Monday, December 1, 2014

Youth Development Board meets

The first meeting of the Sikkim Youth Development Board was held on Thursday, 27 Nov, here at Gangtok.
The meeting unanimously decided on the convergence of livelihood skill developmental schemes being carried out by the various government departments and agencies through the Sikkim Youth Development Board as the nodal agency providing overall guidance.
The meeting was chaired by the SYDB chairperson Khem Prasad Dahal and was also attended by the HRD Minister as a special invitee.
“The role of the Board will be to decide policy issues and the actual implementation shall be carried out by the concerned Government agencies. The Board will exercise overall supervision and give away direction so that duplication of Scheme is also avoided apart from carrying out identified trainings programme that will complement the ongoing programmes,” an official press communiqué details.
A presentation on the National Youth Policy 2014 and Mission for Empowering Sikkim Youth 2020 was made by Principal Secretary, Sports & Youth Affairs, Dr. Anil Mainra while Rachit Dewan and Jigme Bhutia, livelihood experts from the State Level Nodal Agency, Forest Department, made a presentation on various capacity building programme undertaken at villages under the Integrated Watershed Management Programme.


V for Veterans


Sikkim Veterans Football Tournament 2014 was an ambitious undertaking when it was mooted, but the organisers were treated to an overwhelming response and 23 teams signed up for the tourney within days of Dzongri Club having announced the tournament. So much so that entries were closed ahead of schedule. And now, the fans too are taking to the tournament and turning up in handsome numbers to cheer favourites from yesteryears and reliving football rivalries from the past.
An appreciable number of spectators are turning up on a regular basis at Paljor Stadium for the tournament which has teams of football veterans from across the State and the neighbouring regions. The spectators, across the board, have welcomed the opportunity to witness once more the game of former football stars of the region.
The veterans too have expressed gratitude towards the organisers for creating a platform for them to play again at competition level and for having provided a stronger reason for them to stay fit and healthy. 
62-year-old Arun Kumar Rai of Namthang Veterans is all praises for the tournament and wants it to be organised regularly. He believes that such tournaments would encourage older players to stay fit and that the veterans’ football format will further inspire more youngsters to take up sports to stay fit and healthy.
Likewise, 53-year-old DB Gautam of Dzongri Club also appreciated the initiative. What excites him as much as the chance to play competitive football again, is the opportunity created to catch up again with players from his time.

The first edition of Sikkim Veterans’ Football Tournament 2014 in the memory of late Pintso Lepcha, late Nim Tshering Bhutia and late Gyaltsen Lepcha kicked off at Paljor Stadium on 23 November. The inaugural day of the tournament has the former STCS MD, SG Pulger as the chief guest. A total of 23 teams from Sikkim and neighbouring hills are participating in two-week long tournament.

TNSSS celebrates Annual Day

Tashi Namgyal Senior Secondary School celebrated its Annual Day 2014 on Friday. T'Nites Alumni Association president, Thukchuk Lachungpa, was present as chief guest accompanied by principals of other schools of the capital.
Cultural programme presented by the students, grand school idol finale, release of school magazine, prize distribution ceremony were among the highlights of the day's programme. Kumar Biswakarma was adjudged the winner of the school idol contest.
Principal KB Chettri presented the school annual report highlighting the achievements of the school in the field of academics, sports and others, during the academic session 2014.

He applauded the school for retaining the prestigious best school trophy (AISSCE Result). "Our students topped the state among the government schools securing 1st and 2nd position in the Science stream and 2nd position in the Commerce stream. In AISSE -2014, all students passed with good grades. 

Sikkim Police celebrates 118th Raising Day

GANGTOK: Sikkim Police celebrated its 118th Raising Day on 27 November with a Blood Donation Camp, Pipe & Brass Band display and a musical programme here at MG Marg.
The Blood Donation Camp was held in the Police Head Quarter [PHQ] where 30 police personnel donated blood. The first blood donor was Assistant Inspector General of Police [Head Quarter], Hemraj Rai, followed by other police personnel. Additional Director General of Police, Head Quarter, TT Tamang was present as the chief guest.

