It has been a little more than a month since I arrived in Gangtok, and about two months since I started working at Swaniti as a SPARC Associate to Mr P. D. Rai, Honourable Member of Parliament (Lok Sabha), from Sikkim. Ever since I have arrived here, I have been fortunate enough to interact with some of the most enterprising people. Sikkim is on the forefront in many areas- it is India’s first organic state, it has been declared the safest state for working women, it is the only state where the forest cover is actually increasing! And now, the Government of Sikkim, along with inputs from its people, is embarking on another mission- to create a landmark legislation based on the Sustainable Development Goals.
There is so much uniqueness to this place. Never have I sat in on a meeting with government officials where the topic of discussion has been on how to further reduce waste and how to recycle plastic- all this in right earnest. At government meetings here the tea is served in the most beautifully crafted ceramic mugs rather than plastic ones. Another aspect of Gangtok which hugely impressed me is the pedestrian path that lines the entirety of the main road snaking through the city. Considering all of this, it is of little surprise that Sikkim wants to engage so intensely with the Sustainable Development Goals and means to ensure the future well-being of its people.
All is not rosy in Sikkim, however. The state has been battling substance abuse for some years now, and the number of school students dependent on substances is on the rise. To combat this, the SAATHI (Sikkim Against Addiction Towards Healthy India) programme has been working with school students, teachers and principals to ensure a system of peer-education to help substance users or those in vulnerable situations cope with their problems. Through this, the organisation is trying to make the process sustainable so that the fight against substance abuse continues and wins eventually! Swaniti has contributed to the organisation as thought partners, and by means of designing the website for SAATHI and coordinating with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. I am lucky to be here at a time when SAATHI’s operations are scaling up. It is a treat to meet the students who constantly visit the SAATHI office. Megha (the Program Manager) insists the office be a child friendly space, and I can see that it has been successfully ensured.
To ensure problems such as substance abuse can be dealt with more effectively, a core group has been formed by Mr. Rai to carry out a series of consultations with different stakeholders. This is to get their inputs on the SDGs and to identify the gaps and challenges they face in their field. One such consultation with members representing the drug-user community as well as rehabilitation centres, was an eye-opener and made me think of so many factors that would remain imponderables. For instance, something as basic as a lack of proper parks for students and the youth to enjoy recreational activities and be engaged in healthier pursuits was something brought up by one of the participants.
Similar to the consultation with the SAATHI resource-persons, I had a chance to interact, learn and receive inputs on the SDGs from teachers, principals, panchayats, students, their parents, doctors, urban local bodies and even the army. Each group raised such pertinent points! More on that later. I am thrilled about the idea of taking into consideration the opinions of the people who actually end up being impacted, for better or for worse, by new laws and policies.
I admire how public-spirited Sikkim and the Sikkimese people are, and I am very excited to see what the coming months have in store for me.
Sudarshana Srinivasan is working with Hon’ble Member of Parliament, Lok Sabha from Sikkim, Shri Prem Das Rai as a SPARC Associate.