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.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Orchid Show inaugurated, winners unveiled

Chief Minister Pawan Chamling inaugurated the annual Orchid Show 2015 at the Flower Exhibition Centre here at the Chogyal Palden Thondup Namgyal Memorial Park at the Ridge on 17 March, Tuesday. An official press communiqué informs that the inaugural ceremony was attended by Ministers and senior officers of various departments, with students from different schools from in and around Gangtok also invited. Although the display at the flower show complex is a year-round affair, the Orchid Show is ceremonially inaugurated every year on 17 March.

Govt to conduct exams for EIILM students

The Human Resource Development Department, Government of Sikkim, has decided to resume the suspended examinations at EIILM University so as to safeguard and protect the interests of students. The examinations will commence on 20 March and continue till the 24th. The examination will be conducted under the supervision of the Department along with the assistance from the Dean and the faculty at EIILM University here. The Department has made all the arrangements for conducting the examination. The relocation of the students to other institutions will be taken up by the Department after the completion of the examination process. The decision has been undertaken with the necessary approval of Principal Secretary, HRD Department. This was conveyed by Jitendra Singh Raje, Director, Higher Education, Human Resource Development Department, while addressing a press conference at the HRDD Conference Hall in Gangtok on 14 March. [IPR Deptt]

Sanju has a football academy too!

Rural Sikkim’s potential for sports gets Sanju Pradhan’s endorsement in the form of a football academy in Sombaria

The best football exports from the State first strapped their boots in their homes in rural Sikkim. The soccer triumvirate of Bhaichung Bhutia, Nirmal Chettri and Sanju Pradhan, all discovered the game in the bastis. What they also have in common is that their talent was discovered young and all three of them accessed professional coaching early in their growth as footballers. It is clearly in recognition of these round realities and the potential of rural youth to grow into “proper” footballers that Sanju Pradhan, who himself arrived in the professional circuit as recently as 2006, has lent his name and resources to establish a football academy in Sombaria, West Sikkim. The village-town is not even big enough to be a sub-division, but has the boasting rights to claim that team India regular and Atlético de Kolkata’s star midfielder, Sanju Pradhan, is a homeboy. And now, Sombaria also has a Sanju Football Academy, established in January 2013, and having a current roster of 42 footballers in training!
Rural Sikkim is teeming with football talent, and the need is to identify, groom and provide them with the right platform at the right age, Sanju stresses while explaining why he helped establish this football academy.

Dimapur, Never Again. Never Anywhere

The lynching of a rape accused by a mob last Thursday in Dimapur, Nagaland holds a lesson or two for the government, administration, law & order agencies, politicians and also the general public of Sikkim.
As per media reports, a mob of 7,000-8,000 people reached the ramshackle building that serves as the central jail at Dimapur, overpowered the Nagaland Armed Police guards and got hold of Syed Farid Khan, an accused in a sexual assault case. The mob dragged Khan out of the jail and beat him as he was paraded naked along the streets for about eight kilometers. Already dead from the beating, his dead body was finally hung from the city tower.

To realize Sikkim’s falling fertility rate, check enrolment figures at ICDS centres and Govt schools

Much has been made of the falling enrolment figures at the Integrated Child Development Scheme centres [for toddler] and in Government schools in rural areas. Many have blamed the mushrooming of private schools even in rural areas for this drop in enrolment numbers, and while they might not be completely wrong, a substantial contributing factor is also the fact that Sikkim now has fewer children per family than perhaps at any time in its history. Fertility rate - the number of children an average woman is likely to have during her childbearing years, conventionally taken to be 15-49 – in Sikkim, as per the Census of 2011, is lower than even population replacement levels.

Hate and Paranoia are Handicaps, Not Virtues

Set Goals for the young, Not Boundaries

The madness which visited Dimapur in Nagaland last week is not unprecedented; such horrors have occurred often in our country and across the world, exploding every time people allowed hate and paranoia to supersede humanity and faith. The belief that the victim had raped a “local” and the fear that he will get away with it were only the sparks – misinformed beliefs, shallow understanding of situations, complexes and an inflated sense of entitlement provided a ready mix of easily combustible emotions which exploded with such barbarism last week. Unfortunately, the issue of influx and the slogan of local protection are painted in such broad strokes that every condemnation of the anarchy which ended in a brutal murder is being qualified with supporting arguments talking about the impact of influx and speaking of problems like illegal immigrants. The passion which was whipped into deranged fury in Dimapur recently was infected with the same arguments that one hears right wing leaders spit with practised venom at every community they see as the “other”. They remain at the task despite repeated failures, but every once in a while they succeed, and from such episodes draw the oxygen for a new round of sowing distrust and ill-will.