The Pipe and Brass Band display at the Titanic Park and MG Marg was followed by a musical program by the Sikkim Police Orchestra. The musical program was attended by the IGP, Law and Order, Akshay Sachdeva as the chief guest accompanied by other officials. 

Refresher for Para-vets

GANGTOK: A six-day residential refresher training on “Clinical Treatment and Application of New Medicines” for Para-veterinarians under the “knowledge upgradation/ skill development” initiative of the Animal Husbandry Department began here at the Veterinary Complex Training Centre on 24 November.
The training is being organised by the Extension & Training Cell of the Animal Husbandry, Livestock, Fisheries and Veterinary Services Department [AHLFVS]. 20 para-vets, five each from all four districts, will undergo this training.
The inaugural function of the training programme was chaired by AHLFVS Commissioner-cum-Secretary, SK Jha, who underlined that para-veterinarians were the backbone of the department as they have direct access to farmers.
Earlier, in his welcome address, Additional Director [Extension & Training], Dr PK Pradhan mentioned that this was a “need-based training programme being held on the demand of field functionaries”.
On the occasion, the Commissioner-cum-Secretary also released the 19th Livestock Census report. Additional Director [Statistics], Dr NT Bhutia gave a brief presentation on the census report.

Organic veggies on wheels!

Agriculture Minister Som Nath Poudyal has sought preparation of effective marketing mechanisms to promote organic farming in the state with the view to ensure benefit to the farmers, traders and the customers. Speaking at a Buyers & Sellers Meet organized by Sikkim Organic Mission at the Gangtok Municipal Corporation conference hall on Thursday, 27 Nov, Mr. Poudyal assured that the grievances and problems of farmers and traders will be solved through such a new policy, an IPR press release informs. He announced establishment of vegetable collection centers in all districts for the convenience of sellers and buyers and instructed that a committee be formed under the chairmanship of Chairman, SIMFED, to oversee these plans.
Earlier, Minister Poudyal flagged off a mobile vegetable distribution van for the GMC area.
The SIMFED chairperson, G. Rai, suggested that pricing of vegetables recognize the difference between organic and inorganic products so that farmers earn a premium for organic farming.

Earlier, the Horticulture Secretary K. Bhutia highlighted the importance and benefits of organic farming and informed that the state produced 1,811 metric tonnes of organic vegetables in East district, 1,490 MT in South, 108 MT in North and 529 MT in West Sikkim in the recent year, the release details. He also informed that recently, 21 farmer clusters were formed so that traders could acquire farm produce information more conveniently.

Nathula continues to make sense; Border Trade more than doubles this season VISHNU NEOPANEY

GANGTOK: The ninth season of border trade between India and China across Nathula closed on Thursday, 27 November. Trading, despite being hamstrung by poor roads and a lethargic bureaucracy, continues to thrive, having registered an impressive doubling of volume this season. Against a total trading of slightly over Rs. 8 crores in the 2013 season, border trade over Nathula this year registered an impressive spike and notched up a grand Rs. 16.04 crores in exports [from Sikkim] alone. The official figure for imports from the Tibetan Autonomous Region are staggeringly lower in comparison – Rs. 1.02 crores this year, lower even than last year’s Rs. 1.17 crores.
The closing ceremony of trade in this season was organized by Tibetan traders at Rinchengang, the trade mart on their side of the border. Unlike in the past where the closing ceremony was organised on the Indian side by the Department of Commerce & Industries, Government of Sikkim, the Chinese have this time opted to organise the programme on their side of the border, as a goodwill gesture, an official press communiqué from the Department of Commerce & Industries informs. More than 150 traders from Sikkim travelled to Richengang on Thursday to participated in the closing ceremony which was presided by senior officials from TAR and hosted by Tibetan traders.
As mentioned earlier, this season saw the most prolific scale of exports from Sikkim. Traders from Sikkim shipped goods worth Rs. 16,04,43,830 to TAR. This is a 107% increase over last year’s Rs. 7,84,96,435 in exports. Imports from TAR were to the tune of Rs 1,02,53,400, a 12 percent decrease from last year’s Rs. 117.30 lakh.
Sikkim traders imported primarily six items - carpets, readymade garments, blankets, shoes, Jacket and quilts, and exported more than 13 items - Vegetable Oil, Rice, Processed Food, Canned Food, Textiles, and Copper items.
Border Trade over Nathula is clearly finding its rhythm, now consistently posting impressive figures. When it had started in 2006, exports barely crossed Rs. 27 lakhs while imports did not even break the lakh mark. Further, there were two trading seasons [2010 and 2011] when the official scale of imports was nil! The import list was expanded in the year 2012 and imports promptly crossed the Rs. One crore mark. All this while, exports had been climbing despite the weather, roads and babudom. All of these continue to remain areas of concern, but so long as the border remains open for trade, trading will find a way to sustain itself. The spirits are even higher at Nathula now given that the border pass will soon also be sending across pilgrims from India to Kailash-Mansarovar in Tibet…

