Gangtok: Chief Minister Prem Singh Golay and former Chief Minister Pawan Chamling on Friday indulged in an engaging debate in the Sikkim Legislative Assembly on the state-of-affairs inherited by the current SKM government from the previous SDF-led government.
As part of the heated discussion, reference to a ‘diamond mine’ was made more than once. So, what is it that the two leaders are talking about?
During the discussions, former CM Chamling raised concerns over the 1200-MW Teesta Urja HEP (now Sikkim Urja Ltd) that was commissioned during his government. He hailed the hydel power project located in Chungthang, North Sikkim, as a “diamond mine” which generates sustainable revenue for Sikkim.
“However, there are various allegations made on this exemplary mega power project and it is alleged that massive funds have been looted. If so, let us have a CBI probe and the truth will come out. Why defame Sikkim? Are we thieves?” questioned Chamling.
Chamling also gave an account of the loans taken for the hydel project during his government and the equity share of the State government. There are also allegations on the State government standing as a guarantor for such loans, but it is a policy followed by the governments across the world including India, he said.
On this, Chief Minister Prem Singh Golay gave a detailed response in the House while questioning the former CM as to why his SDF government opted to give the 1200-MW project to a private company instead of Government of India undertaking NHPC.
“He (Chamling) says that it is a diamond mine, but since 2017, we have got nothing. On the contrary, we are compelled to use our share of 12 per cent power generated to pay the huge loans taken for the project, the revenue goes directly to pay the loans to save it from being a non-performing asset (NPA). We need to keep paying the loans till 2045,” said Golay.
The Chief Minister added that during the lean season, when the power generation comes down, “The State government has taken loans from the State Bank of Sikkim (SBS) to pay the loans taken for the Sikkim Urja Ltd power project. Till March 31 this year, we have taken Rs 338.49 crore loans from the SBS to save the Sikkim Urja Ltd from becoming an NPA”, he said.
The CM added that the government has a 60.8% equity share in the project, but the revenue is zero ever since the project starting operating in 2017.
“Huge loans were taken by the previous government to buy the equity share at high costs ranging from Rs 6 to Rs 10 per share at a time when the project was not functioning after the 2011 earthquake. That time the value of each share was to be Rs 2.55 maximum. The present market value of the share is only Rs 6. A huge mistake has been committed in valuation of the share,” said Golay.
Earlier in the discussion, Chamling claimed that the SDF government had left Sikkim with a surplus budget and an economically strong State with less debt.
“When we lost our government, we had left Sikkim as a surplus budget State. We had left Sikkim as an economically strong State. Why deficit budgets are being presented now?”
Chamling mentioned that so many loans have been taken by the State government in these four years that each person in Sikkim carries a debt of Rs 3.22 lakh. Even the CAG is warning the State government of poor fiscal management, he added.
Golay countered, “The SKM in 2019 took over a government ridden with liabilities and misplaced priorities. There were huge liabilities left by the SDF government and we have been taking responsibility and paying these liabilities and pending payments of the past government’s projects. SKM government has already paid the dues for the Tashiling Secretariat project and the first phase payment of the STNM Hospital project. Before the 2019 Assembly elections, around 17,000-18,000 people were hired under OFOJ randomly without any due process, we don’t have anything to say on this as they are our own Sikkimese youth and we defended them in the court.”
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He mentioned the SKM government also paid the 5th Pay Commission arrears amounting to Rs 1,000 crore in one instalment to the State government employees.
“There is enough scope for revenue generation but they will again make a noise on this against the government. They are waiting for such opportunities. But we are not in the mood to impose taxes on the people,” said the Leader of the House.
Also Read | Sikkim: MLA claims ex-CM Chamling ‘sold’ 10 SDF leaders to BJP
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