital

Gangtok, 28 Apr [IPR]: Health Minister AK Ghatani inaugurated an annexure constructed for the Emergency Ward at STNM Hospital here today. Built at an estimated cost of Rs 39 lakhs, with an area of 1,500 square feet, the 20-bedded annexure is equipped with a washroom for ladies and gents, medical store room and staff duty cabin.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Shaken Sikkim to propitiate guardian deities to keep State and its people safe

Rebuilding from the devastation of the 18 Sept 2011 earthquake is still a work in progress in Sikkim. It will also not be untrue to suggest that the Sikkimese had barely gotten over the trauma of that earthquake that the horrors of the Nepal temblor invaded their homes over the weekend. The Nepal quake of 25 April rattled homes in Sikkim even though a bulk of its destructive force was cushioned by the granite bulwark of the Khangchendzonga and its attendant mountains of the Singalila range. Since then the visuals of the devastation in neighbouring Nepal and the roll of the aftershocks have kept Sikkim on tenterhooks. The sense of fear is apparent in the near hysteria with which Sikkim empties out into the streets with every aftershock. Given the jumpy nerves around, it is perhaps apt that apart from awareness generation on disaster mitigation and preparedness, the State Government has also now decided to propitiate the State’s guardian deities to keep Sikkim safe. “The Sikkimese people have a strong belief and faith in our deities. In the wake of the tragedy that struck Nepal and some parts of our country, the State Government has felt it pertinent to seek refuge in the propitiation of our deities,” informs an official press communiqué received from the Ecclesiastical Affairs Department. Sikkim, incidentally, is the only State of India to boast of an Ecclesiastical Affairs Department. This Department, the press release informs, has “requested high incarnate Rinpoches  to perform all necessary rituals and pujas to prevent  the occurrence of  natural disasters and to protect the people from calamities”.

Should Local Protection trump women’s identity issues everytime?


On 27 January 2015 the State Cabinet decided to make it mandatory for all married daughters of the old settlers of the state to furnish their own, their father’s and their husband’s residential certificates when applying for trade licenses, contract works, driving licenses and other benefits and services. Less than a month later, on 23 February, the Cabinet approved partial modification to Notification No. 66/Home/95 dated 22 November 1995 as amended pertaining to issue of Certificate of Identification and with it denied the provision of CoI to nonlocal women married to Sikkimese. Certificates of Identification, everyone knows, are essential for just about everything in Sikkim, from being able to conduct business to applying for government employment to receiving State benefits. For old settlers, this role is played by the residential certificates they will be issued in keeping with the 26 April 1975 cut-off date announced recently by the Chief Minister.

Systemic deficiencies breed bad loans at SBS

83% of the Cash Credit/ Overdraft loan accounts at State Bank of Sikkim are Non-Performing Assets!

The banker to the Government of Sikkim appears to be in urgent need for some banking lessons given its penchant for accumulating non-performing assets against cash credit and overdraft loan accounts. State Bank of Sikkim, established as the banker to the GoS by a royal proclamation in June 1968, was studied by auditors from the office of the Accountant General [Audit] as they tried to find out the reasons for accumulation of NPA’s against CC and OD loan facilities. Their findings are included in the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India on Social, Economic, Revenue and General Sectors for the year ended March 2014. The report was tabled by the Chief Minister during the Legislative Assembly’s last sitting in end-March. It appears that the bank has been getting banking basics wrong by advancing cash credit and overdraft facilities without obtaining adequate collateral security or undertaking verification and evaluation of mortgaged properties or bothering with monitoring recovery of dues.

Resettlement begins for left-out Bey families, finally

The relocation and resettlement of the final set of seven affected families of Bey village of Upper Dzongu, North Sikkim, displaced by the 18 September earthquake of 2011, has been long overdue. Construction work on the alternate sites allotted to these families has finally begun. Altogether 18 families from Bey were to be relocated, but the resettlement of these seven families had been delayed because the alternate site allotted to them in Chandey village required extra work and hence, extra funds as well. The funds available under Reconstruction of Earthquake Damage Rural Housing Scheme (REDRH) were not sufficient to undertake construction work at these sites.

Employee grievances addressed at GREF Adalat

Service related issues are not easy to raise in hierarchy-conscious institutions like the army, of which the Border Roads Organisation also happens to be a part. It was hence a welcome development that the BRO organized a GREF Adalat in Gangtok on 16 April to address grievances of its employees. Significantly, this was the first such Adalat of the organisation and following its successful debut in Sikkim, it will be taken to BRO installations elsewhere in the near future. The Adalat in Gangtok, convened at the Project Swastik HQ here was inaugurated and addressed by the Director General, Border Roads Organisation, Lieutenant General RN Mittal.

