It was a pleasure for me to attend the Independence Day celebrations at Paljor Stadium , Gangtok today.
I am sharing with you some of the highlights of my Independence Day address:-
1. Extending my warm wishes to the people of Sikkim, I also paid rich tributes and homage to our leaders, with whose efforts the Nation was able to secure independence. We must also remember that today is not just a day to celebrate the contributions made by our forefathers, or pay homage to the martyrs, but a festival of inspiration, an occasion for each one of us to invoke the same spirit of valour in the task of Nation – building and taking it to newer heights.
2. I referred to the sad demise of former Ambassador to Mongolia, former MP and former Secretary, Shri Karma Topden, former Members of the Sikkim Legislative Assembly,Shri Laxuman Lepcha and Gopal Lamichaney. I also made reference on the unfortunate passing away of Shri M Karunanidhi,former CM of Tamil Nadu and Shri Somanath Chatterjee,former Speaker, Lok Sabha , while morning their losses.
3. Sikkim became a part of this great Nation in May 1975. In forty-one years of our joining the Indian Union, we have already achieved the distinction of being the number one state in many spheres of development, something which other states have not been able to do in seventy two years. This is out of sheer commitment and love we have for our motherland. The very fact that the people of Sikkim chose to join the Indian Union through a referendum proves our deep sense of patriotism, which is our greatest contribution to the Nation.
4. Despite being landlocked between three international borders, and squeezed due to agitations in neighbouring states, it would not be an overstatement to declare Sikkim as the most peaceful state in India. Sikkim has forged ahead, be it in terms of accelerated growth and development or re-defining the notion of a border state. It has shown how peace and communal harmony of people living in a border state and citizens’ security can become assets for a nation. A peaceful state, where everyone has a roof over their head, where no one dies of hunger, Sikkim is known for its tranquility and absence of conflict. Over the past two decades, we have ensured basic minimum needs like food, shelter, electricity, health, water supply, sanitation, and connectivity to the people. Our schemes targeted in bringing the much-needed infrastructure to the people, have resulted in Sikkim recording the steepest decline in poverty -from 30.9% in 2004-05 to 8.2% in 2011-12,which now must be almost nil. When the Sikkim Democratic Front government came to power in 1994, almost 40% of the State’s population lived below the poverty line, with 10% living in extreme poverty.
5. Education has always been a priority for our Government. Twenty percent of the State’s annual budget is earmarked for the education sector. This initiative has paid dividends and the literacy rate has increased to an impressive 96.72% today. This statistics (the remaining 3.28% being small children who are yet to go to school), gives Sikkim the status of a fully-literate state, the second state in the Country after Kerala, which has a literacy rate of 93.91% at the moment. I congratulate the students, teachers, the entire HRDD fraternity and all those responsible for making our mission of being fully -literate State successful.
Education in the State is free till college level. We have the largest number of schools in the country along with 7 Universities and 27 Colleges, a mammoth figure when a few years ago there was not a single university in Sikkim.
6. I shared that we are going to launch a dedicated Sikkim State University, which will be called ‘Green University’ with a view to provide world class research-based education and advanced knowledge to our youth. The curriculum will be designed in such a way that the University does not produce mere degree –holders but equip the students with modern day knowledge to make them employable human resource, capable of taking up any new-age professions. The State Government will also ensure that the local Sikkimese students are given priority in admission to this University.
7. In recent times, cases of drug abuse, alcoholism and suicides have gained momentum among the youth. This is worrisome. This is why special emphasis is being laid on youth empowerment and development. Realising the paucity of government jobs and the increasing number of educated youth, the state government has come up with a number of schemes and programmes to empower the youth to take up different careers. Sikkim was the first state to set up a Directorate of Capacity Building in 2003 to make Sikkimese youth job-ready for the private and corporate sector. This was an effort towards providing knowledge, skills and capacity to the young to become self-reliant and independent. We have also decided a policy of reservation of 90% of jobs in private sectors for SSC/ CoI holders. Henceforth, 90% of jobs in the private sector along with other benefits will have to be provided to bonafide SSC/ CoI holders.Recently, we have decided to grant free education to students belonging to the rural areas and middle class families in Pharmacy College, the Polytechnic Institutes – CCCT and ATTC – as also free MBBS course for local students in the upcoming State Medical College. Moreover, we have recently launched the Chief Minister’s Start Up Scheme. I appealed to the youth and students to avail the benefits and facilities provided by the State Government and use them to their best advantage. The youth should look beyond Government sector for employment. There are a host of opportunities for them to explore and become self-reliant.
8. The State Government has launched the HPV vaccination campaign to vaccinate girls aged 9 – 14 years against cervical cancer free of cost. The State of Sikkim therefore became the first state in the Country to officially launch this vaccine. We are following the model of Australia which is considered to be the safest and the best option available.
9. Drug abuse, especially among the youth, has become a major problem all over the world, and Sikkim too suffers from this menace. In order to tackle this problem, we have decided to frame rules for more stringent punishments for drug peddlers and traffickers. On the other hand, drug abusers will be viewed as patients suffering from an ailment and requiring medical help. They will no longer be viewed as criminals. I am sure that this move will make drug abusers to come out in the open without the fear of being stigmatised.
10. Often criticisms are hurled on us blaming our Government for making the State debt-ridden which is completely baseless and untrue. Sikkim is the state with the highest growth rate and lowest debt in the Country. I reiterated that the quantum of loans that any state can avail is per the norms set by the Government of India according to the FRBM Act. The maximum loan that the State Government can avail from lending agencies is fixed at 3% of our GSDP. Our intellectuals and the educated people should know this fact and give rejoinders to people spreading such fallacies to misguide the people.
11.The people of Sikkim should value what the State has achieved in the last 24 years and not take things for granted. It is imperative that they compare our state with other states of the Country.I am sure all of you will realize that from being the poorest state in India, Sikkim today ranks as the 3rd progressive state of the Nation and the premier state in the North-East. Is this not progress and development? But it is sad that there are still sections of people who are not happy with the state of affairs in the State. These people are ones with too high expectations, that cannot be fulfilled by anyone. They see negativity in everything and spread only negative vibes amongst the people. So I urged everyone to stay away from such forces and rise above petty personal interests for the benefit of the State.
12. In a democracy, people are supreme and they have the sole right to choose governments or leaders of their preference. They have such a huge responsibility in doing this. If people do not take this great responsibility seriously, it will be detrimental to the nation. On the other hand, government or the leaders have no right to choose the people! So, it is the mandate of the people that matters. But at the same time, the government also has to perform with responsibility and accountability, only then will the democratic set-up bear dividends.
I congratulate all the Awardees and also those who received Certificates of Appreciation on the momentous occasion of 72nd Independence Day. I also congratulate all participants in various categories and thank them for making the day all the more memorable.