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Speech of His Excellency Shri. Balmiki Prasad Singh, Governor of Sikkim on the occasion of Plenary Session North East Council Meeting at New Delhi on Wednesday, the 27th June 2012.


Hon’ble Minister DoNER and Chairman NEC, Shri Paban Singh Ghatowar, Your Excellencies, the Governors, Hon’ble Chief Ministers, Officers of the Government of India and the North Eastern States, Ladies and Gentlemen.


At the outset, I convey warm greetings to this august gathering from the people of Sikkim as well as of my own. Participation in this event helps us to have another look at our vision and strategy for development and helps us in formulating such corrective measures as may be needed to actualize our objectives. It also provides an opportunity for leaders, planners and administrators to interact with each other.


Since its inception in 1972, the North East Council (NEC) has played a significant role in formulating economic and developmental policies keeping in mind its unique geographical location, strengths and deficiencies, hopes, and aspirations of the people of the region. This forum enables us to voice our concerns, share our successes and formulate strategies to address problems that affect our region.


The NEC Act was amended in 2002 to incorporate Sikkim in its fold. I am fond of using the metaphor that I coined to describe this historic event that the seven sisters got a little brother (haru bhai) as if to complete the family.


We have formulated an ambitious NER Vision 2020 document. We aspire to see our region emerge peaceful, strong, confident and ready to engage with the wider world. Our people would like to march on the path of political, economic, social and cultural progress towards prosperity and well being, participate in governance and effectively use public resources and ensure delivery of quality services.


Recognizing the north- east as a special region, the Centre has been consistently forthcoming in providing the much needed financial support to establish developmental infrastructure in the region.


It is our firm belief that with the right policy and right approach, the NEC can play a crucial role in planning, sourcing and utilization of funds.


Let me share with you a few important developments relating to Sikkim.


II


The narration of contemporary happenings in Sikkim has to begin with the tragedy that we faced on account of 18th September, 2011 earthquake. It made an adverse impact on every family in the State. 60 people lost their precious lives and more than seven hundred people were injured. In total, 61,535 buildings including monasteries, schools and colleges, private houses and government buildings as well as the State Secretariat were damaged. Roads and water pipelines too sustained damages.


The Army formed the bulwark of the relief operations and displayed great skill and swiftness in dealing with the disaster. The Army was supported by units of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), ITBP and the State Police. The political leadership, medical personnel, civil society organizations and young children came forward in large numbers everywhere to participate in relief work.


The earthquake brought people and organizations across the country together to share the grief and render assistance. In a way, it made the people of Sikkim realize that their challenges were not theirs alone, but that of the entire country. Hon’ble Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh visited Sikkim on 29th September and announced an interim relief of Rs.1000 crore for restoration of infrastructure.


The earthquake has brought before our government agencies as well as to the people of the State new realities. It is quite evident that we need earthquake-proof houses, better-built roads, nature-resistant water pipelines and earthquake-resistant workplaces. Our existing building laws and construction manuals need close scrutiny. We are steadfast in our resolve to put the State on the developmental path again and favourable changes are indeed visible; for an earthquake cannot defeat the resolve of the Sikkimese people to progress.


As the entire north-eastern region falls in a seismically active belt, the Sikkim experience of tackling this natural calamity would be of some use to all of us.


I would also like to highlight four novel schemes that we have adopted in Sikkim which may be of relevance to the other States of the region:


First, to meet the challenge of the shortage of quality schools in the State, particularly in rural areas, Sikkim has launched the Chief Minister’s Special Merit Scholarship Scheme in 2010. Under this scheme, meritorious students from across the State, who cannot afford expensive education; receive State sponsorship to study in the best schools within Sikkim and also in other states of the country. In 2010, when the scheme was launched, 50 students were selected, out of which 10 were sent to educational institutions outside the State and the rest were admitted in public schools within the State. In 2011, 20 out of 100 selected students were sent outside the State. Similarly this year too, 40 out of 200 students were admitted in schools outside the State. Our target is to sponsor 1000 students in the coming years under this scheme. This initiative aims at making long term investment in human resource development.


Second, in order to secure good health of the entire population, the State Government has launched the Chief Minister’s Comprehensive Annual and Total Check-up for Healthy Sikkim (CATCH) programme. It provides free systematic and comprehensive health check-up to all citizens of Sikkim on an annual basis. A considerable number of Sikkim’s population has already been screened and accordingly covered under the scheme. Our mission under CATCH is to make Sikkim a healthy State by 2015.