Recruitment Board formed to expedite teacher appointments

With an expressed view to appoint teachers from pre-primary to post-graduate levels in the shortest possible time as and when the need comes up at government schools, the Human Resource Development Department has constituted the Teacher Recruitment Board. The Board is headed by retired Secretary SK Gurung and included former bureaucrat Prakash Subba and Selina Lepcha.

Compensated, but not claimed; Completed, but not connected!

The confounding manner in which Roads & Bridges Department makes roads… and forgets bridges

The Roads & Bridges Department of the State Government, as its name suggests, is responsible for making roads, and well bridges, to connect Sikkim better. While many might rue that the hills are being scarred by too many road projects in Sikkim, it will not be surprising if not all roads end up connecting places. Such confused situations and instances of the Department being blindly unmindful of the “financial interests” of the Government find mention in the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India on Social, Economic, Revenue and General sectors for the year ended March 2014 tabled in the Legislative Assembly during its last sitting.
The Report includes details about a Rs. 2.57 crore road project which failed in its projected aim of providing vehicular connectivity to a Dzongu village when the project report drafter forgot to include plans for a motorable bridge to span a stream which vehicles would need to cross if they were to use the said road linking the villages of Bey and Pentong.

Justice Meenakshi M Rai sworn in as Sikkim High Court’s first lady judge

The first Sikkimese woman to become High Court Judge, Meenakshi Madan Rai was sworn in as puisne [junior] judge of Sikkim High Court on 13 April here at Gangtok. Governor Shriniwas Patil administered the oath of secrecy to Justice Rai who has become the third Sikkimese to become a High Court Judge. She is also the first lady Justice in the High Court of Sikkim.
President, Pranab Mukherjee had issued the warrant of appointment on 10 April and the Minister of Law and Justice, Department of Justice issued the notification of her appointment the next day, on 11 April.
In October 2004, Justice AP Subba had become the first person from Sikkim to be elevated to the High Court bench. He retired on superannuation on April 2007. Next, on 23 June 2009, Justice SP Wangdi, till then the Advocate General of Sikkim, was sworn in as a High Court Judge. Justice Rai will be joining Justice Wangdi and Chief Justice Sunil Kumar Sinha in the Sikkim High Court bench, completing its quorum of three judges.

Marcha, important not just for the tipplers

From tourism festivals to religious and cultural events, stalls showcasing traditional food items have become one of the main attractions in Sikkim. Though food items can be seen in varieties with different tastes and flavours depending on the community presenting it, one thing common to all stalls is chaang [kodo ko janr] and tinpaney rakshi [distilled liquor from janr]. These two items play a vital role in attracting visitors to these stalls. However, not many are aware of how chaang is prepared.
Millet is the main ingredient for chaang but to convert millet into chaang an ingredient called Marcha [yeast inocula/ starter cake] is needed. Marcha helps in the fermentation process to convert cooked millet into chaang.

Still Not Cast Away

Much to Sikkim’s shame, caste discrimination remains illegally in practice

The Constitution of India rejected the concept of an untouchable caste in 1950. Caste discrimination was outlawed the day the Constitution, the supreme law of India, was adopted, and yet, even though no longer officially sanctioned, the idea of untouchability remains alive in our country. What remains a continuing challenge is that caste consciousness is not just a privately held prejudice, but continues to manifest in dastardly acts of violence running the entire spectrum from physical to emotional and societal. One would have hoped that more than six decades of having been seen as a criminal offence would have dulled the propensity of caste discrimination to express itself publicly, but that remains wishful thinking in a society that continues to shame itself by refusing to accept all people as same. Thousands of anti-dalit attacks occur every year, and hundreds of people are killed because of their caste. Newspapers continue to report about reprehensible acts of violence from across the country directed against people only because they belong to the scheduled castes. And now, with the wretchedness having resulted in a fatality in Sikkim, the State joins the line-up of societies which allow such depravity as targeted cruelty against some castes despite it being not only illegal, but also offensively immoral.

