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18 Jun 2017

CM taps hill boards for peace

Police and paramilitary personnel shield themselves from stones being hurled at them by Morcha supporters from houses and the higher reaches in Singamari on Saturday. Picture by Passang Yolmo
Pranesh Sarkar and Rajeev Ravidas, TT, Kalimpong, June 17: Mamata Banerjee today formed a committee to coordinate between the 15 development boards set up by the Bengal government in the Darjeeling hills, in an apparent bid to alienate the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha from residents and restrict the unrest from spreading.
"Home secretary Moloy De will hold a meeting with the development board members and all political parties in the hills on June 22 in Siliguri to restore peace in the hills. Lyang Song Tamsang, the chairman of the Lepcha board, has been nominated as the head of the coordinating committee that will initiate the peace process," the chief minister said after a meeting at Nabanna this afternoon with members of the various boards.
Members of the boards will be part of the committee.
Sources in the state administration said the meeting was held to ensure that all the office-bearers of the development boards speak in favour of restoring peace in Darjeeling.
"If the development boards stay with the government during the crisis, it will be helpful for the state as they cover at least 17 hill communities that make up around 70 per cent of the population of the region," a senior government official said.
Tamsang spoke in favour of restoring peace in the hills for development.
"We are here for peace and development. It's all burning in the hills. We are appealing to our people to maintain peace. Nothing happens without peace," said Tamsang.
The Lepcha board chairman pointed out that the chief minister had clarified that Bengali would not be made compulsory in hill schools.
The Morcha began the latest round of agitation by alleging that Mamata was trying to force Bengali on the hill population.
The chief minister today said it was a "false propaganda" before stressing that she would try to rid the hills of Morcha chief "Bimal (Gurung)".
Sources in the state administration said Tamsang's statement was significant as what the board chiefs say would not go unheeded as they had undertaken several development projects - from building homes to making drinking water available in remote areas, measures that have helped lakhs of people in the hills.
The state government called the board chairpersons to Calcutta yesterday to discuss "department-related matters", but the meeting primarily focused on the situation in the hills.
The Morcha has from the beginning opposed the setting up of the community-based boards, accusing the Bengal government of pursuing a "divide-and-rule policy" in order to thwart the demand for Gorkhaland.
Aware that the government would "use" the development boards to take on the Morcha, party assistant general secretary Binay Tamang today appealed to all the office-bearers of the boards and the workers of the Trinamul Congress in the hills, the Dooars and the Terai to resign and protest "today's killings".
"This is no politics. This is a fight for the identity of the Gorkhas. This is the last fight for Gorkhaland. You too are part of the Gorkha family, born to Gorkha mothers. You also need Gorkhaland," he said.
The majority of the chairpersons of the development boards, however, said they would continue appealing for peace.
"The meeting was called primarily to discuss the situation in the hills. We told the chief minister that the need of the hour was to restore peace. We have been asked to play a proactive role in bringing peace to the hills," the chairman of one of the boards said, preferring anonymity.
The chairpersons refused to answer questions on whether they supported the Morcha's demand for Gorkhaland.

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