One of the contentious issues to come up during the campaigning for the elections to the March 31 urban local bodies in Sikkim is the issuance of trade licence to all interested registered voters, which the political parties of all hue do not even want to touch with a bargepole for fear of hurting local sentiments.
At least two candidates belonging to the business community contesting to the Gangtok Municipal Corporation have called for granting trade licences to those with valid voter I-cards, and not only to those holding domicile certificates like the certificate of identification (COI) and residential certificate (RC).
At present, people only with voter I-cards are not eligible to apply for trade license and there are many among the roughly 40,000 traders, mostly belonging to the business communities like Marwaris and Biharis, without either COI or RC. Since trade licences cannot be transferred, even such people cannot take up family business after the death of their patriarchs.
COIs are issued to the descendants of the holders of Sikkim subject certificate, which is the domicile certificate of the erstwhile kingdom of Sikkim before its merger with India. RC, on the other hand, is given to those who can establish they have been living in Sikkim from on or before April 26, 1975, the date of merger.
Kailash Agarwal, a candidate for the Upper MG Marg ward, said one of his priorities would be to take up the trade licence issue with the government. “Those with valid voter cards should also get trade licences to earn their living. Under life to livelihood, they must be allowed to earn their living,” he said.
Agarwal also said the descendants of trade licence holders should be immediately issued new licences in the event of the death of their patriarch.
“We also want trade licences to be renewed every five years, instead of the present practice of annual renewal,” he added.
Ajay Kumar Agarwal, a candidate for Lower MG Marg ward, rubbished the contention that issuing trade licences to those without COI and RC would dilute the spirit of Article 371F of the constitution, which provides special protection to Sikkim.
“We are only saying those with voter cards who have been living here should be given trade licences,” he said, adding if giving those people voter cards didn’t dilute Article 371F, how providing them with trade licences would.
Political parties, including the ruling Sikkim Krantikari Morcha and the opposition Sikkim Democratic Front, are, however, averse to the idea of extending trading rights to all and sundry because of local sentiments.
“There is fear among local people of getting swamped by outsiders if trade licences were given to them. No political party can afford to ignore the local concerns,” said a member of Sikkim Chamber of Commerce.