Sonam Topgyal Khorlatsang, the finance minister of the Tibetan government in-Exile. Featured image courtesy CTA Home Department

Interviews and Recap
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Dharamshala, India — An exclusive interview with Sonam Topgyal Khorlatsang, the Home Minister of the Tibetan government in-Exile. As a civil servant who unwaveringly dedicates to public services and commits himself to the cause of Tibet, empowering the younger generation and setting a great example to many.

His lifelong sacrifice also sheds insight into the men and women who are playing a strong and vital role in continuing our freedom struggle. He also shares with us about some important achievements as well as challenges the Department of Home faces today.

Can you introduce yourself and the nature of the work you do here?

My name is Sonam Topgyal Khorlatsang, the incumbent Kalon of the Home Department. I was born in the year 1954 in Tibet. After completing my studies, I did my diploma course in Financial Management funded by S.C.F (UK) and joined the Central Tibetan Administration in 1979. Since then, I have worked in various capacities within the Tibetan administration. I was nominated as Kalon of the 15th Kashag by Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay in May 2016 and approved by the 16th Tibetan Parliament in exile on 1st June 2016.

As the Kalon of one of the largest Departments - the Department of Home, Central Tibetan Administration, my responsibility entails looking after the overall administrative, welfare and socio-economic developmental activities of the Department and its units - the various settlement offices in India, Nepal, and Bhutan; And on a larger context, all matters relating to the administrative, judicial, political and policy-related decision of the State of Tibet and Tibetans - that are of national importance which are discussed and decided in the Kashag - the apex executive body of governance, in which the six Kalons headed by Sikyong meet every Tuesday and Friday. I am answerable to the elected members of the Tibetan representatives in the Tibetan Parliament in exile.

What is the working structure of the Home Department and how many units, settlements are there in Himachal Pradesh under the Home Department?

Under the Home Department, His Holiness the Dalai Lama's Central Tibetan Relief Committee is the relief and development wing and the legally registered body as a non-profit development organization to look after the welfare and socio-economic development of the Tibetan refugees in exile. We have to work in close cooperation with the Government of India and international organizations involved in helping Tibetans to improve their lot. Employment generation and promoting self-reliance among the Tibetan populace has been the chief task of the Department since it came into being.

The Department has various divisions such as the Administrative, Planning, Agriculture & Cooperative, Welfare, Youth Empowerment, Accounts, and Internal Audit to look after the development areas of CTRC's works with Rehabilitation and Relief, Physical Infrastructure, Human Resources Development, and Economic Development. In Himachal Pradesh, there are 14 Tibetan settlements/units under the Department of Home.

How the heads of these settlements selected and what are are the terms and qualifications?

People at the grassroots level have the right to either select their own settlement/welfare officers or request appointees from the CTA. Thus far, most of the settlements have decided in favour of appointees from the CTA. However, the CTA is making concerted efforts to encourage people to elect their own grassroots level heads, as this is seen to be an essential milestone on the way to Tibetan political maturity.

There are also some Settlement Officers appointed on the contractual and special appointee for a dedicated term and responsibility. Their qualifications are as specified by the public service commission.

What are the core objectives and challenges the Department of Home faces?

There are many different examples of objectives and challenges, mainly depending upon the context. But the following are our core objectives and challenges:

Core Objectives: To create self-sufficient and vibrant communities so as to preserve and practice our distinctive culture ethos and values. To provide rehabilitation assistance to the displaced Tibetan refugees and undertake sponsorship programmes for the old, infirm, and destitute. To improve the physical, social and economic infrastructure of the settlements which are often rudimentary or dilapidated conditions. To develop the agricultural and animal husbandry sectors in the settlements. To promote micro-enterprises through cooperative and individual initiatives in the settlements. To train settlers in vocational and technical skills for self-employment. To provide emergency relief measures to victims of natural disasters such as drought, floods, cyclones, snowstorms, etc.

Challenges: Our long term goal is to make our settlements and the Tibetan community in exile self-reliant and self-sufficient to the level it is practically feasible. To achieve this goal, we have more works to do than we had done so far. Issues are more challenging and complex as we are moving from purely relief and rehabilitation works to sustainable development and growth. Tibetan Youths Migration to abroad, this trend threatens to make the settlements unsustainable.

How is the Home Department faring and can you share with us from 5 to 10 prominent achievements during your term?

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 pertaining to the settlement land lease renewal agreement of Tibetan settlements across India to ensure its long-term sustenance.

Tibetan settlements in South, North East and Central India, such as Orissa and Mainpat have been granted a long-term lease by the Indian Government. In October 2014, the Ministry of Home, Government of India has formalized the “Tibetan Rehabilitation Policy 2014”. Recently, we have availed 3 crore grant in aid from the Karnataka State Government for the administrative and socio-economic developmental project expenses of the five southern Tibetan settlements and Chief Representative Office, Bangalore.

Construction of housing facilities for the newly arrived Tibetans at Bir, Dikyingling in Dehradun, Bylakuppe, and Mundgod. We have initiated a number of projects under the Community Development - Integrated Settlement Development Project, USAID grant. We have provided the best farmer award and best youth empowerment award to encourage and recognize their contribution towards the community and thereby set an example to others.

How does the Home Department address the grievances of its people as a welfare department in case of unemployment and housing problems?

In the case of unemployment and housing problems, the concerned people with their grievances are addressed through the settlement officer by fact-checking their background and other details. If the settlement officer is not able to resolve the grievances, it will be forwarded to the Department of Home for guidance and further resolution seeking necessary approval.

In case of housing problems, in the settlement, we have the housing and estate (Sakhang) committee in which the settlement officer is the chairman, besides we have the Housing and Estate Rules and Regulation to resolve any issues related to housing problems. Also, the concerned without a house and are kept under the waiting list.

To address the unemployment, we provide various vocational skills development training to the youths, in order to equip them with the knowledge, skills, and competencies required for the jobs. We also provide career-related workshops through our Tibetan Career Center and job placement announcement to potential youths seeking jobs.

What is the extension of the Tibetan population in Dharamshala? Would you like to discuss any topic other than what we had discussed and share your views with the public?

As per the latest workforce Information System demographic survey conducted by the Department of Home the Tibetan population in Dharamshala is 8256.

TPI reporters Yangchen Dolma and Namgyal Dolma recently conducted an interview with Sonam Topgyal Khorlatsang, the finance minister of the Tibetan government in-Exile, in Dharamshala, India.