Green Sikkim: Hefty Lessons from the Tiny State


To be brutally honest, Sikkim does not really count for much in the larger sphere of things in India. Which is not altogether surprisingly, the small land-locked Himalayan state also happens to be the least populous state in India and the second-smallest state after Goa in total area, covering approximately 7,096 km2. On the economic front, Sikkim had the third-smallest GDP among Indian states. And then comes the geographic isolation, it lies on the North-Eastern tip of India, a kind of lost kingdom of Shangri-La.

Yet, the tiny state is now transmuted itself into a beacon of sustainable farming, not only in India but across the globe. The proof of Sikkim’s success has been in the recent declaration of the state as a complete organic state by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In doing so, Sikkim has become the first state in the Indian union to be declared completely organic.Sikkim2

The journey to being completely organic has been a long and arduous one for Sikkim. It took almost a decade for the state to convert 75,000 hectares of farmland into certified organic farms, thereby implementing organic agricultural practices. With the same, Sikkim now accounts for over 800,000 tonnes of organic produce, accounting for nearly 65% of all of India’s 1.24 million tonnes. And that is a big achievement for a state that has a population of roughly around 6 lacs people, much lesser than the number of people that commute in the Mumbai suburban trains on a daily basis.

And all the talk of size and population density not withstanding; there’s a lot that other Indian states can learn from Sikkim in terms of approaching green and sustainability. While most of Indian states do seem to have an aim to go green, Sikkim is now a case study on how to do so. There are many reasons why the state has been successful in its green endeavours, here’s listing down the top three.

Politics of Development
Sikkim joined the Indian union in 1975, and after a relatively short period of instability that usually happens when transitioning to democracy, it attained a political equilibrium so as to say. In the year 1994, Pawan Chamling from the Sikkim Democratic Front took oath as the Chief Minister, and has been doing so for the all the state elections after that. With over 22 years as the CM, Chamling is all set to break Sikkim6Jyoti Basu’s record as the longest serving CM in a year’s time.

With Chamling at the helm, there is a continuity and stability of governance. The CM is not compelled to deliver on populist measures and be able to concentrate on long-term policies. Unlike Jyoti Basu, he has not lapsed into a tranquil state and is still very active and agile. He has a vision for the state has been working towards it for a very many years. This has been one of the primary differentiating factor, and is a proof that a stable government can often result in steady progress.

Systematic and Sustainable
Just like, one can’t build Rome in a day, similarly one cannot “green” Rome in a single day either. Going organic needs long-term investment and commitment. Right from macro policy-level amendments, to micro farmer-level interventions. There’s a need for an approach that isn’t only holistic but also empirical.

Sikkim has been quite successful in adapting those measures. The state developed right crop-specific incentives to hand-hold farmers into opting for organic farming. The government also closely looked at any incentives that could be accrued from national schemes a d the benefits being passed to the consumers. Once the carrots were in place, the stick was put into action, the entry of chemical inputs for farmland was restricted and their sale banned. Farmers therefore had no option but to go organic.

Throughout the 12 long-year journey of going organic, the state has not adopted a didactic approach, but rather partnered with its farmers trying to nudge and coddle them into going organic. The success of this approach is evident from how the production levels have not fallen, but rather rose by going organic. This proves that organic practices in agriculture are not only sustainable but also make great economic sense.

Green not in silo
While going organic is a big landmark for Sikkim, thankfully, it is not the be-all and end-all of the state’s green endeavors. In fact for the past two decades, the government had been diligently working at a slew of measures to turn Sikkim into a model green state. Take for instance the massive afforestation exercise undertaken, that has helped grow the green cover in the state, even when everywhere else in India there is a steady decline.Sikkim3

The Sikkim government is also very keen and conscious about promoting ecotourism, and has adopted a slew of measures to that end. A great example of it, would be how the land area of the only National Park in the state has actually grown over the years. It was also among the first states in India to ban plastic bags, way back in 1998. Beyond that, Sikkim has been steadily looking at the HDI parameters, and today has one of the best HDI ratio (among states) in India. Major issues like education and healthcare have been actively taken up by the government, resulting in a high literacy rate.

Hence, a combination of governance, right incentives, people participation, and so on has been largely responsible why Sikkim has been able to achieve success in its green efforts.

In the end, the tiny Himalayan state of Sikkim has turned into a striking example of how it progress and development does not necessarily come at environmental degradation. One can continue to grow and develop and not forsake nature in the quest. This is the unique message that emanates from Sikkim, quite like the effervescent cardamoms (completely organic BTW) that get harvested in the state. In this regards, Sikkim might surely be one of the smallest states in India, but is now one of the biggest role models for the rest of states to follow.

Shashwat DC


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