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Climb-down on councils

Kalimpong, Dec. 15: Gorkha Janmukti Morcha chief Bimal Gurung, who had earlier stressed that hill tribal development boards must be formed only under the purview of the GTA, today said he was not averse to the state government forming such bodies.

“The state government must set up development boards for all hill communities. Let such boards be formed under the state government, but allow the GTA to function smoothly,” Gurung said in Jamuni, near Darjeeling.

His climb-down has come at a time several hill tribes — the Lepchas, Bhutias, Tamangs and now the Limbus — have sought the formation of their own apolitical development bodies under the state government.

Gurung’s remark also comes days before he is scheduled to meet chief minister Mamata Banerjee in Calcutta on December 20.

Posters demanding the formation of the Limbu Tribal Development Council were seen pasted in different parts of the hills yesterday by Yakthung Shong Chumlung (YSC), an association of the Limbu tribe.

“We also want a development body for our community under the state government because the members of the community live in different parts of the state and they, too, should get the benefits of the council. According to our estimate, there are about 1.5 lakh Limbus in the hills and another 10,000 in areas such as the Dooars, Terai and even Salua in south Bengal,” said N.D. Limbu, the president of the association.

The hill population is about 10 lakh.

Salua is near Kharagpur in West Midnapore.

The posters also sought the introduction of the Limbu language in schools across the state.

“The twin demands once met would go a long way in preserving and promoting our language, culture and tradition and ensuring the economic progress of Limbus,” said N.D. Limbu, an ex-serviceman aged 80.

Limbu said the association had submitted a memorandum to the chief minister during her visit to Kurseong on October 23.

When Mamata announced the formation of the Lepcha development board earlier this year, Gurung said she was trying to divide the hill people.

But since she managed to quell the Morcha’s July-September statehood protests, the hill party has been seen mending fences with the government.

In what is being seen as a move in that direction, Morcha leader Harka Bahadur Chhetri yesterday said hill residents would like to see a local candidate for the Lok Sabha elections.

“We are aware of the aspirations of the people in the hills. We have learnt that they don't want an outsider for the Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat. However, there would be a series of discussions before our party decides on the candidate,” Chhetri said.

The current Lok Sabha MP from Darjeeling is the BJP’s Jaswant Singh.