Burning of Bhaichung Bhutia’s Effigy: Flouting of the Disaster Management Act
With a vision of upgrading the health care sector in the South and West district of Sikkim, the state government decided to build a 300-bedded hospital at an existing playground of Singithang, Namchi also commonly known as Veterinary ground. For the same, the foundation laying ceremony of the proposed 300-bedded hospital was done on June 5, by the Chief Minister Prem Singh Tamang.
CM Tamang, while speaking to the media, stressed the importance of the hospital for the citizens of the south and west districts of Sikkim, assuring everyone that the project will be completed soon. “The establishment of the hospital in Namchi shall make people of south and west districts to avail all the medical aid at convenience” added CM Tamang. He further added on how the hospital shall be well-built and well-equipped.
“The existing district hospital of Namchi was build in the year 1975, and for the south and west district, the Namchi district hospital plays a vital role in providing access to medical aid and support thus the up-gradation of the hospital will definitely benefit the two districts” CM Tamang
“The project of the hospital costs approximately 500 cr, in which all kinds of facilities will be available, and all the needed equipments for testing and other paramedics will be gradually available at the hospital” He added
According to the report of IPR, the Government of Sikkim “The State Government aims to build a robust public healthcare system in Sikkim wherein expert doctors and other specialists is available to treat the public. He also said that an alternative land for Singithang playground in Boomtar has been sought after by the State Government for the same.”
The report further stated that the 300-bedded hospital is extremely necessary in order to aid the people of Sikkim particularly in the times of COVID-19 pandemic.
Meanwhile, after the foundation laying ceremony, the former India football team captain and working president of Hamro Sikkim Party Bhaichung Bhutia took his social media account to express his dissatisfaction with the government’s decision to build the 300 bedded hospital in an existing football ground. His social media account read with the title “Hospital not at a cost of football ground”
In his social media handle, he further stated that “this hospital is being built on the only playground available in Namchi at the moment. It would have been better if it had been shifted to Karfectar near Jorethang, where the Government had sold the land for a cancer hospital. This location suits people from both South and West Sikkim.”’
In addition, Bhutia also suggested to the government that the focus of the government should be more on terms of upgrading the existing hospitals and PHCs during this Pandemic situation.
Bhutia in his post also appealed to the government to stop the construction, “I would request the Govt. to kindly stop the construction and start when the pandemic is over. The focus right now must be on manpower and the up-gradation of existing hospitals, including PHCs. And importantly, They must shift the project from the only playground available in Namchi.”
Furthermore, Bhutia showed his disappointment towards the SKM led government and mentioned that “we all fought for good parivartan (change) and the people voted for parivartan but what is actually taking place in Sikkim has completely been disappointing so far. Percentages and commissions can wait, but peoples' lives and livelihoods are at stake here, so let us hope the Govt. gets its priorities right.”
However, on June 9, at Central Park, Namchi, some women called a strong protest against Bhaichung Bhutia for his statement against the construction of the 300 bedded hospital at Singithang Football Ground.
The protest happened in the broad daylight in the heart of the town Namchi, the effigy of Bhaichung Bhutia was burnt and the protesters were seen holding the placards reading: “Namchi ma hospital banownay sarkar ko nirnai lai hami swagat gardachw -Dhashin Sikkim Nari Sangh ” ( We welcome the Government’s decision to build Hospital in Namchi)
The incident occurred in Namchi when the whole nation is under the extension of National Disaster Management Act, also Sikkim is no behind where the partial lockdown has been imposed following strict protocols. Disaster Management Act 2005 has been implemented in the state to control the spread of coronavirus. The gathering of people and any other public functions has been totally restricted by the authorities; however, amidst all the restrictions some women from Namchi called a strong protest rally in the broad daylight which questions the authority of major negligence.
While speaking to Sikkim Chronicle on the same, Bharani Kumar, District Collector of South Sikkim said There has been a violation of provisions under the Disaster Management Act and action will be taken against the violators”
As per Kumar “ The persons are unidentified but its confirmed they belong to a group namely Dakshin Sikkim Nari Sangh" He further added that the case is under investigation and the complaint has been registered under section 51 of the Disaster Management Act.
Post-incident, many political outfits, sportsperson and activists from various background showed their disappointment over the burning of the effigy of Bhaichung Bhutia
Hamro Sikkim Party in their press release condemned the burning of an effigy of Bhaichung Bhutia and called it a Black Day in the history of Sikkim.
The press release reads, “Never in history has Sikkim witnessed such an unfortunate incident where the son of the soil - who brought in so much of name and fame for not only the state but for the entire nation - has been disrespected in his own motherland.”
“It is unbelievable and disheartening how a constructive suggestion for the welfare of people from an opposition leader and national figure was taken negatively by the people in the ruling government. Bringing forth the women folks of the party to protest was a cowardly act. They are putting the women as well as the public’s life at risk. The concerned authorities grossly failed in their duties during a crisis.” The press release added.
