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Sherpas’ turn to seek board

Darjeeling, Dec. 4: The state government’s decision to form a development board for the Lepcha community in the Darjeeling hills has prompted the Sherpas also to raise a demand for the similar body.

Today, the Sherpa community announced that they had formed a body, All Sherpa Buddhist Development Council Action Committee, to press for the formation of a council “on the lines of the Lepcha board”.

In the past few days, the Tamang and the Bhutia communities, too, have made a similar demand.

Nima Wangdi Sherpa, the chief co-ordinator of the newly-formed committee, today said: “We had met the chief minister during her recent visit to Darjeeling and requested her to form a council for the Sherpas in the hills.”

The committee claims that there are 1.45 lakh Sherpas in the three hill subdivisions of Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong. The total population of the hills is around 9 lakh.

“We need a council to protect and promote our culture and language (Sherpa). Our youths, too, need employment opportunities,” said Sherpa.

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee had recently promised to provide jobs to 5,000 Lepcha youths.

The state government has also granted Rs 1 lakh to a number of Lepcha women to build houses.

“Our community also needs help from the government. We run around 10-12 monasteries across the hills and it is difficult to administer them. The Sherpa gumba (monastery) at Toongsoong was built in 1924 and Tenzing Norgay Sherpa (the first man to climb Mount Everest along with Sir Edmund Hillary) and Nawang Gombu (the first man to climb Mount Everest twice) had served as its presidents,” said Sherpa.

Observers said chief minister Mamata Banerjee risked the chance of inviting the wrath of different hill communities if she failed to fulfil their demands.

“The decision to form a Lepcha board might have helped the chief minister garner the support of the community. But the move is likely to alienate Mamata if she doesn’t offer similar boards for the benefit of other hill communities,” said an observer.

There is no official word on the creation of a separate development council/board for other communities on the lines of the one for the Lepcha community.

But the chief minister had in January, 2013, stated that she was toying with the idea of forming a Lepcha board along with a Buddhist board for the hills. There has been no word on the Buddhist board after that.

The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha had opposed the formation of the Lepcha development board, alleging that it was a ploy by the state government to divide the hill populace.

The Morcha also took exception to the formation of the Lepcha board under the backward classes welfare department of the state government and not under the GTA Sabha.

Sources said the Sherpas, too, wanted the board under the state government.

At the moment, the Morcha is welcoming the demand of boards for all hill communities, but wants them to be under the GTA.

The observers believe if the Gurungs, Rais and Pradhans, too, start demanding similar boards, the government would be under pressure.