Third, we have banned grazing in our forests. We have also launched the Ten Minutes to Earth programme that is held on 25th June every year. At an appointed time, lasting for ten minutes, every Sikkimese participates by planting a sapling each. These saplings are provided free of cost for plantation by the State’s Forest Department to the people, educational institutions, and governmental and non-governmental organizations. Gram Panchayat members, Joint Forest Management Committees (JFMC), Eco-Development Committees (EDC) and members of the public are encouraged to provide post-plantation care to the saplings.


Fourth, it is our belief that local self governance holds the key to socio-economic development, as the elected men and women in these bodies constitute the primary element in the delivery of quality services to the people. We in Sikkim have taken special measures to strengthen the Panchayats and Municipal bodies in furtherance of the constitutional provisions. We have raised the reservation of women from 40% to 50% in the Panchayats and Municipal bodies of the State. We have also devolved financial powers and administrative authority to the Panchayats. However, more needs to be done to make Panchayats and Municipal bodies the most important instruments for delivery of public goods and services.


I know that other States of the region too have initiated innovative programmes. I request the NEC Secretariat to share these with us so that we could learn from them.


III


In Sikkim we are facing enormous connectivity problems. I have brought some of these issues before this forum in the past, seeking assistance of both the NEC and the Ministry of DoNER. I propose to highlight four of the issues today as well.


Road Connectivity
The Border Roads Organization (BRO) is entrusted with the maintenance of the 3 major highways in Sikkim namely (I) The NH -31A (92 kms) from Sevoke in West- Bengal to Gangtok; (II) the Jawarharlal Nehru Marg (56 kms) connecting Gangtok with Nathu La; and (III) the North Sikkim Highway (95.5 kms) connecting Gangtok with Chungthang in north Sikkim. The BRO also maintains several of our feeder roads. Total length of roads maintained by BRO in Sikkim is 1092.27 kms.
The NH-31A is the lifeline of Sikkim. The Jawaharlal Nehru Marg and North Sikkim Highway roads are especially important from the defence point of view, as they link up with roads that are connected to Sikkim’s border with Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR).


The condition of these important roads leaves much to be desired. A common feature is that during monsoons, landslides which are numerous cut away chunks of these roads. They are also choked, sometimes for days, by the debris from overflowing culverts. Even otherwise, they are narrow with sharp curves and bottle- necks at various points. At places they can barely accommodate two large vehicles simultaneously. All these add up to make the highways in Sikkim slow, unsafe, unpredictable and unreliable for travellers and goods carriers.


The BRO would need to change their approach by adopting modern road construction methods and improved technology that can provide us with all weather road.


Tele-Connectivity
Telecom connectivity continues to pose a major challenge in Sikkim. In the process of development and globalization and in the world of high quality communication and Information Technology (IT), we are lagging behind. Our administrative and e-governance projects have been adversely affected. For a land locked state with hilly terrain, Sikkim strives to attract high value industries especially in the IT sector. However, the poor telecommunication networks are discouraging investors.


The primary means of providing telecommunication in our region is through optical fibre cables (OFCs), which are laid along roads and at many stretches, on overhead poles. Landslides and falling trees often snap these cables leading to communication blackouts. Some links are on microwave mode which is beset by limited bandwidths. There are also areas of the State that are not yet covered by telecommunication networks.


Keeping these in view, the Ministry of Telecommunications and Information Technology should increase network coverage and ensure its reliability in Sikkim. The telecom infrastructure, especially in north Sikkim which got badly damaged during the 18th September, 2011 earthquake, needs urgent repairs. Redundant microwave links have to be revitalized and wherever required, the bandwidth of satellite systems should be upgraded.


Multi- Specialty Hospital
The construction work on the 575 bedded Multi-specialty Hospital at Sichey, Gangtok with a project cost of Rs.475.78 crores is under progress. The State has so far received only Rs.111.72 crores from the Special Plan Assistance (SPA) under the Planning Commission in this behalf. For the current financial year, we have sought for the project a sum of Rs.50 crores from the Ministry of DoNER and Rs.100 crores from the SPA. We request the Ministry of DoNER and the Planning Commission to release these funds urgently so that work on construction of this hospital does not suffer.


Naya Gangtok
With the Pakyong Airport under construction, we seek to develop the adjoining areas of Pakyong and Ranipool as a Satellite town or Naya Gangtok, bringing new opportunities to the people of the State.