Namchi walks for cleaner roads

Green Walkathon, with the message "A simple Walk to Make a Big Difference, Clean your Roads, We Want Tourists not Trash, Swaccha Sikkim Swastha Sikkim", under the Swaccha Bharat Campaign” was carried out by the District Administration in collaboration with RMDD and SDZP at Namchi in the premises of District Hospital on Friday.
The marathon was participated by SDZP Adhakshya CL Gurung, Upadhakshya DM Baraily, DC (South) Raj Kumar Yadav, CMO (South) Dr Bimal Rai, GVA (Namchi) Bimal Rai, Doctors, Officials & Staffs of RMDD Namchi GVK Hospital and SDZP. The basic idea of the walkathon was to encourage the participants of the walkathon to clean up the litter or trash lying along the path or road as they walked and create mass awareness on the same.
The route for the green walkathon participants started from District Hospital premises which then proceeded towards the road near Tourism Office to DC Office up till Municipal Office finishing off at RMDD office.
ADC (Dev) RMDD, Benu Gurung while welcoming the guests apprised that today’s program named Green Walkathon is an initiative to create awareness on keeping the environment clean particularly the pathway (roads & footpath) utilized by the commuters on a daily basis. Ms Gurung called for positive participation of all including officials & employees of all departments, schools, students, civil society, NGOs, panchayats and private organizations to combine forces to make this initiative a regular event in South District by conducting it on a monthly basis.
In view of the fact that there is no strong or particular mechanism to keep the roads/footpath clean at all times, the walkathon if conducted at least once a month would help a great deal in realizing the objective of “Swaccha Bharat Campaign” thereby keeping the roads clean and green, added the ADC.

Organic orientation held for South farmers

An orientation programme on Organic Farming Systems, organized by Horticulture and Agriculture Departments, was held at the Community Hall, Namchi, on Friday, 28 November. Mrs. Tika Maya Chamling was present as the chief guest for the programme attended by 480 farmers from the South District.
Mrs. Chamling spoke about the advantages of Organic Farming and shared tips on organic farming techniques with the farmers. She emphasized the need for farmers to be well informed about the use of organic fertilizers and also informed the participants about the latest initiative of the State Government to provide one-time compensation to farmers who face crop failure. Underling the need for effective marketing mechanism to promote local organic products, she urged eco-tourism stakeholders to endorse Organic Farming by using only local organic products in their home stay and other village tourism businesses.
During the programme, Secretary of Horticulture and Cash Crop Development Department Khorlo Bhutia informed about the recent Bill passed by the Legislative Assembly to regulate sale, distribution and use of inorganic agricultural inputs and livestock feed to prevent risk to human beings or animals and environment. He informed that the Kisaan Bazaar located in Namchi will soon be functional and that the farmers can sell their organic produce in the bazaar without any hindrance.

Sikkim leaders call on Tribal Affairs Minister

Tourism Minister Ugen Gyatso Bhutia and Members of Parliament from Sikkim, Hishey Lachungpa and Prem Das Rai, called on the Union Minister for Tribal Affairs, Jual Oram, in New Delhi on Wednesday, 26 November.
A press communiqué received from the office of the Lok Sabha MP Mr. Rai informs that the members extended their best wishes to the Union Minister and the Government for the ongoing Parliament session and appraised him regarding the demands of the Government of Sikkim pending with the Centre and requested that the necessary processes be expedited.

