Corporate feasibility along with environmental sustainability- A need for a ‘greener’ Sikkim

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In September, the Home Department issued a central public procurement policy for Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) to support and assist them. The new policy has many benefits for the MSMEs but amongst them, there is a special provision for environmental conservation where two “Green Incentives” are to be undertaken:

  1. Reimbursement of 50% cost limited to Rs. 1 lakh for water audit and Rs. 2 lakhs for energy audit will be provided.
  2. 50% of the cost up to Rs. 1 lakh for plantation in and around the plant will be reimbursed.

The incentives might sound good, but for something that is implemented to preserve and uplift the “Green State” image, it seems a rather passive action. Will there be programmes that teach about sustainable resources for the manufacture of products and packaging, or water conservation during the making of products (if required)? In addition to which, there is also no workforce welfare assistance in the state’s MSME policy, as compared to the one implemented in Rajasthan and West Bengal.

Corporate sustainability is more than promising to waive off a certain percentage of money but has to step up and realize that it is more beneficial to both the planet and its people if they bring more active participation into their green initiatives. There are businesses that have been incorporating eco-friendly materials into their packaging, revisiting their policies and rethinking product lines.

So, how can the state departments break from this passive stance? Maybe they could partner with NGOs that are focused on environmental issues or sit down and actually form policies that require employees to learn about sustainability and environment because at the end of the day, we are all part of the problem. Our attitudes towards ecology have got to change and along with that, the departments should be more mindful of the state’s “green” image.

A small change in the form of solar panels to be used for electricity in all government departments could go a long way and set an example to the citizens. Certainly, not everyone would be able to afford it, but there can be alternatives found or subsidization given by the authorities. Is that not being more proactive than merely putting things on a piece of paper?

One of the objectives of that particular MSME notification is, “to promote the development of entrepreneurship within the state through providing awareness, sensitization and exposure”, but the word “entrepreneur” is thrown around casually in conversations and used by practically anybody who owns a business. The actual reality is different. For the sake of not digressing too far from our topic, renting a space and setting up a small shop isn’t entrepreneurship. The word is heavy, so is the struggle one takes up to create a successful start-up. But that is a story for another day.

Now, if it weren’t for a credible source of information, there would be terrifying consequences to filing any report. For our purpose, a quick look at the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India’s 2018 Audit report shows a plethora of problems that Sikkim has and needs to be found a solution to, as quickly as possible.

The report has mentioned in its first chapter summary itself that the Commerce and Industries Department (C&ID) has terribly lagged in implementing policy objectives due to lack of planning for development, creation or maintenance of basic infrastructure for promoting industrial promotion. Again, this is the 2018 report we are referring to and it is pertinent to mention that even though 2019 saw many new policies formed to better push our citizens’ ventures into the future, there is still a lot to be learnt from the recent history.

According to the report, C&ID was supposed to designate specific positions for monitoring and supervising the industries in the state but has not taken care to do so. From regular information neither being submitted nor follow up investigations/surveys conducted, there are important things being avoided by the department.

Is it a lack of manpower? How can that be? It is a known fact that we have an unemployment crisis in the state. There are posts that haven’t been filled and the problem is that it isn’t only exclusive to one department, because there are other departments in Sikkim that have vacant posts too. This is troubling to know because clearly, there are a huge number of unemployed people in the state. Either the qualifications for the said posts aren’t adequate but surely, some sort of relaxation is needed given how Sikkim is still a young state.

Apart from this, the C&ID has not even provided a complete list of industries or the number of people employed. This belies the image of efficiency and progress that people have of the department. The Chief Minister, on many occasions, has asked for complete transparency in the workings of any department and this non-transparent, rather lackadaisical attitude of the C&ID might turn out to become a problem in the future.

The C&ID seems to be almost flourishing outwardly, but at this point, all one wonders is whether the new CAG Audit Report will unearth newer failures or point to how the older problems have not been taken care of. But it is to be noted that the department has been making some sort of effort to create policies for startups, since even if the C&ID does not implement mechanisms for large scale local employment, their investment into making futures more secure for the Sikkimese startups assures that the local population can still hope to find jobs within the state.

Sikkim has seen a surge of startups in the last few years, which has been a beacon of light for people who either find jobs in the new companies or find the confidence to start their own business. This self-sufficiency has everything to with the younger generation seeking change and taking charge of the state’s future in their hands, proactively helping the economy along with the society.

It is not yesterday’s news that entrepreneurs have become the backbone of many economies around the world, most notably, the United States of America. Closer to home, Bangalore registers almost 20 new startups on a weekly basis and this infectious activity has garnered much attention from citizens. Seeing the young generation take matters into their own hands, making use of ideas that would stay latent if kept aside in hopes of a government job (a staple favourite of most Indian families), is inspiring.

Although in the North East, Manipur leads with 12,438 business registrations for MSMEs in the year 2018-19 against Sikkim’s 288. The numbers may not seem like much, but for a population that finds itself either at the crux of joining politics or aspiring to become a government servant, 288 registrations points towards certain growth and awareness, which is reflected in the Innovation Index ranking of the NITI Aayog – the state stands first among all North Eastern states after due consideration of its sustainable business goals and holistic policies.

That is the crucial point – we are growing as a state but in some areas that are important for better progress, we are losing out. After every meeting with a higher authority, there are plans of projects that are declared to the media, but none have found fruition in reality. Never mind that, these are problems that seem to have been piling up for years. No matter which party comes to power, the functioning of the departments are to some extent in their own power – why has it come to such a scenario where many young people are disillusioned with the state departments? Is that the reason that posts remain vacant?

It is an unfortunate reality, that as the population of Sikkim increases, so will the demand for jobs that will multiply tenfold. If our state cannot give the future generation a source of earning their income, then they will have failed in all their promises and plans.

As a layperson, one without expert knowledge of commerce and business, the news that surfaces may be all that matters. But when we delve deeper, we can see the frayed ends. So, what does the C&ID plan for its newest venture – will it become successful or will we find the same lack of effort of officials in proper planning and execution in the next CAG report?

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