There has been a recent upset expressed by Sikkimese citizens over the Smart City Projects that have caused deforestation in certain areas and has caused quite a stir and many discussions. In the same air of debate, was the topic that makes one think about the implementation of it, a citizen’s round table that works with the government to regulate and give advice on projects that concern the environment. The idea was to keep a body of 6-10 people on a panel who consist of government officials, environmental scientists, social and environmental activists, philanthropists, leaders, etc., of a certain area; say, a district, a city, or a town and surrounding rural areas.

The balance between nature and human development is achievable to a good extent; Switzerland, France, Denmark, Malta, and Sweden are great examples. Policies that benefit from co-dependence with nature are frequently implemented in these countries, and the main reason all this work is because of citizen’s proactive participation in favour of nature.

Divisional Forest Officer (T), Smita Shilal, Government of Sikkim, speaks on the matter, “I think it is a good thing if this is a possibility in the future, it is good to take the public’s opinion into consideration, there will be a check, and if the public also listens to the department, it will be a good thing.”

“The people on the panel should be people from the public and the department. There are people who care so much about the environment and are so concerned, they should be in the panel, and all the people from the line departments who are connected should be on the table,” she says.

“If the government has to take advice or collect information about the works that have to be done regarding the Environment, I think the government should have a round table meeting with the people who are actually working for the environment and also have a plan on how can we go sustainably,” says Sanjay Rai, State Coordinator for VOICE NGO.

“Because it is not 100% sure that all the citizens are environmental activists or are as concerned about the environment. Some may be concerned but might prefer development over the environment so I think that if the government has to take advice on these issues then they should probably take it from the people who are related to the environment more closely. As a matter of fact, Sikkim has seen an increase in people who care for the environment but still like I said some might choose development over it. And the administrators too are citizens first so I think they also should be sensitised on these issues. Before passing a bill that will affect the entire forest cover and the environment as a whole the government should at least talk with the people,” he adds.

“I am sure that most of the people of Sikkim will choose the environment over development. But still, there might be some political or social factors that may come forward and for that, the government should be able to convince the people that the environment is more important, that sustainable development is more important.”

Pritam Pany, the founder of Voyage Zero Waste Himalaya, speaks on the implementation of a citizen’s round table in Gangtok giving an example of Bangalore as a city where it is already implemented. “How I think it should happen here, in Gangtok (for an example), is like Bangalore. Bangalore, if you see, traditionally is a Cosmopolitan city where people go abroad to study and work and later come back to settle there, because of that (among other factors), Bangalore has had a high consciousness for the environment.”

“In 2001 the bodies were framed for solid waste management, and around that time along with the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), a citizen’s round table was formed. It was effective because socialites led it, technical people who had a say in the society and two of them were lobbyists who caused a certain effect in legislations, it was a mixed table formed by 6-7 people. Over the years they have been lobbying, they have been training and have blocked stupid decisions by the administrations,” he says.

“These bodies create active checks, and this can be one of the institutions that can create checks and balance with the government. They say that they’re neutral, and they work for environmental conservation and any project should pass through us. That is why Bangalore is leading the country in actual waste management and not just in PR, even though their area of coverage is many times higher than that of here,” he adds.

Pritam informs that in Sikkim there is some level of citizen consultancy that goes on here, as there are clauses in projects that seek the NOCs from societies who live there or the Panchayats or Counsellors of the wards. Environmental clearance is a norm for most, if not all of the projects in Sikkim. Giving an example of the consultancy and workshops that they were asked to arrange by the department while making an action plan on waste management, Pritam informs that Sikkim has a level of bridge between the administration and the citizens.

“In Sikkim, I don’t know how the people got clearance for smart city projects, but on a national level as well, there were hurried clearances for as many as 12 projects out of which Arunachal Pradesh’s was one of the controversial plans,” he says.

Nature conservationists from the state of Arunachal Pradesh petitioned to Environment Ministry to reject the 3,097 MegaWatt Etalin hydro power project in Arunachal Pradesh’s Dibang Valley that will entail the diversion of luxuriant forest land, felling of tens of thousands of trees and pose a threat to the region’s rich biodiversity. According to the datasheets, the total cost of the project is about Rs 25,296.95 Cr.

“This all happened because there was no one voicing against it when it was on the table and not passed, so a citizen’s table is much needed. These powerful people who are seriously concerned about the environment should be there along with the administrators, because rarely do people listen to the youth, no matter how much you’ve worked. People seldom listen to the youth, so there must be older people who kindle this fire and do what is needed. It is a gradual social coordination process which hopefully can be implemented in Sikkim,”

Pritam says.

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