Pawan Chamling, the chief minister of Sikkim, spoke to Smitha Verma in an email interview about his flagship scheme for promoting startups in the state, the need for youngsters to become entrepreneurs and how Sikkim has become a model state for new initiatives. Edited excerpts:
What was the idea behind launching the Chief Minister’s Startup Scheme?
We launched the scheme last year, with the aim of instilling the spirit of entrepreneurship amongst Sikkimese youth, especially those who are unemployed or dropouts. Through this scheme, we provide financial assistance of up to 25% of the total project cost. It can go up to 35% in case of conditional non-manufacturing sector projects. Our vision is to encourage the youth to not just look for government or even private jobs, but be owners of their own ventures. We have also waived 75% of fees and taxes for all entrepreneurial ventures by Sikkimese youth.
Sikkim has many firsts to its credit, including being the first organic state in the country. So is this also a first-of-its kind initiative launched by a chief minister in India?
Sikkim has arguably become a model state for the world because the rapid progress that it has witnessed over the past two decades has been achieved without compromising the environment. Around 15 years ago, we decided to shun chemical pesticides and fertilisers, and return to natural methods of farming. Today, Sikkim has the distinction of being the first state in India to go 100% organic. It is interesting to note that while agriculture contributes 50% to CO2 emissions, organic farming helps in reducing CO2 emissions. It has helped us tremendously in reducing our carbon footprint and has pushed us towards making Sikkim a carbon-neutral state. We are being appreciated not only in India, but across the globe for this. The government of India, under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has come out with a large number of initiatives, like Startup India, to foster entrepreneurship… similarly, other state governments, too, would be working on these lines.
How has the response been so far?
We have seen plenty of budding entrepreneurs in the recent past, with a rising number of successful startup ventures in the state. We earmarked `100 crore for the Chief Minister’s Startup Scheme, so that the youth come forward and utilise this fund to become self-reliant entrepreneurs. Sikkim is, in fact, the only state where we have an Entrepreneurs Hub right in the CM office, highlighting the impetus laid by the government on facilitating an enabling environment for young entrepreneurs to evolve. Prior to the CM startup scheme, we provided a variety of loans to Sikkimese youth. The Chief Minister’s Self-Employment Scheme, launched in 2002, has benefitted 7,759 youths… we, in fact, started providing loans for setting up small-scale industries as far back as 1995. We’ve been trying to instill the spirit of entrepreneurship in the state and I am sure that, once this spirit takes off, Sikkim will substantially contribute to being the country’s entrepreneur capital.
Going forward, how long are you planning to run the scheme?
The scheme has been introduced to cultivate the entrepreneurial spirit in the state and there are many aspiring entrepreneurs looking to grab this opportunity. We are open to suggestions in making the scheme better and more effective. We plan to run it for as long as it’s needed.