Crying foul over Centre’s expedition decision, Sikkim warns about protest on the streets

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From Lepcha folklore that believes the first Lepcha man and woman were created from the snow of Mt. Kanchendzonga, to being the abode of Nee-gued, the legendary yeti – the stories of and from the mountains have delighted both the Sikkimese and people outside of the state. Throngs of writers, researchers, mountaineers and scholars are drawn to the glory of Sikkim’s peaks and valleys, mystified and longing to unravel more of its secrets.

A land rich with culture and where natural resources are treated as sacred and festivals to honour them happen the whole year-round, the most recent controversial decision made for a state, is causing people to call it a sacrilegious move by the Union Government.

In 2001, the Home Department, Government of Sikkim issued a notification banning the scaling of sacred peaks and defilement of sacred caves, rocks, lakes, Chhoedtens (Chortens) and hot springs as mentioned in the said notification, to the Government of India. But with the shocking news unnerving citizens so near the arrival of Pang Lhabsol, the festival dedicated to Mt. Kanchendzonga, people are trying to find ways to stop the government’s decision.

The President of Sikkim Mountaineering Association (SMA), Kunzang Gyasto who is the second man from Sikkim to scale Mt. Everest, spoke with Sikkim Chronicle on the controversial issue.

“The Indian Mountaineering Foundation (IMF) should have asked us or the state government. I think the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has been misguided by the IMF in Delhi. I think they are negligent and should have at least consulted us as we are also members of the IMF.”

He explained that the SMA gave a proposal to the Home Department of Sikkim, which was a document containing proper research conducted by him and his team. They found that Sikkim has 374 peaks, out of which they hoped 121 peaks could be opened for expeditions. Sacred peaks were not included on the list of peaks proposed for scaling.

“There are other peaks that aren’t classified as sacred and I’m sure the IMF does not know about that since they haven’t taken any suggestions from us. Currently, there is no coordination between IMF and SMA. We believe what is banned must remain banned. We will take it up with the IMF,” he stressed.

Kunzang also mentioned that in 2005, a 10-member committee held a meeting to look into the possibility of opening up a few peaks in Sikkim.

“Revenue was streamlined after 2005, since before that we didn’t know whether the funds were going to the state government or not. We should meet once or twice every year or so to check the amount of garbage, see how many tourists have visited it and if any mountaineers have scaled the peaks,” he informed.

A political and social activist who is the coordinator for the IAM371F campaign, Passang Sherpa condemned this act of the Central Government. He wants them to withdraw it in favour of Sikkim and its people.

“We want the MHA to withdraw the notification pertaining to the state of Sikkim. It is in violation of The Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991 since all the 24 peaks are already being defined as Buddhist places of worship,” he said.

“Mt. Kanchendzonga is part of our cultural heritage. As far as the environment and climate are concerned, Sikkim is aiming to be a carbon-neutral state soon. This decision would have negative climatic effects similar to what happened in Mt. Everest. We don’t want that to happen here. Moreover, another reason is national security. Since it is open to foreigners, they could conduct expeditions dangerous for us. The Home Minister must know about this”, added Passang and warned of taking the protest to the streets if the Central Government doesn’t reverse the notification.

Again, the Sikkimese are fighting for their cultural, land and religious rights. Will the Union Government and the Ministry of Home Affairs listen or will they disregard the fact that it is protected by Special Provisions, something that the Home Minister had assured the central government would not tinker with?

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