Gangtok: Chief Minister Dr. Pawan Chamling, born on September 22, 1950, stepped into 61 years of age on Wednesday, September 22, 2010. As the pro-poor Chief Minister of Sikkim, he chose to mark his 61st birthday by launching a noble mission to make Sikkim “the first poverty free State in the country by 2013”.
Speaking as chief guest at a function at Chintan Bhawan on the day, Dr. Chamling said, “Our mission is to make Sikkim a poverty free State in the next 36 months thereby setting up a model example for other States. The Below Poverty Line (BPL) percentage in Sikkim was 41 before we (Sikkim Democratic Front) came to power in 1994 and in 2005, the BPL percentage was brought down to around 20 percent. There has been a fifty percent drop in the BPL families in Sikkim”. The State Rural Management and Development department is the nodal agency for implementing the mission.
According to a report of the State government, there are 21,618 poor households all over Sikkim with North district having the lowest number of around 1300 such households. “Presently, the BPL families’ percentage in Sikkim is only around 6 to 7 percent as reported by Department of Economics, Statistics, Monitoring and Evaluation. Now we have to ensure that in the next 36 months BPL percentage here is zero and also address the possibilities of families again falling back to BPL category”, Dr. Chamling said.
He pointed out that in the past 16 years, his government has been allocating seventy percent of the annual budget for rural upliftment. “Our programmes were targeted for the welfare of the poor people. However, we now realize that the people had become habituated to receiving government grants”, he said. He added that fifty percent of the BPL families who were uplifted to Above Poverty Line (APL) category in Sikkim were basically due to government grants. “The day such grants stop, these families will fall down to BPL category again which we have to prevent by creating income generation avenues and increasing their productivity”, said the Chief Minister. He directed all the departments to start programmes under the poverty free mission.
According to the mission statement, poverty is usually measured as either absolute or relative poverty. Absolute poverty, which has been defined as lack of basic human needs due inability to afford them, has been almost eradicated in Sikkim, said State rural development department additional director Sandeep Tambe. Mr. Tambe said that poor families in Sikkim are those who are living in kutcha (non-permanent) houses with bamboo walls held by mud plasters, having marginal holdings less than 0.5 acres and with income source mainly as agriculture labour. There are vulnerable households like single mothers or families led by aged or disabled persons in the poor family category, he said.
As per the mission statement, the strategies to combat the remaining percentage of BPL families in Sikkim are to improve inter-village connectivity, housing for all who are now in kutcha houses, providing land and homesteads to the landless Sikkimese and universal financial inclusion. Around 5000 households in Sikkim are living in kutcha houses and there are around 300 landless families at present. Such families would be provided with rural housing schemes and land through government land bank scheme. Such schemes are applicable only to Sikkim Subject holders. In order to improve earning avenues for the people, the mission seeks to use Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act along with promotion of farm based livelihoods and to provide capacity building in various employment generating fields. The mission also envisages a strong safety net for vulnerable groups and providing financial support to them.
A steering committee headed by the Chief Minister has been formed to lead the mission and also a task force headed by the State Chief Secretary to formulate policy directives and guidelines. Annual reports on the mission would be submitted to be State Assembly to asses the progress.