The Union Minister, assured the delegation that their demands are already under process and that matters related to States will be taken up as per the priority accorded by the State Government. He said that this was the directive given by the Prime Minister, the release adds.

Teesta Stage-IV landowners want acquisition rate resolved before any further discussions

Landowners and other stakeholders affected by the Teesta Stage-IV hydroelectric project registered their complaints, reiterated their demands and then walked out of the Special Gram Sabha convened in Mangan for the project on 25 November. The special Gram Sabha convened as per requirements of the Forest Rights Act of 2006 for the 520 MW hydel project was called for three Gram Panchayat Units - Singhik-Sentam, Ringhim-Nampatam and Thingchim-Chandey. It lasted barely an hour.
Representing the Left Bank Land owners committee, Lobzang Tenzing, who is the committee’s president, pointed out that the landowners have left their lands barren for the past eight years since the lands were demarcated and marked for acquisition. However, despite several meetings in which the landowners have given the go ahead for the project, no progress has been made, he said.
The landowners have already submitted a demand seeking land acquisition at Rs. 200 per square foot, but no intimation has been received either from the state government or the project developer, he announced.
He further pointed out that work on the project could be initiated with an interim payment even as the final revision of rates is being processed by the State government.
Such suggestions having been consistently ignored, the landowners staged a walkout from gram sabha, demanding that these issues be sorted out before the Gram Sabha was reconvened. The next gram sabha, they said, should be held in the presence of the Power and Forest Ministers, and Secretary Land revenue, Executive Director, NHPC and the District Collector (N).
A memorandum was also placed with the chairperson of the Gram Sabha, reiterating that the affected landowners and other stakeholders of the Teesta Stage-IV project from the three GPU’s in question objected to the holding of the Gram Sabha until the vital issues of land compensation, demarcation of lands to be acquired and other issues are sorted out.
Meanwhile, NHPC officials informed that the project was being delayed due to some clearance pending from Forest Department and further informed that the NHPC was ready to pay any rate for land acquisition prescribed by the State Government.
DFO-T, Sugen Saring, in turn informed that the Gram Sabha was convened to hear claims and objections of the affected people and to solve their problems for resettlement, if required. 143 hectares is to be acquired for the said hydel project, of which 45 hectares falls under the Department of Forests.
The Gram Sabha Sabha was organized by Ringhim-Nampatam GPU and chaired by Panchayat President Pinky Bhutia. Also present were Chief Engineer, NHPC Stage IV HEP, along with other officials, all Pancayats, DFO (T), President and members of Mangan Nagar Panchayat, officials from line departments and the landowners.

Mental Health Awareness program at Lingdong

A program on “Mental Health Awareness” was held at Lingdong Secondary School organized by the Hee-Gyathang PHC, Lower Dzongu recently. During the programme MO I/C Hee-Gyathang PHC, Dr. Prabhat Mokktan spoke about the importance of mental health and the role of the family and community in helping mentally ill people. The program also dealt with Cancer awareness. Interactive quiz for students was also held.

