Sikkim has been awarded the title of the cleanest State in India’s North-East. An added sweetener for Sikkim is that its East District has been declared the cleanest district in India. Two Central Ministries recently conducted an annual survey among all states before these results were announced. Each state was to fulfil several environmental and other criteria to become eligible for the contest.
In such contests, no doubt the Northeastern states enjoy certain built-in advantages over others. Their relatively small population is an advantage. Sikkim has only about 700,000 residents (approx), while a small suburb of any major Indian city has many more. However, Gangtok and metropolitan cities in India obviously belong to different worlds; therefore their merits or demerits are adjudged differently.
Nevertheless, there has been some discussion on Sikkim’s topping the list from the region. In terms of pristine scenic beauty, the majestic view of snow-clad peaks, lush green forests and springs, Arunachal Pradesh and parts of Meghalaya (especially the Cherrapunji area) could pose a challenge to Sikkim’s charm. Unlike them, Sikkim has never suffered from spells of insurgency or political instability.
Ably led by Pawan Chamling, the Sikkim Democratic Front has been ruling Sikkim for nearly two decades, a rare example of stable governance. The Sikkimese enjoys the highest per capita income in the region. Pushing for timely innovations has long been a part of Mr, Chamling’s governance. Not surprisingly, organic farming on a major scale was first tried out in Sikkim, with great success. There are local and outstation researchers working on improving the quality of the fruits, flowers, vegetables and medicinal herbs.
In recent times, Sikkim has taken a giant leap towards modernisation. It has steadily put up the infrastructure for higher education, better medical facilities, hydropower generation and the establishment of small but flourishing IT and chemical hubs. It goes to the credit of the State that it has not been content to rely only on tourism as its main revenue earner. The recent opening of the long awaited Pakyang airport is expected to rev up high end tourism in the state.
Work on the 60 kilometre long Rangpo-Sevak rail link connecting Sikkim and West Bengal is proceeding well. With its tunnels, bridges and bends, it could well become another tourist attraction that could rival the popularity of the toy train in Darjeeling.
Sadly, the contrast between Darjeeling and Gangtok could not be sharper at this point of time. Once designated the Queen among Indian hill stations, Darjeeling today is a pale shadow of its former self. Towns like Gangtok, Shillong, Itanagar, Imphal or Kohima have all steadily developed, accompanied by a better standard of living for the residents and increasing their attraction among outstation visitors. Repeated occurrence of mindless violence, the destruction of property and clashes between the local political authorities and the state government, has made Darjeeling something of a pariah town in the region. Thus making it a good time for Sikkim and other shadowed North-Eastern states.