Gangtok, 24 Sept:
Chairperson of the 15th Finance Commission, former Revenue Secretary and former Rajya Sabha MP, NK Singh, today stated that the priority for the Commission was to further strengthen initiatives of the State government to take forward the pace of the economy in Sikkim.
He expressed “great satisfaction” with the four-month old SKM Government in the State for what he said were “multiple initiatives” taken during this period to give momentum to the economy here.
He assured to provide all cooperation and support from the Commission, within its constitutional mandate, to take the economy of Sikkim forward.
Addressing a press conference here today, Mr Singh assured the State government of full cooperation and support to improve the quality of governance and to add momentum to Sikkim’s growth.
He observed that the foremost challenge for Sikkim was connectivity.
On the same, he rued that although air connectivity was opened last year for Sikkim, flights could not be sustained.
He informed that the CM has brought to the notice of the Commission that extra resources to the tune of Rs 50 crore were required to address issues related to land acquisition and additional infrastructure for the airport. He said that looking at Sikkim’s problem, the Commission will certainly give a very sympathetic consideration to improve overall connectivity of the State.
On road connectivity, the Chairperson assured to immediately call a meeting with the National Highway Authority of India to see what can be done to expedite progress and improvement of the quality of road connectivity.
Likewise, he also assured to write to the Railway Ministry for early completion of rail connectivity to the State. He expressed that if the connectivity improved significantly, the overall economy will be significantly benefitted.
Mr Singh informed that the second issue of import brought to the notice of the Commission was regarding the hydroelectric potential of the State.
On the same, he mentioned that several hydro electric projects were lying incomplete and Sikkim has thus not been able to derive any benefits.
He informed that the Commission has placed its suggestions to the State government that in addition to sources of funding, the government should also try to attract the interest of the World Bank and Asian Development Bank and look at multilateral agencies for long term funding.
He mentioned that another important area brought to the notice of the Commission was the need to improve the health sector.
On the same, he mentioned that the Commission has assured the State government that the health sector was a focus area of the commission as well.
He said that the Commission has also proposed to convert the District Hosptals at Gyalshing, Namchi and Singtam into Medical colleges. He added that in addition to the cost of the medical colleges the Commission would also provide support to promote allied healthcare.
Mr Singh informed that another important issue brought to the notice of the Commission was in the area of environment, ecology and carbon sequestration.
He mentioned that Sikkim has been a major contributor to carbon sequestration and can derive advantage from it. He suggested that an institutional vehicle be set up by the State government for this purpose to access the market and Sikkim could derive several advantages from the gains made from carbon sequestration.
He stated that the issue on how Sikkim can be compensated for maintaining the ecology and forest cover was also being looked into by the Commission.
On another issue place before the Commission on how to harness Sikkim potential for tourism, the Chairperson expressed happiness on the increase in numbers of tourists and suggested working on ways and means to get high-spending tourists to the State.
Mr Singh also mentioned that the current government has inherited a huge debt burden and that this has happened due to the practice of keeping finances outside the consolidated fund of Sikkim and also off-budget borrowings which created liabilities. He informed that the Commission has advised the State government to restructure its financial picture and to share the roadmap of the State with the Commission.