• 14/02/1999


Do you think environmental issues are important?, No development process can exclude environmental manage- ment. I grew up amidst natural beauty. So when I see it being degraded in the name of development, I feel very disturbed.

In southwest Sikkim, thereffias been large-scale deforestation. Streams are now drying up and the armhas an acute shortage of drinking water. Immediately after taking over as chief minister, I started afforestation on a large scale. We have been able to cover a huge area but a lot more needs to be done. I involved the village panchayats to maximise people's participation.

How do you link the environment with development?
Development cannot come at the cost of the environment. Look at Gangtok, it has become a concrep Jungle. I stopped allotment of land for private building c&nstruction Iin Gangtok in 1995. Now I am planning to introduce an urban forestry programme in Gangtok. But it is only in my mind righL now. Only if I am re-elected, I will probably be able to implement this project. How will you ensure sustainable development in your state? I have chalked out a 25-ycar development plan for Sikkim. I hope to make the state sustainable by then. This plan will involve developing five to six sectors, namely, tourism, education, horticulture, agrobased and cottage industries, and, of course, hydel power plants.

But impounding rivers to make hydel power plants have often been ecologically disastrrous.

Hydel power has immense potential in Sikkim. At the same time, we need to be very careful while harnessing it. Any unplanned step might prove disastrous. But if we conduct a proper environmental study along with discussions with local people, I see no reason why we cannot blend the right technology and the environment. If we are able to harness the river Teesta, we can produce about 3,600 megawatts of electricity every day.

Are you taking any special initiative to improve the environment?
I have plans for a massive terracing-curn-afforestation programme. We are building a garbage disposal site for Gangtok at Rampul, which is about 10 km away. Besides, I have stopped giving permits to commercial vehicles in Gangtok. There are more vehicles than roads in Gangtok. I have many more plans but very little time.

What role do you see for non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the civil society and the government?
NGOs have the most important role to play in any developmental process. The government can, at the most, give directions. It is the NGOs, the civil society who carry it forward.

What about the role of bureaucrats?
A chief minister needs a committed team of bureaucrats to implement his projects, But most of them me corrupt and cause unnecessary delays.

For example, take the ban on plastic bags in Gangtok. I passed the law but there are still many shops which use plastic bags. Can I go from shop to shop personally and check this?

Then take the case of joint forest management (JIM). We could have started it six months ago, but nothing has been done about it. Bureaucracy must change its vision. It is there to serve, not to rule.

How committed is your cabinet team?
I have26MLAsfrom my party in the 32-member House, but I feel very lonely in terms of my principles and vision. My views are very different from those of my cabinet colleagues. But I have not given up hope. I speak to them personally and in group meetings whenever I can.

How will you rate your work?
I am very satisfied with my work. I do not care if I get a second term or not. My intentions were honest. If even 50 per cent people appreciate my work, I will be back with all the 32 seats in the assembly in November. If any other party is elected to power, it will be a blunder.