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Gurung signal to Lepchas
- Tribal body under GTA: Resolution

Dec. 14: The GTA Sabha today passed a resolution seeking the inclusion of a proposed Lepcha council under it, in a move to stop the formation of a parallel authority in the hills with the state government’s sanction.

The GTA also wanted the proposed Lepcha council’s name to be changed from Lepcha development council to Lepcha development board. It said similar bodies should also be formed for each of the other tribal communities in the hills.

Bhupendra Pradhan, the chairman of the GTA Sabha, today said a meeting of the GTA Sabha was today held in Darjeeling where it was decided that “a Lepcha development board” should be formed and “this be brought under the GTA”.

He added: “There are many tribal communities in the hills — the Tamang, Sherpa, Bhutia, Limbu and Yolmos among others — and each of these communities should also have their own development board to ensure that there is no discrimination among the tribals.”

Pradhan said the GTA was not opposed to the government’s decision to form a development body for the Lepchas. A GTA source said the resolution would be sent to the state government today for approval.

The Lepchas, considered the original inhabitants of the hills, make up 20 per cent of its population. The formation of a Lepcha development council was a longstanding demand to which the Mamata Banerjee-led government has agreed in principle.

The Lepchas have no territorial demand and want the council to be formed to preserve the community’s culture and work for its general uplift.

Bimal Gurung, the chief executive of the GTA, said: “I had a talk with Mamata Banerjee on bringing the Lepcha board under the GTA and forming similar boards for other communities. I have also invited her to be present during the Darjeeling Tea and Tourism Festival later this month.”

Observes believe the GTA passed the resolution to ensure that there is no parallel body outside its purview. “The GTA seems averse to the idea of a Lepcha council being outside its purview as it probably wants to be in control of issues related to people in the hills,” an observer said.

“Even the change in the nomenclature from council to board seems to be an attempt to ensure that new development agency for the tribal community is not outside the GTA, but a board within it.”

He said: “We have been given the GTA by the government and we have agreed to administer it. However, if there is unwanted interference from the government, we will not hesitate to reject the GTA.”

When contacted, Indigenous Lepcha Tribal Association (ILTA) joint secretary N.T. Lepcha said the association first has to discuss the matter internally before forming an opinion.

He said he personally felt it was for the state government to accept or not accept the GTA demand for the change in the nomenclature of the Lepcha council and create similar boards for other tribal communities in the hills.

“It is not us, but the state government who has to make a decision on the GTA demand. We managed to secure the development council following a long agitation last year,” he said.

Lepcha is also the coordinator of the Lepcha Rights Movement, an umbrella organisation of different Lepcha bodies, which had spearheaded the agitation

The GTA Sabha meeting, which was attended by all the 50 Sabha members, also passed a resolution demanding tribal status for the entire Gorkha community in the hills. “We want all the Gorkha communities to be given tribal status, except for the Schedule Caste community,” said Bimal Gurung. At the moment 32 percent of the hill population are tribal while the SC population stands at around 10 percent. The GTA also adopted three other resolutions today.

One of the resolutions adopted was on using Nepali as a language for communication in all the GTA offices.