Darjeeling, Jan. 31: The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha today said Mamata Banerjee's plan to set up separate development councils for Buddhists and Lepchas would destroy the social and secular fabric of the hills.
The chief minister in Siliguri today spoke of establishing the councils but did not clarify if those would be under the GTA. The Lepchas have no territorial demand but want the council to be outside the purview of the GTA.
The Morcha has reservations about the formation of such councils outside the GTA's ambit.
Morcha assistant secretary Binay Tamang said: "This (the council for Buddhists) is again something new that she is talking about. Her announcements will only destroy the social and secular fabric of the hills. It will create confusion in the hills once again."
This morning, Mamata told a news conference in Siliguri: "We have decided to form a development council for the Lepchas. It will work for the development of the Lepchas who also reside in the hills. There are also large numbers of Buddhists in the hills for whom we have decided to form a separate development council."
The chief minister claimed that a development council for the Lepchas had been promised in the Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) signed by the Centre, state and the Morcha to set up the GTA Sabha.
But Tamang refuted the chief minister's claim. "Nowhere in the agreement has this been agreed upon. The chief minister announced the decision to set up the Lepcha development council after the (GTA) agreement was signed (on July 18, 2011) and the Lepcha community demonstrated in Calcutta," Tamang said.
In the GTA memorandum of agreement (MoA), there is a clause for nomination of minorities to the GTA Sabha. "The GTA Sabha shall consist of forty five elected members and five members to be nominated by the Governor to give representation to members of SC, ST, women, and minority communities," the MoA says.
The GTA Act says: "The members to be nominated… by the Governor may include due representation of minorities, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and women."
At present, the GTA Sabha does not have any nominated member from the Lepcha community, which is a minority in the hills.
Tamang today said the decision to set up the Buddhist and Lepcha development councils would open a Pandora's box.
"Setting up a council based on religion is something that will destroy the secular fabric of the hills. Apart from the Buddhists, we have Christians, Muslims and Hindus residing in the hills. Everyone will now start clamouring for such a body," he said.
The Gorkha community which comprises 36 sects has a large number of Buddhists. The Tamangs and Gurungs, who are identified as Gorkhas, are predominantly Buddhists. Other sects such as the Rais and Subbas are nature worshippers mostly.
The Newar, Chhetri and Magar sects, which also belong to the Gorkha community, are Hindus.
Members of the Bhutia and Sherpa communities are also Buddhists.
"Development councils kept out of the GTA Sabha's purview will be parallel bodies. That is why we want the Lepcha development council to be named as Lepcha development board and be brought under the GTA Sabha's purview. Even if the Lepcha board is agreed on (in the MoA), there could be demands by other hill communities such as the Rais and Subbas and minorities to set up their own development boards," Tamang said.
Members of other ST communities, who didn't want to be named, said if the Lepchas were allowed to form a council, then they, too, should get a chance. "We, too, belong to the Scheduled Tribe community like the Lepchas. We, too, are as backward as the Lepchas. We are of the opinion that all communities should be given such privileges within the purview of the GTA Sabha," said a leader of a tribal community.
The ST communities comprise about 32 per cent of the hill population. However, there is a clamour by almost all Gorkha communities to be accorded ST status.