Gangtok: Following a day-long protest by Lower Sichey Councillor Kala Rai on September 5 over the Banjhakri Falls and Energy Park work tender being awarded to a ‘rich bureaucrat’, a section of youth from Luing, under Upper Burtuk constituency on Friday demanded a fresh open tender to lease out the park.

The youth were led by Pankaj Chettri from Lower Luing, who, at a press conference on Friday said, “The tender invitation for the Banjhakri Falls should be at the constituency-level for Upper Burtuk to create opportunities for local unemployed youth of the constituency. If this is not carried out, local unemployed youth of Upper Burtuk will stage protests on the streets.”

Chettri mentioned responses to the RTI filed by the aggrieved youth with five questions to the tourism department regarding the leasing of the park.

He said, “The RTI reply reveals that the Notice Inviting Tender (NIT) was not published as an advertisement anywhere, and the property was leased out based on a Cabinet Memorandum approval.”

He questioned how the property was leased out without publishing an NIT.

He questioned how a Cabinet Memorandum approval was given in the interest of an economically sound individual, instead to the state’s unemployed youth. “It is an injustice to the unemployed youth of the constituency to give such huge property to an individual without an NIT,” he said.

Chettri mentioned that Banjhakri Falls and Energy Park, located about eight kilometres from Gangtok, is a popular tourist spot in the state. “To lease such a property to an individual for 31 years is a grave injustice to us youth. Earlier, the park was leased at Rs 2.4 crore annually, and now the same property has been leased out at Rs 24.70 lakh per annum with 5 per cent enhancement every three years.”

Targeting the Sikkim Tourism Development Corporation (STDC), to whom the property was transferred in the COVID pandemic by State Tourism Department, Chettri questioned, “Why did the STDC rent out the property by facing a loss of 90 per cent in lease amount to benefit an individual? Even after enhancing 5 per cent every three years, the annual lease amount of the property would not reach Rs 1 crore per annum in 31 years. Instead of giving the tender to any individual, the STDC can itself manage the property by providing employment opportunities to local youth.”

He further said, “There are many leaders in the constituency but no one has come forward to speak in the interest of the youth. However, we are thankful to our Councillor Kala Rai who spoke on our behalf and even staged the protest, which motivated us to take this step. We are not here for any blame game or get involved in any politics, but we just need justice for the people of this area.”

The youth demanded an open tender of the property by publishing the NIT publicly to create a free and fair environment for the tender process.

“To ensure local unemployed youth get the opportunity, the bidding process must be open to participation for all, but it can equally be made at a constituency level so that the youth from the constituency can benefit. Leaders should work together to resolve the unemployment issue in the constituency and the state,” said Chettri.

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