Tibet TV of Department of Information and International Relations interviewed Kalon Sonam Topgyal Khorlatsang of Department of Home, Central Tibetan Administration, on the occasion of the second anniversary of the 15th Kashag.
Following is the English transcript of Tibet TV’s interview with Kalon Sonam Topgyal Khorlatsang.
Tibet TV: What are the major achievements of the Department of Home in its 2-year tenure?
Home Kalon: The Five Fifty Vision of 15th Kashag conveys the commitment to the long-term preservation and strengthening of Tibetan communities around the world. In keeping with this vision, we have successfully achieved legal documentation and recognition of Tibetan settlements across India to ensure its long-term sustenance. Over the past 60 years, we have not faced any legal issue from the Indian Government regarding our settlements.
In case of Bir and Paonta Tibetan Settlement, these Tibetan settlements are independently bought over Tibetan’s ownership. Tibetan settlements in South, North East and Central India, such as Orissa and Mainpat have been granted long-term lease by the Indian Government.
In October 2014, Ministry of Home, Government of India has formalised the “Tibetan Rehabilitation Policy 2014”. The Tibetan Rehabilitation policy is the outcome of a number of meetings held between and among the officials of the Home Ministry, Ministry of External Affairs, concerned State Government and the delegation of the Central Tibetan Administration. During Kalon Gyari Dolma, we held a series of meeting regarding such a policy. As of now, the Policy Act has been successfully implemented in all Tibetan settlements in South India and the settlements have attained Record of Tenancy Certificate. Those settlements in Uttarakhand are currently under process.
Tibet TV: Housing facilities in exile Tibetan settlements have been inadequate for newly arrived Tibetans from Tibet. What are the initiatives from the Department of Home to cater to these specific needs?
Home Kalon: We have received applications from 1600 families for permanent housing in Tibetan settlements. We are currently processing these applications and we assure them the required housing facilities for them. In 2016, we had inaugurated Lily Tibetan Village project for the new arrivals from Tibet at Bir, Himachal Pradesh. Similarly, we have completed the 60 new housing constructions in Dekyi Larso and Lugsung Samdupling Tibetan settlements. A second housing construction for 20 families is underway. Similar housing project for newly arrived Tibetans in Mundgod is being planned.
Tibet TV: What are the important initiatives of the Home Department specifically towards the welfare of Tibetans living in Bhutan and Nepal?
Home Kalon: The Central Tibetan Administration is committed and determined to serve the wellbeing of the Tibetans in both the countries. However, in light of the political situations and unavoidable circumstances, we are unable to implement initiatives and projects as we would want to.
Despite these difficulties, we have been exploring opportunities to support the Tibetans living in Bhutan and Nepal. For example, In Bhutan, we have initiated a credit system for Tibetans interested in rearing animals. In case of Nepal, the 14th Kashag have been successful in providing various supports for Tibetans in Nepal. The 15th Kashag has considered dedicating 20 percent of the USAID grant towards supporting and improving the welfare of Tibetan community in Nepal.
Recently I along with the Chief Planning Commissioner visited Tibetan communities in Nepal. Based on our discussions with the local community, we presented a report on potential projects aimed at improving facilities and economic status of the local Tibetan settlements. These projects will be handled by related departments and we will see the implementation in matter of time. Although we are facing problems in directly benefitting the Tibetan communities in Nepal and Bhutan, the Central Tibetan Administration is committed to oversee their welfare and will continue to do the best we can.
Tibet TV: This year, the 15th Kashag is completing its second year in office. In the next three years, with the Five-Fifty vision in place, what are the main initiatives that the Department of Home is undertaking?
Home Kalon: In the last two years, the Department of Home have lined up a lot of projects. For instance, the implementation of the Tibetan Rehabilitation Policy Act 2014 announced by the union government of India. The states of Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh hosts a sizeable number of Tibetans. In November 2015, I went to Itanagar to meet the Chief Minister of the state. During the meeting, I apprised him of the importance of implementing the Tibetan Rehabilitation Policy Act in the state. I also explained the Tibetan people’s stand on the policy and how it benefits the Tibetan community. Following the meeting, the chief minister instructed his chief secretary to implement the policy within a specified time.
Once the state government started implementing the policy in an official capacity, it is true that there were a few student unions that protested these moves by the state government. However, these were just minor cases involving a few students. There were a lot of schools and colleges in Arunachal Pradesh, and the majority of these students didn’t stage any protests or expressed opposition.
Moreover, in the run up to the Arunachal legislative assembly, we met several of the state’s MLAs and requested them to support and explain the Tibetan Rehabilitation Policy Act in the assembly. And they kept their promises and did the same in the assembly. As a result, the policy is successfully being implemented now.
Regarding the Chief Minister of Sikkim, we have sought appointments on numerous occasions but due to time constraints, we were not able to meet for long. However, we got an opportunity to meet the chief minister on 4 January this year. During the meeting, we apprised the chief minister and a decision is almost confirmed now.
The Sikkim state government has also planned to construct a national highway through the Tibetan settlement in Ravangla. The project has already started and if it continued as planned through the Tibetan settlement, it was obvious that a huge part of the settlement would be dismantled. So, we have appealed both in written and verbal mediums to consider our situation. Finally, despite the financial costs to the state, the map of the highway construction was altered by the state to keep the Tibetan settlement intact.
In West Bengal, we have filed several requests to meet the Chief Minister. However, it hasn’t been successful till now. Similarly, we have submitted repeated requests and continue to request the chief minister of the Tibetan settlements in Bhandara, Kalimpong, Darjeeling, etc. Except these few states, the state governments of the remaining states have consented to implement the policy. Once we meet the chief ministers of these few remaining states, I don’t think we will face any special hurdles to convince them to implement the policy.
There were several projects that the department implemented in the last two years. To be honest, there are a lot of projects that the CTA is undertaking for the welfare of the people. Most of these projects have been successful but there are some which unfortunately have been less than successful. We have to be honest and clear about it. Another vexing issue facing the department is the issue of providing lands for newly arrived Tibetans. Earlier, there is an unending stream of Tibetans escaping Chinese persecution in Tibet and coming to India. For that reason we were not in a capacity to provide lands to every single newly arrived Tibetan. They have mostly devised initiatives and have been self reliant. However, since 2008, due to a decrease in the flow of Tibetans from Tibet, there is a decrease in the number of Tibetans in schools, monasteries and the settlements. Therefore, the department has, based on urgency of situation, has been able to provide houses and lands in the settlements to some newly arrived Tibetans. This service has resulted in satisfaction in both the beneficiaries as well as the service providers. The Kashag is also pleased to have been able to help these Tibetans in need.