A project report for the construction of 2-lane highway from Ranipool to Pakyong, at par with international standards was submitted in 2011 to the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways for sanction of funds under the Special Accelerated Road Development Project-North-East (SARDP-NE). However, due to lack of funds under the SARDP-NE, this project was forwarded to the Planning Commission with the recommendation that it be considered under the Gross Budgetary Support (GBS) with intimation to the Ministry of DoNER. The Agenda Papers for this meeting indicate that this project is proposed to be funded under the NLCPR. In the 60th Plenary Meeting of the NEC, a request had been made to the NEC and the Ministry of DoNER to adopt the DPR of Naya Gangtok as a special project and earmark a sum of Rs. 1000 crore from NLCPR. We request the NEC and Ministry of DoNER to follow it up with the Planning Commission, where the project is awaiting clearance.


IV
We have embarked upon the 12th Five Year Plan. The objective of the 12th Five Year Plan is to achieve faster, more inclusive and sustainable growth. Towards this, we must accord priority to certain key aspects of development, namely;


• Quality infrastructural creation;
• Improving basic amenities for citizens – like drinking water, sanitation and waste management, among others;
• Capacity building and skill development programmes for self-employment; and
• Developing strategies to harness our natural resources, while also protecting the ecology and environment.
The proposed outlay for the NEC under the 12th Five Year Plan is Rs.13027.38 crores. On behalf of the North Eastern Region, let us appeal to the Government of India that the entire requirement be allocated in full, so that the proposed objectives of the NEC for this plan period are achieved.


The NEC also needs to pay special attention towards expansion of trade activities and full utilisation of the tourism potential.


The entire north- east is rich in cultural heritage and natural beauty. With the vibrant lifestyle of its people, the colourful festivals, the exotic flora and fauna, the north-east offers unique experience for tourists. The challenge before us is to make these endowments accessible to the people from other states of the country as well as from abroad. Significantly, it is in our most far-flung areas, where our traditions, cultural ethos and natural beauty have been preserved. However, they are also the most inaccessible. To convert our tourism potential into economic benefits, we must ensure improved accessibility and reliable connectivity. We also need to organize this sector and provide a regional perspective in its development by planning in terms of inter-state and regional circuits. Sikkim would like to be linked with the NER tourism circuit, so that together we can reap the benefits offered by this industry.


With regard to the “Look East Policy” which is an integral part of the N.E.R Vision, 2020 greater emphasis needs to be given to improve trade ties with Bangladesh along with the countries in the east such as Myanmar, Thailand and Malaysia. This would also need revitalization of some old trade routes. I am happy that the border trade through Nathu La, resumed in 2006 will now increase with the inclusion of eight new items for export and five new items for import. These newly added items for export have been exempted from duty leviable under Customs Tariff Act.


The NEC should help to showcase the varied potential of the North Eastern States, as an investment destination by organizing road shows, fairs, and exhibitions within and outside the country.


V
Our North Eastern Region Vision 2020 rightly emphasises that the region lags behind the rest of the country not only in terms of per capita income but also in several other development indicators. It states: People do not have access to basic services in adequate measures. The standard development indicators such as road length, access to healthcare, and power consumption in the region are below the national average. The literacy rate in the region is high, but the slow pace of industrialisation and limited capacity of the population to engage in productive economic activities means a high rate of unemployment and underemployment.


It goes on: The problems of the region are not merely confined to lagging income levels, but extend to the process of development itself. A top-down development planning strategy has not involved people in designing and implementing the strategy and, not surprisingly, the relationship between public spending and service delivery outcomes has been tenuous.


In order to effectively address these challenges we must know our strengths and weaknesses. In the meeting of the Council in 2009, I had highlighted the value of analytical reports concerning the major issues of the region. I had then articulated: There is a great expectancy that the Council would provide analytical reports of high quality on subjects of common concern in the region. It may consider to pursue policies to expand common public goods. One hopes that the Council will take leadership roles in areas of ecology and climate change, scientific (including bio-technology) research and indigenous culture fields pertaining to handicrafts and other art forms as well as traditional medical practices. This must continue to be our priority in years to come as well.


It is also felt that the NEC should be strengthened in an imaginative fashion, in terms of the Vision Document, to become a dynamic regional Planning Forum. It needs to function as an appraisal body for projects and schemes posed before it. This would facilitate expeditious approval and timely implementation of the projects.


I hope that the discussions and decisions of this august body would be fruitful for the benefit of the people of the region.


JAI HIND
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