Attended the International Symposium on ‘Evergreen Oak Forests in the Eastern Himalayas’ held today at Chintan Bhawan.

Some of the highlights of my address are:-

1. For the last 24 years Sikkim has shown rapid progress in the field of Biodiversity and environmental conservation and sustainable development, especially focusing on how best our forested areas expand and help contributing to a greener regional landscape. As the Sikkim Himalaya is the part of one of the important Global Biodiversity Hotspots, the Himalaya, the Sikkim Government has been very committed on conserving biodiversity wealth, both by spreading mass awareness as well as through necessary legislation.

2. Eco-friendly green policies of Government of Sikkim have resulted in expanded forest cover of the State. Over the past two decades, Sikkim forest cover has increased by over 4%. We have launched several innovative environmental conservation measures over the last couple of decades. For example, the ‘Ten Minutes to Earth’ programme is one of the unique and extremely successful plantation initiatives of the State Government. Smritivan is another greening programme initiated by the State, which inculcate the culture of planting tree species to perpetuate memory of near and dear ones in the family and in the society.

3. ‘Mith’ or ‘Mitini’ Tree is another innovative concept adopted by the Government of Sikkim in recent times, motivating people towards forest conservation. Officially, State Government allows any person to associate with trees standing on his or her private land or on any public land by entering into a ‘Mith’ or ‘Mitini’ relationship with a tree in which case the tree shall be called a ‘Mith’ or ‘Mitini’ tree. By adopting a tree as if it was his or her own, in which case the tree shall be called an adopted tree or by preserving a tree in remembrance of a departed relative in which case the tree shall be called a ‘Smriti tree’. ‘Mith’ or ‘Mitini’ refers to the practice of forging a relationship with the tree wherein the man or woman regards the tree as his or her brother.

4. Annual afforestation programme, Paryavaran Mahotsav is yet another innovative initiative of the State Government to increase the forest cover in public as well as in Private lands.

5. Oaks being so useful for its direct and indirect benefits, I suggest that we better grow them in our agro-forestry systems and reduce the huge pressure on natural forests. In the Himalayas, the presence of oaks for their deep rooting in the soil in the forests, traditionally been related to the presence of good quality and quantity of spring water and wildlife. Being important element of broad-leaved evergreen forests, it may positively respond to global climate change.

6. We are well aware of the sensitivity of the oak forests to natural and human pressures, which call for appropriate scientific and management interventions, which may improve their natural regeneration in natural eco-system in the Himalayas as well as other naturally occurring oak forests in the world. It would be vital to see that our efforts ensure that the oak forests continue to provide eco-system services to people and environment and sustain continuity of such benefits to the next generation.

7. I am delighted to see the participation of distinguished conservation experts and scientists representing different countries and Indian states in this international symposium. I wish we may discuss on the well acknowledged environmental threats and interact upon how best the successful conservation practices, of a nation or state within a country, like those Sikkim has adopted trying making green and organic landscapes, can help contributing benefits to others and these may be disseminated through mutual exchange and cooperation.

8. Collaborative approaches have high bearing upon taking the advantages of best conservation policies amongst nations, states and/or organizations. On wider context, Government of Sikkim will try best to develop appropriate forum for initiating strong regional cooperation amongst regional countries and north-eastern states, in the beginning, and the Himalayan states and mountain nations worldwide in time to come. I foresee common conservation policies and coordinated approaches, which should be effective to withstand and reduce the impacts of different global environmental threats in the region.

9. Better exchanges of knowledge between the scientists and field managers and collaborative approaches amongst the governments and subject related agencies like ‘German International Cooperation’ will be pro-active step for the biodiversity conservation worldwide, including Oak forests, and especially in Sikkim Himalaya.

10. I am very happy to know that the state Forests Environment and Wildlife Management Department in collaboration with the ‘German International Cooperation’ has initiated the effort for the conservation and regeneration of oak forests of Sikkim using innovative ideas of direct seeding. I hope this pilot study should be a bench mark to replicate this effort to other parts of the Country. In this regard, long-term collaboration from the ‘German International Cooperation’ is expected by the State Government. The outcome of this pilot study can be up-scaled for regaining the oak forests to their original pristine level.

Later, I attended the Silver Jubilee celebrations of ‘Prajapita Brahma Kumaris Ishwariya Vishwa Vidyalaya’ at Manan Kendra.

In my address, I congratulated the Brahma Kumaris for celebrating the 25 years of the formation of their institution in Sikkim. I informed them that it was our Government that had provided them with a Government accommodation as a religious and spiritual place for them to practice their faith. Later, there was some misunderstanding with the then bureaucracy that led to litigation on the property. This incident happened without my knowledge, but fortunately things were sorted out with Government intervention.

I stated that ‘dharma’ (religion) means to imbibe and inculcate all the good and positive things in life, without discriminating/differentiating any individual on the basis of caste, creed, gender or religion. ‘Dharma’ teach us the discipline to live in harmony with each other and also with nature. Further, ‘Dharma’ according to me is the collection of beautiful thoughts emitting from a pure soul.

I stressed on the point that the State Government has always endeavoured in promotion and propagation of all religions and faiths in conjunction with the policy of secularism guaranteed under the Constitution. In fact, you can safely say that Sikkim is the only State in India that is secular in letter and spirit. As a testimony of the fact, we have constructed many religious institutions of all the religions and communities of the State. Since 24 years, not even a single untoward incident or unrest relating to religious or communal tension has occurred in the State. This makes Sikkim a perfect example of communal harmony and secularism.

On the occasion, I also inaugurated the ‘Shanti Kund’ of Brahma Kumaris at Development Area, Gangtok.