Big on projects, short on implementation

A CAG Performance Audit of the Tourism & Civil Aviation finds it wanting in project preparation, implementation, financial management, monitoring…

Construction seems to be the only engagement which excites the Tourism & Civil Aviation Department; so much so that even as the Department spends crores on infrastructure building, it remains oblivious to the task of putting them to use. A Performance Audit of the Department, covering the period 2009 to 2014, carried out by the office of the Comptroller & Auditor General of India underlines that while the Department undertook extensive infrastructure building projects, it remained weak following through on these projects and in areas of policy and project implementation and advertisement and publicity. Awards and tourists are already thronging to Sikkim and if in the present term of government [this performance audit covers the last term of SDF government], the Department was to become more serious about policy-framing and became more judicious in implementation, tourism stands a good chance of reaching still higher levels. But before that can happen, the Department will need to learn from its rather inept pursuit of tourism promotion thus far.

The Post-Board Stress

The Class X and XII board examinations are nearing to an end. While students will undoubtedly heave a huge sigh of relief, a pall of anxiety will now come over parents whose children took these exams. For those appearing for the Class X examination, it is time to choose streams which will set them up for their futures, not just academic but also professional, and this will depend largely on how much they score. Students looking for admission into better schools or schools that offer their choice of subjects for +2 have nervous days ahead as most schools have raised their cut-off percentage over the last couple of years.

96 more inducted into the Chief Minister’s Merit Scholarship Scheme

It was heartening to see the smiling and excited faces of the 96 meritorious students who have been selected for the Chief Minister’s Merit Scholarship Scheme for the academic session 2015. These 96 were selected from the state-wide selection exam conducted for interested students passing out from class V from government schools in Sikkim this year. They will now be sent on all expenses paid scholarships to premier schools across the country and in Sikkim. On Thursday, 02 April, the Counselling and Allotment of seats for these students was held at Chintan Bhawan on Thursday, and occasion when Chief Minister Pawan Chamling also interacted with the students and wished them well for the new futures they were embarking on so early in their lives.

NERAMAC secures exclusivity tag for Sikkim’s large cardamom

Sikkim’s Large Cardamom plantations may be keeping poor health, but the cash crop has now been officially attested as being Sikkim’s own. This, following the GI tag from Chennai-based Geographical Indication Registry secured for Sikkim Large Cardamom and eight other products of the North East by the North East Regional Agricultural Marketing Corporation Ltd [NERAMAC]. The registration came through on 30 March, bringing to fruition an initiative begun four years ago by NERAMAC “to protect exclusive, special local crops of NE Region and to help in branding & marketing”.

Kitney documents the?

An ordinary man’s life with documents for every occasion and every status update

An old friend of mine recently told me that he needs to buy a larger trunk since there was no place in his ancestral trunk to keep his “important documents” any more. I also agree with him and will soon need to consider such an investment myself because my wife too is complaining of the drawer running out of space. As per my calculation, a Local Sikkimese needs to possess more than 14 documents to get by reasonably without too many bureaucratic hiccups holding up his files and applications. Now I would like to explain this situation in detail.

Losing the plot on reaching Information & Communication Technology to Schools

CAG Audit of HRDD’s implementation of ICT in Schools Scheme reveals how irregularities and disinterested execution held back a Rs. 8 crore project from delivering on its potential

The Information & Communication Technology in Schools Scheme, when it was introduced in Sikkim in the year 2008, was an initiative which had the policy commitment in the right place, but unfortunately, like with several other path-breaking policy interventions here, when it came to delivery, the executive arm of the government came up short. The scheme was launched with the idea to provide secondary school students with opportunities to build their capacity in ICT skills, enhance their education through computer-aided learning and create a level playing field for students irrespective of whether they came from rural or urban schools. Between 2008-09 to 2014-14, the period through which the implementation of this scheme was audited by the office of the office of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, Rs. 7.95 crore was spent on the project, but, as per the latest CAG Report, “the intended objective was not fully achieved”.

Golden Girl Binita dazzles at World Martial Art Games


Binita Rai has clinched a gold medal for the country in the ongoing 1st World Martial Art Games being from 12 to 22 March at Bangkok in Thailand. Being undefeated in the competition, she finally defeated her opponent from Brazil in the final match with a score of 23-15 points. She won the gold medal in the below 50 kg category in the Sanchau event.
Binita was accompanied by her coach, OS Singh from Sikkim in the championship along with other martial artists from India. Wushu Coach, Mr Singh has also been serving the championship as an international judge.

Gangtok finally makes some space for art

There is finally some good news for art aficionados in Sikkim with the first Contemporary Art and Photo Gallery opening here at the Star Cinema Hall building on MG Marg. The gallery, “It’s Happening”, was officially inaugurated on 19 March. On the ground floor is the art gallery where paintings by local artists are on display for sale. The floor above houses photographs by local artists. While Oviya Arts Circle maintains the art gallery, Sunil Lama of Imago Creative Studio is in charge of the photo exhibition.