Workshop to empower Counselors & Teachers of Sikkim

GANGTOK [IPR]: Minister for HRDD, RB Subba, chaired the inaugural session of a three-day training workshop titled “Empowering Counselors & Teachers of Sikkim” here at Chintan Bhawan on 27 November. Ministers DT Lepcha and AK Ghatani along with senior officials of HRDD and teachers were also present.
Director General of International Chamber for Service Industry (ICSI), Dr. Gulshan Sharma was present as the chief resource person.
Addressing the teachers, Minister Subba stated, “In your charge are many lives in the making, each one different, everyone important, all with hopes and dreams for Sikkim. Dear Teachers, through your hands pass the future of Sikkim”.
While commending the teachers for their dedicated service, the Minister urged them to go a step further and impart humanity through balanced counseling.
Further, the Minister announced that upon the end of the workshop, a teacher each from each school of Sikkim would be identified to shoulder the additional responsibility of a counselor. He called on the participating teachers to take optimum benefit from this workshop and equip themselves with the necessary skills for counseling.
Earlier, addressing the inaugural session, resource person Dr. Gulshan Sharma laid down recommendations for the appointment of counselors in every school, orienting them for the task, and empowering and upgrading their knowledge through innovative training workshops at least twice a year, and imparting complimentary online digital programme in education and counseling management. He also suggested that the State explore assistance from the Rashtriya Uchattar Siksha Abhiyan (RUSA) of the Union Ministry of HRDD which facilitates appointment of full time counselors at schools across the country.
The International Chamber for Service Industry, during the three-day workshop, will be imparting training on such aspects as emerging trends in education and counseling, overview of multiple learning styles, introduction of various types of tests, activities based on psychometric/ aptitude test, understanding various learning disabilities, emotional and behavioral problems, digital education and IT skills, logical reasoning and abstract thinking, essential tools for counseling and education, roles, qualities and skills of counselors, ethical issues, role of social media and essential soft skills development.

Walk With the HIV+ve

The trauma and privations of People Living with HIV and AIDS remain largely unaddressed because the society at large remains uninvolved, allowing them to struggle in the shadows

Someone in the corridors of power is taking the “getting to zero” call in the battle against HIV/ AIDS too literally and extending it to funding support for interventions by people living with HIV AIDS as well. This edition of the paper carries an update on the funds crunch that the Drop-In Centre for the HIV+ve being operated by the HIV+ve themselves is facing. The Sikkim Network of Positive People is offering to keep the Centre alive for as meager an amount as Rs. 3.6 lakhs per year. And yet, their proposal is being lobbed around from Cell to Cell of the Health Department without a final settlement. As things stand, a year since the Chief Secretary noted that “such an agency [Drop In Centre] is required to provide the necessary care and support to the patients living with HIV/ AIDS infection”, the funding has still not been committed to and the Centre continues to remain open only because those operating it, all HIV+ve people themselves, realize that to lose it would be to lose among the most effective venues to coordinate care and support for people living with HIV AIDS in Sikkim. By now, such centre should at least have been opened in the district headquarters as well; unfortunately, the planners are instead withdrawing funding even to the only such Centre in operation in Sikkim. This is not a condition unique to Sikkim, and it needs to be highlighted that the trauma extends to the entire nation where AIDS awareness suddenly found itself budgeted down to a sliver of what it was receiving till last year. That said, in Sikkim, a solution can be worked in much more easily because the finances in question are, let’s admit it, miniscule compared to the service that the Drop-In Centre delivers. It would perhaps not be out of place for everyone who participates in any AIDS awareness related activity on Monday to also consciously think about the privations of the HIV+ve in our society and discuss possible solutions for the more immediate problems like keeping the Drop-In Centre in operation.
What is happening to the Drop-In Centre for the HIV+ve is only one of the results of the change in the Central Government’s approach to addressing HIV AIDS in the country. International funding, which was lavish to say the least, was scaled down once the rate of infection came down. That was expected, since the immediate threat had been managed. And once the bushfire had been stamped out, the funding was expectedly diverted to other countries and regions where the problem continues to remain urgent. But that does not mean that HIV and AIDS have ceased to be issues of concern in the country. They might have stopped being on the top of priority intervention for international funding agencies, but as far as the nation is concerned, AIDS awareness cannot be allowed to slacken because if that happens, the disease will relapse and all gains made by the past decades of awareness and sensitization will have been squandered. The state exchequer thus needs to sustain the AIDS control mission. It cannot do that if it starts winding up dedicated cells just because USAID or the Bill Gates Foundation is not writing the cheques any more. It should not be allowed to do. But who will make some noise about it? The problem [of funding] has been around for more than a year now, but it has not really made news and headlines on a scale that it requires. That is clearly because like with most social concerns which don’t make the headlines, this situation lacks the titillation and sensationalism that would attract TRPs. Maybe the HIV+ve form neither a vote-bank nor constitute a purchasing pocket to receive attention. Maybe at a subconscious level, the society at large does not see anything wrong in such withdrawal of assistance for condition which most people still blame on lifestyle choices. Maybe these are the reasons why the condition of the Drop-In Centre and People Living with HIV AIDS is not receiving the attention it should… but these are not justified. And yet they happen, because when it comes to real work, HIV and AIDS continue to be battled in the shadows with only a sanitized version of awareness and empathy put out on display. Let’s try and change; let’s try and improve this World AIDS Day.