Further, the Hamro Sikkim Party also demanded the imposition of President's rule in the state “HSP strongly demands the imposition of the President's rule in Sikkim, keeping in view the situation of lawlessness at the peak of a health crisis. If we still let this activity prevail in the State, we will damage the image of the State and also put people’s lives in danger. Shri Bhaichung is a national figure and protecting him and his image is the state’s as well as the nation’s responsibility.”
J.B Darnal, the spokesperson of Sikkim Democratic Front also showed his dismay and said “ the protest was demonstrated in the heart of the town, Where were the authorities at that time?, the protest is illegal, it has violated the partial lockdown and the Disaster Management Act. “ Bhaichung Bhutia just demanded that the hospital to be shifted to another place, it was not an act of anti- National, the protest and burning of an effigy was not necessary” added Darnal.
Darnal also criticized the function of the foundation stone laying ceremony done on June 5 by the Chief Minister, he said “ during the foundation laying ceremony when Chief Minister was accompanied by various officials which in fact is a violation of the disaster management act itself”
Further, he also informed that Sikkim Democratic Front will call a press conference regarding the issue.
Similarly, Passang Sherpa, a social and political activist and also the Coordinator of I am 371f calls it an unfortunate event, he said “ The unfortunate event of protest and burning of effigy in Namchi is a punishable offence under section 144 and Disaster Management Act 2005. The illegal act was not just committed by the protestors, but also committed by the District Administration. Now, it is for the state government to initiate action against the protestors and District Administration.”
Further, he also demanded a judicial probe, “It seems that innocent and ignorant women folks were brainwashed and made a scapegoat in this whole effigy burning episode. Thus, we demand judicial probe of the incident to find out the mastermind behind this cowardice act.”
Sikkim Bhutia Lepcha Apex Committee showed their disappointment and claimed that “The incident of Namchi highlights the growing intolerance of ruling parties towards dissenting voices towards their policies and the use of different methods to suppress and threaten opposition from voicing their opinions.”
Further, SIBLAC stressed that “During this time of pandemic and lockdown, it is surprising that law enforcement has neither given any official statement of the incident nor taken any action against the people who broke the law.”
“There is a time for everything, even political differences but during this time of pandemic and economic difficulties, it is up to the government to take a more progressive and mature stance to involve all to tackle the present problems and give relief to the suffering of the public. It is not proper of a responsible government to attack opposition parties to divert the attention of the public to hide their own weaknesses in tackling the present situation.” Added SIBLAC
“The leadership of a state is judged by the way it handles problems during the time of difficulties and the solutions it comes up with to solve the problems, and not by the way it suppresses public opinions pointing to its weaknesses. Our organization condemns the incident at Namchi and appeals to the public to refrain from any illegal activities which can endanger the lives of the people by spreading the Covid-19 infection. We appeal to all to lend their hand in tackling the pandemic and to abide by the safety instructions of the government. Our organization is ready to participate in any activity towards alleviating the problems caused by this pandemic. Stay Safe.”
Likewise, footballers like Nirmal Chettri, Bikash Jairu and Sanju Pradhan also expressed their dismay in regard to the incident. They added that the discussion and deliberation of personalities of intelligence was a way forward and call and not the protest rally and burning of effigy. They condemned the burning of effigy act.
All three footballers applauded the chief minister's idea of establishing the 300 bedded hospital at Singithang, Namchi, which in fact would upgrade the health infrastructure in the state. Further, they also stressed how the government of Sikkim has identified an alternative space at Boomtar for Singithing ground.
Nirmal Chettri said “ it’s a shameful act of burning an effigy, on a small suggestion of Bhaichung, in fact, it’s high time to think about it now. Bhaichung having an affiliation with a political party has right to express his thoughts in fact reaction of oppositions parties on decisions of the government have always been there, but this type of incident has never happened and shouldn’t have happened at the first place”
Sanju Pradhan, another footballer said “In this period of Pandemic witnessing such an act hampers the clean and peaceful image of Sikkim, where people are peacefully following the SOPs and Covid-19 management protocols” Similarly, Bikash Jairu another footballer also condemned the incident which happened at Namchi he said “ it’s an act of shame, burning of effigy shouldn’t have happened” “If we analyze the situation government is also trying to build a hospital which will benefit the people and on the other side Bhaichung Bhutia being a sportsperson and sports lover suggested the government shift the construction site, this issue could have been dealt in proper manner by authorities and outfits but protest rally was really uncalled-for”
Meanwhile, Navraj Gurung of ruling front of Sikkim Krantikari Morcha during his interview in one of the digital platforms claimed that the incident was just an emotional outburst of the people of Namchi against Bhaichung Bhutia’s stamen of taking their opportunity and infrastructure. He strongly added that “ If I would be of Namchi, I would have surely taken part in the protest rally”.
On June 13 nine women were arrested by Namchi Police and the case against them has been registered under 188 IPC and 51 of the Disaster Management Act 2005. ‘
Speaking with Sikkim Chronicle, the Spokesperson of Sikkim Police, DIG Prabin Gurung informed that nine women who were involved in the recent incident of violating the disaster management act have been arrested. The arrest was made after the police complaint was lodged by the South District Collectorate.
"The matter is under investigation, and we have booked the women under section 188/34 IPC, read with section 51 of Disaster Management Act of 2005," said Gurung.