Sikkim, a small and extraordinarily beautiful state in the northeast region of India is making sounds in the lines of progress and development. Though there are around 650,000 people living in the state, its effort to improve ordinary people’s lives steadily and silently stands as a testimony for the other state governments in the country.
Pawan Kumar Chamling, the longest-serving Chief Minister in the country, said, ‘I identify with the humble village huts; I identify with the sweat and blood of the oppressed.’ In the last 25 years, the Sikkim government, led by Chamling has been in the forefront of development and eradicating poverty from the state.
Poverty in Sikkim means not just the income, wealth or the lack of material possessions but is also extended to non-material aspects of human well-being. This has been one of the biggest trends in recent times. The emphasis has transformed into ‘basic needs’ of the poor, with attention to various indicators related to human development such as education, health and nutrition.
In 1975, Sikkim became the 22nd state of India when the country’s rural population was 78.6 per cent of the total population. At the same time, Sikkim’s rural population was 90.6 per cent. Moreover, between 1975 and 1990, Sikkim was one of the most backward states with a BPL population of 41.43 per cent, literacy rate of 57 per cent and a per capita GSDP of just Rs 8,457.
Under L.D. Kazi’s government, the BPL population increased from 48.14 per cent (1973) to 55.89 per cent (1977). Later, a strong anti-incumbency about poverty got down N.B. Bhandari’s government. However, poverty reduction stood at 41.43 per cent in 1993. Therefore, rural development was vital for the economic and social development of the state.
Few studies showed that better nutrition and schooling can be correlated with improved productivity and higher income. However, it is noted that education held lesser appeal to poor families due to the opportunity of working rather than being in school.
On the slogan hailing, ‘Halle, Kodaley, Khali Khutte’: the ploughmen, the farmers and the barefooted, Chamling’s newly formed Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) came to power in 1994. The newly formed government took a series of measures to push the money back into Sikkim’s villages and its people, reinforcing Chamling as a pro-poor and progressive leader. Sikkim has reached great heights since then.
In the last two decades, the Sikkim government has made remarkable achievement in road, transport, and industries; as well as eradication of rural poverty and improving employment opportunities. Also, the government is making name in providing education and low-cost houses with essential amenities to all.
To achieve this feat, the state’s policies focused on rural areas and activities that were considered as the backbone of the state’s economy: culture and society. The state spent 70 per cent of the budgeton rural development since 80 per cent of the state’s population lived in villages.
The licensing system in Sikkim for businessmen and rural traders’ droves business. Rural products in markets with no toll tax ensured village populace get a fair price and access to markets. The government’s free electricity, free education and a robust healthcare system made a lot of difference in people’s lives. Rural Housing Scheme that gave Rs 20,000 per household to poor people for construction of modern, pukka houses aided many to build their own houses.
The development activities in Sikkim have and continue to propel with great vigour. Great opportunities are in place with innovative initiatives to push self-sustainability. The intensive decentralisation of administration also plays a vital role in Sikkim’s success story. When the Panchayati Raj system was formalised with legislation in 1992, Sikkim was the frontrunner in adopting it. A number of Gram Vikas Kendras and Gram Prashashan Kendras in the state continue to play an important role in the dissemination of central and state grants of development planning.