CM spells out development agenda for Namchi

NAMCHI: Chief Minister Pawan Chamling began the week in Namchi with a frenetic round of inspections followed by a detailed meeting with concerned officials who were handed over clear tasks and reminded them of the need to ensure quality delivery.
Among his various announcements, the Chief Minister declared the construction of flyovers at various points in and around Namchi; upgradation and construction of the community centre with car parking facility, library and a roof-top helipad service; completion of the ropeway from Namchi to Samdrupste by March 2015; completion of Bhaichung Stadium by 2015; pedestrian footpath; maintenance and enhancement of Char Dhaam; construction of an eco-friendly guest house; new taxi stand at Kopchey; construction of GVA office at Singthithang; food godown on Jorethang road;  shifting of NMC and UD&HD offices;  construction of a bus and truck stand; better road connectivity; construction of recreational parks and community centers.
The Chief Minister further stressed that it was extremely important for the people of Namchi to keep the town clean, plastic-free and eco-friendly.
Assuring to fulfill the various demands and grievances placed by the public of Namchi, the Chief Minister directed the respective departments to prepare DPRs on priority basis.
Earlier, the CM started the day with a visit to Chaar Dham where he attended a prayer ceremony and then chaired a brief meeting. The meeting focused on repair and renovation works and the upgradation of infrastructure at Chaar Dham. Addressing the members of the Chaar Dham Trust he pointed out various shortfalls noticed in the premises which were overlooked by the Trust members. Issues like insufficient utilization, improper maintenance and lack of protection of the assets at the Chaar Dham were highlighted.
He called for the active participation of all, including the pundits and members of the Trust for ‘social fencing’ of Chaar Dham to protect its sanctity and serenity.
The Chief Minister pointed out the unhygienic condition of the washrooms in the complex and urged the Trust members and concerned department to give priority to improve sanitation standards. In case more washrooms are required at the complex, DPR should be prepared and put up by the concerned department, he directed. In the same way shortage of parking space and other amenities required for the up gradation of the complex should be proposed by the Trust and the concerned department, he added.
Keeping in mind the number of complaints which has reached the Chief Minister from the visitors from outside the State regarding the inhospitality experienced by them in Chaar Dham, he advised all involved, including pundits, to give out positive message and good impression to the visitors through their conduct and service. Further, he stressed on proper use and planned disposal of water in Chaar Dham and at the same time he also directed the concerned department to conduct proper treatment of sewage discouraging the use of chemical fertilizer for its treatment. In this regard he asked the department and Dham Committee to go for an alternative method to treat the sewage.  
In the course of his address announcing some government policies, he stated that all the pilgrimage centers within the state will be brought under Tourism Department and similarly directed Special Secretary Sarala Rai to take up this matter immediately.
The CM also directed the Tourism Department and DC South to immediately remove the washrooms located below the statue of Guru Padmasambhava at Samdruptse as the present location was not in keeping with spiritual ambience.
The Chief Minister also announced exemption of entry fee to Chaar Dham for the Sikkimese [on the production of either voter card, COI, Driving license, Trade license or any other proof to support their Sikkimese identity at the main entrance].
The Chief Minister also inaugurated the CCTV installed at various spots on Central Park along with WiFi connection in the park installed by Namchi Municipal Council with the objective of making Namchi the first ‘smart town’ in Sikkim.
Addressing the youth of Namchi the Chief Minister encouraged the educated unemployed youth to establish tourism-based ventures. He also announced that the vacant shops in the car plaza would be handed over to the unemployed youth if they are not put to use within a month.

