| Ghisingh at Pintail village. A Telegraph picture
Siliguri/Darjeeling, July 4: As Darjeeling celebrated the hill council deal, GNLF chief Subash Ghisingh today made it clear that land, and not the people, would be covered by provisions of the Sixth Schedule.
The majority of residents of the hills have been demanding that they be made tribals so they can get the benefits under the Sixth Schedule. But Ghisingh, who returned from Calcutta where he signed the bipartite agreement that would give shape to the new autonomous council yesterday, indicated he would not make the tribal demand an issue.
'The schedule would be granted to a specific area which we have settled with the state government. Any resident living under the area will get every benefit as laid down in the schedule. But that does not mean they would be counted as tribals,' Ghisingh said at Pintail village, on the outskirts of Siliguri, en route to Darjeeling.
At present, five communities ' Bhutias, Tamangs, Limbus, Sherpas and Yolmos ' comprising around 32 per cent of the population in DGHC areas, are categorised as tribals. The majority of the hill people, grouped into 22 communities, want the tribal tag to reap additional benefits such as student stipend and reservation, especially in jobs.
On Sunday, members of the Bharatiya Gorkha Janjati Manyata Samity, representing the 22 communities, had written to chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, requesting him to grant them tribal status.
Ghisingh also pointed out that the agreement is silent on the status of Scheduled Castes, which make up nine per cent of the hill population. 'Nothing has been mentioned about them in the agreement,' he said.
The GNLF chief's assertion could come as a damper on the celebrations that began in the hills today. GNLF supporters brought out a rally in Darjeeling and burst crackers to celebrate the 'amicable settlement of the boundary dispute'.
That Ghisingh managed to include only two new mouzas from the Silguri-subdivision within the proposed Gorkha Hill Council Darjeeling, did not seem to matter much. 'This is a historic achievement,' said GNLF leader K.B. Gurung, a statement parroted by his party colleagues throughout the day.