Interview with Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling.
Sikkim has made rapid strides after its integration with India as a State in 1975. Most of these achievements are now perceived to have come during the chief ministership of Pawan Kumar Chamling. According to Chamling, economic, social and political equality of women, conservation of the environment, institutionalisation of democracy and a trouble-free atmosphere are some of the major achievements of his government.
The literacy level in Sikkim has gone up and medical facilities have improved. The total electrification programme of the government has improved considerably the living standards of the people in rural areas. Sikkim already occupies a place in the world tourism map. and the flow of foreign and domestic tourists has increased manifold. In this interview to Naunidhi Kaur in Gangtok, Chamling explains his vision for Sikkim. Excerpts:
Most discussions on the northeastern region address the question of integrating its people "emotionally" with the rest of India. How do you propose to achieve this in respect of Sikkim?
To address the question of emotional integration of Sikkim with the rest of India, we first need to define where the real India is. Is it in New Delhi, Kolkata or Mumbai? I believe that the unique thing about our country is its unity despite the diversity. Sikkim is a part of that rich diversity. I believe in the concept of reverse integration.
Integration can only come when it is reciprocated by both parties. The rest of the Indian States can learn a lot from Sikkim. We are a leading State in the areas of women's reservation in panchayats and in employment and in conservation of the environment and we have a high rate of growth of gross domestic product (GDP). In this way integration will have to come from them, as Sikkim is willing to show the way by becoming a model State. The whole process will be reciprocated by us.
What is your vision for the development of Sikkim?
My vision for Sikkim includes the creation of a peaceful State. Sikkim with its pluralistic polity has made tremendous achievements in ensuring a good quality of life for its people. To this end, I always work to ensure that Sikkim remains a peaceful State. I realise that this is a tall task as we are not only a pluralistic society but also surrounded by India's neighbours, including Bhutan, Nepal and China. We have ensured that peace prevails on our international border as also among our ethnic groups, including Nepalis, Lepchas and Bhutias. My stress is on conserving the rich environmental resources that nature has given us. I want to make Sikkim the most developed State in India.
You have been voted as "the greenest Chief Minister" in the country. What measures are you taking to create a green Sikkim?
We are following a green development agenda. All the development work being carried on in the State is done with an eye on the environment. We take up only projects that are environment-friendly. A large percentage of the forest area of India lies in Sikkim. We want to protect this area. To do this, I have to take some difficult decisions.
We were one of the first State governments to ban the use of polythene bags. We have also banned the cutting of healthy trees. Grazing is not allowed in protected areas. Endangered species are being looked after. We are also moving towards eco-tourism. These initiatives ensure that the environment remains a top priority of the State government.
What measures are being taken to promote tourism in the State?
Tourists will find peace and tranquility in Sikkim. I want to continue working towards this. I am also doing a lot of construction work. We are constructing an airport, which will make Sikkim more accessible. We are lucky to be one of the most beautiful parts of India. We have the Kanchenjunga, the world's third highest peak, which is a delight for tourists. Add to this the beautiful mountains, glaciers, rich wildlife, all of which are a source of attraction for tourists.
What role do you perceive for Sikkim in sub-regional groupings, particularly those in the South-East Asian region?
The northeastern region holds tremendous opportunities. The concept of sub-regionalism based on the principle of regional blocs is fast emerging. There are a number of permutations and combinations in the making of these sub-regional groups. There is the South Asia Growth Quadrangle (SAGQ) consisting of the northeastern region of India, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal. There is another grouping in the making - Economic Cooperation among Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Thailand and Sri Lanka, known as BIMSTEC.
The northeastern region has the potential to become a major player in all these. We in Sikkim have sensitised ourselves to play an important role in this area. We are also in the process of setting up quality educational institutions, which we hope will attract students from some of these countries.
What are the achievements of the Sikkim Democratic Front government since it assumed office in 1994?
Democracy is a part of the polity of Sikkim. Democracy has been institutionalised in our State. People lead secure lives as the crime rate is very low. We have worked towards social justice. We have made major strides in empowering women. We have reserved seats for the tribal people, women and Other Backward Classes and the Scheduled Castes. In the area of health we are ahead of other Indian States. Sikkim is the first State in India to give Hepatitis B vaccine free of cost. Education and health are highly subsidised areas. Our per capita income is within that of the top 12 States in the country. We lead all the northeastern States in economic prosperity. We have not taken even a single rupee as loan in order to pay salaries to our staff.
The most important achievement is that we have peace and tranquility. We have people from diverse ethnic groups, such as Lepchas, Nepalis and Bhutias. All of them live in peace and harmony.
How do you manage the finances of the State government?
I constantly find ways to generate money for the State treasury. In this direction, I have launched the Playwin lottery, which will generate up to Rs.754 crores in seven years. Computer-based entertainment games will also be introduced in the State in a big way. We are trying to raise resources from hydel power, which can be harnessed by utilising our water resources.
Sikkim has a rich cultural heritage, and 60 per cent of its population is below 26 years of age. How do you plan to promote an awareness of this heritage among the youth?
We want the youth to be proud of their Sikkimese culture.
In September-October we are going to introduce a study series, which will have details of our rich cultural heritage, environment, food habits, and so on. Eminent authors have already submitted their articles.
Dr. Mahendra P. Lama is the editor-in-chief and the Publicity Department of the State government is the nodal agency that will give shape to this series. These will educate not only our youth but also visitors to Sikkim about our rich cultural heritage.
Apart from this, the State government has recognised various local languages, and steps are being taken to preserve them.