Large Cardamom auction fetches Rs. 1,620 per kilo average price for Sikkim produce

GANGTOK: The 2nd Auction of Large Cardamom for the year 2014-15 was held at Singtam on 26 November and conducted business to the tune of Rs. 25,83,371 for the nearly 1,600 kg put to the gavel on the day. The auction was conducted by NERAMAC Ltd and Large Cardamom growers from Hee Gaon in West Sikkim received the highest price of Rs. 1,675 per kg (Rs. 67,000 per mound) for the clean bold Seremna variety brought by them to the auction, an official press release informs. The Bharlangey variety brought by growers from South Regu, East Sikkim, went for Rs. 1,650 per kg. (Rs. 66,000 per mound), which, it is informed, was higher than the prevailing market price of the day. Even inferior quality large cardamom went for Rs. 1,525 per kg. On final tally, the average price received at the auction was Rs. 1,620 per kg (Rs. 64,800 per mound).
Omprakash Challani from Gangtok, Raghubir Prasad and other leading Large Cardamom dealers from Singtam participated in the auction, it is informed.
The 3rd Auction of Large Cardamom for the year at Singtam has been fixed for 17 December, 2014.

Bhumi Puja for Rai Khim at Lumsey

The Bhumi Puja for the construction of the “Rai Khim” (Rai Community Bhawan) was conducted on 24 November at Lumsey, 5th Mile Tadong. The Puja was initiated by the president of Akhil Kirat Rai Sangh, CB Rai, in the presence of former AKRS president, Dr. SK Rai, vice president DK Rai and other executive members of the AKRS.

The AKRS president informed that the Rai Khim will be a five and a half storeyed structure which will house a hall, library, study centre for Rai students and other provisions. He thanked Chief Minister Pawan Chamling and the state government for their support to the project. 

