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Hill board demands pile up before Mamata visit

Darjeeling, Jan. 20: Several hill communities seeking separate development boards on the lines of the one formed for Lepchas are clamouring for “positive” announcements from the chief minister when she starts her three-day hill visit tomorrow.

Trinamul leaders said several communities have sought appointments with Mamata Banerjee in Mirik tomorrow, her first stop on her hill tour.

In Mirik, Mamata will attend a national convention of the Tamang Youth Association, which wants a Tamang development board.

Anand Lama, president of the association, Darjeeling subdivision committee, said: “We are hopeful of some positive announcements.”

Sources said Tamang Youth Association members were likely to meet Mamata for half-an-hour.

Other communities such as the Sherpas, Bhutias, Limbus, Drukpas, Walongs, Kidus and Denzonkpas are also demanding separate development boards in the hills.

While the Tamangs and the Sherpas want a separate development board specific to their communities, like the Lepcha board, the Darjeeling District Tribal Welfare Association, an umbrella body of tribal communities in the hills, is demanding a single tribal development board for all the groups.

The Mayel Lyang Development Board was announced in January last year and formed in September by the chief minister. The apolitical board, which would focus on upholding Lepcha culture and language, was one of the biggest points of difference between the state government and the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha.

Trinamul spokesperson Binny Sharma said many community leaders wanted to meet the chief minister during her three-day stay. “Many people belonging to Bhutia, Lepcha, Rai, Mangar and Limbu communities have sought appointments with chief minister Mamata Banerjee but nothing has been confirmed.”

The general secretary of the Darjeeling District Tribal Association, M.S. Bomzom, said: “We have not sought an appointment (with Mamata) tomorrow as we have already submitted a deputation to the chief minister. However, we will closely follow the chief minister’s speech tomorrow.”

Members of the Khambu Right Movement that has started a relay hunger strike in Kalimpong since January 18 demanding tribal status, are also hoping to meet the chief minister at Mirik tomorrow.

“Our demand is ST status. We have been invited by the Tamang community at Mirik tomorrow for their convention and we will try and meet the chief minister,” said Sandip Kulung, spokesperson for the Khambu Rights Movement. “We would like to clarify that our relay hunger strike has got nothing to do with the chief minister’s visit,” he added.

The ST community comprises 33.72 per cent of the hill population.

Many in the hills believe that the Lepcha development board was formed to call Bimal Gurung-led Gorkha Janmukti Morcha’s bluff following Mamata’s speech at Chowrasta here on January 29 last year where she had said Darjeeling “is a part of us”.

Relations between Mamata and Gurung have improved and the GTA chief executive will be sharing the dais with the chief minister at Roy Villa, Lebong Stadium and Chowrasta this time. However, there is no word on a one-to-one between the two leaders. “As of now, nothing is confirmed but there could be a meeting,” said Roshan Giri, general secretary of the Morcha.

On January 22, Mamata will visit Ramakrishna Mission Nivedita Educational and Cultural Centre at Roy Villa in Darjeeling where Sister Nivedita had breathed her last. The chief minister will also inaugurate a school of languages and a computer centre at Roy Villa in Gurung’s presence.

Later that day, both Mamata and Gurung would attend a government programme at Lebong where winners of the Himal-Terai-Dooars Sports Festival would be felicitated. Winners of the Amway Darjeeling Police Marathon, which was held in association with The Telegraph, will also be felicitated at Lebong.

On January 23, Mamata is scheduled to attend a programme at Chowrasta to mark Netaji’s birth anniversary.