Chief Minister Prem Singh Golay announced that from henceforth, July 27 would be declared as a restricted holiday dedicated to vehicle drivers. He further declared that the State government will officially declare the name Sarathi for drivers, taking reference from Hindu epic Mahabharata.
The declaration came on the occasion of Sarathi Samman Diwas celebrated at Reshithang Khel Gaon near Gangtok which had the attendance of cabinet of ministers and legislators, officials from the State transport department along with drivers from across the State.
It is worth mentioning that a major part of support for Golay led Sikkim Krantikari Morcha during the 2014 and 2019 elections came from the drivers, who form a large part of Sikkimese voters. Acknowledging the same, CM Golay shared, “In the past government, the disrespect towards drivers was ripe as it was planted by the then government. They looked down on drivers, they never considered as declaring a day for drivers or uplifting them in society. Seeing the same, we have always held the drivers high in society for their immense contribution to the State. Even before forming the Government, we had declared that we would give respect to the drivers, change the mentality of the people towards drivers. It was the drivers who supported us to ensure that we form the government”.
Golay shared that rather than pushing the various concerns of the drivers through the SKM party, the State government’s transport department now acknowledges July 27 as Sarathi Diwas, a restricted holiday and officialy declaring Drivers as Sarathi, henceforth. Golay said, “You have now been recognised as part of the society and there is no one who will look down upon you for being a driver. Even if a new government comes in the future, they will not overlook July 27 as Sarathi Diwas nor will they look down on the drivers”.
Golay further added, “Prior to 2019, almost 70-80 percent of the government officers removed those drivers who supported SKM. Those that didn’t remove their drivers, tried to convince their drivers to not vote for SKM. But something they do not know is when I was in jail, it was these drivers who used to pay visit to me continuously. That is something that I will never forget and until I am in power I will work for the welfare of the drivers. I need you and your support”, said Golay to the drivers.
The Chief Minister also declared the establishment of Sikkim Sarathi Welfare Board which will have 19 members from different drivers association. He declared, “The chairman will not be a politician or a bureaucrat but rather a member of the driver association, one who understands the needs of the drivers. There will be one member secretary from the Transport Department. The welfare board will work towards supporting those drivers and their families who are financially weak or medically in need. While in case of medical referrals outside of the State or to private hospitals, the drivers will get Rs. 1 lakh in reimbursement”.
Golay further pushed for drivers to be owners of their respective vehicles. He highlighted how the government in the past 3 years has gifted over 200 vehicles to those drivers who are financially weak to ensure better livelihood for them.
Furthermore, Golay declared that from every district ten drivers and their children will be awarded an ad-hoc government job. While five drivers from each district will get house allotment order before August 15. While those drivers living on rent in urban areas will be given cylinders and gas stoves.
Golay also made consideration for devoted truck and bus parking facilities for every district. While also declaring that a Sarathi Bhawan which will serve as guest houses for drivers and their families in need will be established.
The drivers further demanded that drivers he involved as a seperate cadre among the State government employees, which the Chief Minister declared to look into it.
On the occasion Golay also declared awards for best drivers, best conductors along with those drivers who helped patients during the COVID 19 pandemic.
The Chief Minister also highlighted how the ex-gratia incase if a driver dies in accident has been increased from Rs. 3 lakhs to Rs. 5 lakhs. On the occasion, a driver who recently lost his life in an accident in Lachung, North Sikkim, the family member in attendance was awarded the Rs. 5 lakh ex-gratia.
The Chief Minister also gave away insurance to 375 government drivers. Similarly the scrapping tenure of luxury vehicles was increased from 10 years to 12 years. While also mentioning that tourist spots in every town will be utilised for ferrying tourists by local taxi drivers as against drivers or vehicles from outside the State.