Calcutta, Aug. 2: The state government yesterday sent a team of senior officials to the hills to set up a Lepcha development board, days after Bimal Gurung resigned as GTA chief executive.
Gurung was against the formation of the board outside the purview of the GTA. He wanted a Lepcha council to be formed under the hill autonomous body.
Senior officials in the state home department said the cabinet had approved the proposal to set up the board for Lepcha in February.
“The proposal was gathering dust in the chief minister’s office. But a couple of days ago, immediately after the resignation of Gurung, who was opposed to the Lepcha board and wanted it to come under the jurisdiction of the GTA, the initiative was taken to complete the process of setting up the board,” said a senior official at Writers’.
A senior minister in the Mamata Banerjee government said: “Just look at the timing. The decision to complete the proceedings of setting the board has been taken at a time Gurung has quit office and renewed the Gorkhaland agitation.”
Setting up the Lepcha board at a time the Morcha has renewed its statehood agitation would irk the hill party even more, the minister said.
Morcha general secretary Roshan Giri, when told about the state team’s visit to Kalimpong, said: “It is a ploy to divide the hill people and weaken the Gorkhaland movement, but the state government will fail as the Lepcha community is with us.”
In Writers’, a minister also made a similar point.
“You cannot ignore the Lepchas in the Darjeeling hills as they form 20 per cent of the population there. If the state government gets the Lepchas on its side, the demand of a separate state could be countered within the hills,” the minister said.
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee announced her intention to form the Lecha board on January 30, a day after her speech at Chowrastha angered hill residents. “Darjeeling is a part of us,” Mamata said at a government event, sparking protests at the venue.
After Mamata announced that her government would form a board for the Lepchas, Gurung said the government was trying to “divide” the people in the hills.
The focus of the board would be the overall development of the community, preservation of their language and culture, their education, support for improving their lifestyle through agriculture, horticulture, pisciculture, tourism and cottage industry, senior Writers’ officials said.
Yesterday, the member secretary of the board was appointed and senior backward classes welfare department officials went to Kalimpong to complete proceedings for setting up the body.
The majority of the Lepchas in the hills reside in Kalimpong.
“G. Namchu, the former managing director of the West Bengal Dairy Development Board, has taken over as member secretary of the board today. The chairperson and the vice-chairperson of the board have also been appointed,” the official added.
According to officials at Writers’, backward classes welfare department officials went to Kalimpong to get the signatures of the nominated members of the board so that the board gets registered under the Societies Act.