HIV concerns at risk of being dropped


World AIDS Day is observed on 01 December every year across the globe to renew the pledge to end the destruction that HIV and AIDS have been causing. For the 279 People Living with HIV AIDS [PLHAs] in Sikkim, the day would mean very little as their fight against the disease grows weaker with the Centre having drastically slashed funds for AIDS treatment, prevention and awareness in the country. Last year the Central government cut funds for HIV/ AIDS agencies by 65 percent! Sikkim is also bearing the brunt of such drastic cut in funding, with the only Drop-In Centre [DIC] run by Sikkim Network of Positive People [SNP+], a Community Based Organisation, having struggled without funds for more than a year now. The commitment of the more aware among people living with HIV in Sikkim has managed to keep the centre open thus far, but even their spirits are now flagging as they battle not only the virus but also insensitive red-tape and illogical policy shifts.
The DIC plays an important role in counseling and reaching out to the HIV+ve, a role which cannot be emphasized enough given that the virus continues to attract huge stigma and the facts about living with HIV remain largely misunderstood. As its name explains, the Drop-In Centre is a place where HIV+ve and their families can “drop in” any time to access counseling, seek assistance and resolve problems unique to their condition. This then become one place where the HIV+ve can let down their guard and receive empathy and support without anyone being judgmental as is often the case everywhere else. Should this facility shut down, the HIV+ve will be robbed of an essential support system.
Unfortunately, if something is not done soon, the Drop-In Centre will definitely shut down. In fact, the directions to shut it down were issued in August last year itself, but the facility has somehow remained open in the hope that it will be eventually bailed out. The Department of AIDS Control, GoI, it is informed, directed AIDS Control Societies across the country to shut down DICs because it would not be funding them anymore. These orders reached the Sikkim AIDS Control Society in August 2013 since when the funding has been suspended. SSACS asked SNP+ to close down the DIC with effect from 31 August 2013. The SNP+ and SSACS have managed to keep the centre open thus far even as a proposal is pursued to keep this important facility open.
The DIC, accommodated in the STNM Hospital complex in Gangtok, has already had to suspend 70 percent of its erstwhile facilities and activities like focus meetings, pre and post follow-up, special events, printing of awareness materials, meetings and workshops between medical professionals. These were necessary intervention, but are now unavailable to the PLHAs.
The DIC has been providing care, support and counsel to PLHAs since 2008, and apart from these, has also been providing free bus passes as well as rice at BPL rates to the HIV+ve. And perhaps even more important than these has been the intervention that SNP+ has been able to effect because of the access to the DIC for the HIV+ve to share their “problems”.
For instance, the status of an HIV+ve housewife was made public by a health-worker who lived in the same locality as her. The stigma which one had hoped had reduced in the society unloaded on her and she was facing pressure to move out and was as good as excommunicated. The story reached SNP+ thanks to the access provided by the DIC and its members travelled to the area and counseled the people there and brought them around. The lady in question continues to live at the same place and the people around her are less hostile now. Such intervention are necessary; in the absence of any societal engagement, groups like SNP+ are best suited to deliver such interventions, but in the absence of a DIC or financial support [to even travel to ‘affected’ areas], they will not be able to do so.
Sikkim, of course, is not alone in this dilemma. AIDS awareness efforts across the country have been compromised by the downscaling of priority by the Centre and the inexcusable slash in funding. From a time when too much was being wasted in the name of AIDS awareness, the nation is now staring at a situation where not even the bare-minimum is being done for the already exposed. The Centre is merging the Department of AIDS Control with the Health Department and National AIDS Control Organisation is being merger into the National Rural Health Mission. AIDS control will undoubtedly lose focus with such moves, but not enough noise is being raised, and in the silence, the affairs of the HIV+ve are being compromised.
In Sikkim, with the funding pattern disrupted, the SNP+ president had submitted a representation to the Sikkim AIDS Control Society, offering to cut down expenses by 40% and requesting that the health Department extend at least this minimum assistance to keep the DIC alive. Till there was funding, the DIC used to operate on a budget of Rs. 5.3 lakh per year. The SNP+ president offered to make do with merely Rs. 3.6 lakh per annum. The proposal was forwarded by SSACS to the Health Department in September 2013. The concerned officials agreed that the DIC needed to be maintained and endorsed it within a month. But all that remains on paper and where clear commitments should have been made, the babudom has typically remained noncommittal and passed the buck.
“We want to keep the DIC open since it is the only major support group for PLHAs in the state. We had stated that we will keep staff at minimum wages and also manage the DIC with only Rs. 30,000 per month. If this assistance was provided, it would be a boon for the PLHAs of Sikkim,” stated the SNP+ President.
He added that even with all the paper works and formalities completed, apart from paying the rent for the DIC, SNP+ has still not received any staff as approved, nor have they received any confirmation on the funding.
“We use the DIC to provide direct care and support to the PLHAs of Sikkim through SSACS. Now, the matter has already been approved by the state government, however apart from distribution of rice at BPL rates which we are also carrying out through volunteers and staff who are still not being paid, we are losing out on extending other facilities,” states the SNP+ President.
Dr. Uttam Pradhan, Project Director SSACS informs that his office had forwarded the information for necessary action to the Health Department, which in turn forwarded the matter to the National Rural Health Mission.
On 09 October 2013, the Chief Secretary had issued a note of approval where it suggested “directing the NRHM Cell to support this institution and also explore the possibilities of maintaining the same in the near future”.
“NRHM has still not responded positively for more than a year now and if this continues the only CBOs for PLHAs in Sikkim will not be able to carry out what it was actually its vision. On World AIDS Day we once again request the Health Department and NRHM to look into this matter at the earliest since sustaining a support system for PLHAs is extremely important. Even with fund cuts we are still providing ARTs to admitted patients,” appeals the SNP+ President.
202 of the 279 People Living with HIV AIDS in Sikkim are members of SNP+. Of 279 registered HIV+ve cases in Sikkim at present, 157 are male, 107 female and 15 children below the age of 10 [having been born with the virus]. The death of 15 PLHAs in 2013-14 is also a reminder that HIV/AIDS remains a challenge for CBOs such as SNP+ since almost all of these people are “totally dependent” on the facilities being provided by AIDS control agencies and the government.