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Why Sikkim urgently needs a civil and environmental engineering teaching and research at the university level


What are the pressing challenges affecting people's everyday life in Sikkim, whether in winter or summer? Landslides, traffic jams, roadblocks, garbage issues and poor road infrastructure would easily top the list. What are the environmental concerns that are always at the forefront of political debate? The issues of river, dam, and its safety, river pollution, water resource, and water supply and treatment might easily top the list. What engineering difficulties are most frequently discussed during natural disasters? Development of earthquake-resistant buildings, safe and resilient infrastructure, and slope stability would easily fit in the list. What does Sikkim's ambition for vast organic agriculture/farming require? Should we ignore the necessity of proper irrigation infrastructure in answering this question? All the issues highlighted are part of Civil and Environmental Engineering teaching and research. Sadly, there is no institute for higher learning and research in the fields of Civil and Environmental in Sikkim, even in the middle of the 21st century. Currently, NIT Sikkim (Central Govt.) and SMIT (PPP) are the only two institutes that give this scope of engineering research however, they don’t fall under state government jurisdiction. Sikkim Institute of Science and Technology (SIST) at Chisopani, which is the only government engineering college in Sikkim, is limited to a bachelor’s degree with very little scope for research of high quality at the moment. Therefore, the scope of higher learning and research in the field of Civil and Environmental Engineering to address regional infrastructure related issue is practically non-existent.

Let me outline what Civil and Environmental Engineering education and research entails for those who are unfamiliar. Environmental Engineering, Structural Engineering, Geotechnical Engineering, Transportation Engineering, and Water Resources Engineering are the five distinct sub-disciplines of Civil Engineering that have direct connections with Sikkim's longstanding requirements in the realm of infrastructure development. The Environmental engineering teaching and research includes, but is not limited to, the planning, design, construction and operation of water and wastewater treatment facilities in municipalities and industries. It includes modelling and analysis of surface water quality, water supply, wastewater treatment, Solid waste management and public health. Structural Engineering focus is directed toward improving the ability of engineers to understand and interpret structural behavior through experiments and computer analyses. Designing systems capable of surviving major earthquakes. Reliability-based design and performance assessment methodologies, assessing the behavior of reinforced concrete buildings and bridges, as well as structural steel, masonry, and timber structures. Geotechnical Engineering focuses on understanding and advancing the state of knowledge on the effects that soils and soil deposits have on the performance, stability, and safety of civil engineering structures. They focus on slop stability, ground improvement techniques, rock mechanics which are pressing issue of Sikkim. Transportation Engineering aims to provide the safe, efficient, rapid, comfortable, convenient, and environmentally sustainable movement of people and goods. It involves the design, construction and maintenance of Highway Roads & Systems, urban streets as well as parking facilities. Important aspects of highway engineering include overall planning of routes, financing, and analyze locations of high traffic volumes, jams and high collisions for safety and capacity. Water Resources Engineering focuses on surface and ground-water processes, hydrometeorology and hydro climatology, remote sensing, data assimilation, hydrologic modeling, and parameter estimation, multi objective resources planning and management, dam, and its safety etc. 

Sikkim has entered the modern era of development and will see an increase in infrastructure related construction activities. With rising urbanization in Sikkim, the need for infrastructure to meet public and private needs would skyrocket. More roads, buildings, bridges, waste management facilities, transportation and traffic management facilities, water, and wastewater management facilities would be required in Sikkim. Frequent landslides and failure of slopes demands permanent Civil Engineering solutions.  Sikkim's built environment and nature-related difficulties are distinct, necessitating a custom-made solution. The challenges list above have always been the focus of many political dialogues; however, effort has not been made to address this problem through initiation of research and Development (R&D) activities. How long should we depend on experts from outside the state to solve our local problems? Shouldn’t we invest in developing the best minds to tackle our regional problems. The vison of higher education should be mostly to solve societal problem through enquiry, research, and collaboration with best mind from around the world.  We may not be able to face and solve the obvious challenges in quest for meeting infrastructure needs of Sikkim without investment in higher education and research in related field. Such R&D based endeavor with dedicated funding would help in developing nexus between policymakers and academician to address persistent infrastructure related challenges of Sikkim. The creation of place of higher learning for Civil and Environmental Engineering would aid us in developing the best minds to tackle our regional problems.

Entire goal of establishing the university should be to address the state's pressing demands of socio-economic and engineering concern. Major emerging and developed economies have established great universities to solve their nation's needs in economy, infrastructure, health, societal issues, and quest for advancement in science and technology. Furthermore, the goal of university-level teaching and research is also to adapt rapidly to the changing global educational needs and demand. Aside from teaching and research in traditional course at higher learning institutes, our resources should also be directed into institutes of higher learning that focus on engineering and applied scientific R&D. We should also focus on developing new knowledge rather than simply consuming what the west or mainland elite institutions generate. "Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world," Nelson Mandela said. To adapt to a changing world, the Sikkim government must accept responsibility for our predicament and begin to build human resources capable of addressing infrastructure and built environment concerns without depending on experts from outside.

One way to get started would be to create a Civil and Environmental Engineering department at Khangchendzonga State University in Sikkim. Another possibility is to develop the college (SIST) into a full-fledged Technical University of Sikkim in order to satisfy all of Sikkim's engineering aspirations through high-quality teaching and research. There are plenty of opportunities which would help in developing world class infrastructure for teaching and research in the area of Civil and Environmental Engineering. The existing multiple hydro-project plants could provide a venue for collaboration and funding for high-quality collaborative research which could be leveraged for the creation of a sophisticated civil engineering lab and other needs. Several pharmaceutical companies could assist in the establishment of a high-quality international standard environmental engineering research lab through joint research collaboration. Landfill sites, municipalities, and ULBs could serve as direct field research locations for many scholars of various domains of civil and environmental engineering. Effectively utilizing the such available opportunities would be pivotal aspect in transforming the university to an innovative and resilient place of higher learning and research through systems, processes and praxis (practice). Such endeavor would also facilitate much needed cooperation between policymakers and academician to address pressing regional issues. The smart city mission includes several civil and environmental engineering components and could be leveraged to train our scholars. However, several consultation and research tasks related to such mission and schemes are delegated to national institutes or the consultancy firms from outside states thus missing an opportunity to develop competent human resource in State university. Further, collaboration between the state university, national university/institute, and the government would go a long way toward fostering a scientific mindset in the state to solve infrastructure related challenges of Sikkim. Sikkim requires enabling universities as per the aspirations and needs of the state.  Our state university should be designed for international competitiveness and narrow the gap with the nation’s elite research institutions. Since the problems that Sikkim faces are multi-dimensional, so must be our efforts at combating them.  If we take Benjamin Franklin's advice, "an investment in knowledge always pays the highest interest," then the government should invest in establishing a higher education and research institute in the field of engineering to build our own troubleshooter for various infrastructure-related challenges in Sikkim.

(Author is former research scholar at Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur. Email: )

Sikkim at a Glance

  • Area: 7096 Sq Kms
  • Capital: Gangtok
  • Altitude: 5,840 ft
  • Population: 6.10 Lakhs
  • Topography: Hilly terrain elevation from 600 to over 28,509 ft above sea level
  • Climate:
  • Summer: Min- 13°C - Max 21°C
  • Winter: Min- 0.48°C - Max 13°C
  • Rainfall: 325 cms per annum
  • Language Spoken: Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha, Tibetan, English, Hindi