The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) leadership has reacted strongly to the West Bengal Cabinet’s ratification on Tuesday of the proposal to set up a separate development board for the Lepcha community in the Darjeeling hills, describing it as an infringement of the powers of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA). 

‘Driving a wedge’

“The GTA is an autonomous body and the setting up of another body is an infringement on its powers,” GJM general secretary, Roshan Giri, told The Hindu over telephone from New Delhi. 

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had, during a visit to the Darjeeling hills last week, spoken of her decision to set up the Board — a move that got the GJM leadership to accuse her of wanting to drive a wedge between the different ethnic communities in the region.  

Now that her government has given its nod to the setting up of a Lepcha Development Board, relations between Ms. Banerjee and the GJM leadership that are already strained could suffer further damage, observed political observers in the Darjeeling hills.  

Strained relations

The decision comes at a time when there are distinct signs of political restiveness in the region in the wake of the GJM renewing its call for a separate State and the party’s leadership disapproving of Ms. Banerjee reiteration that the region is an inseparable part of West Bengal. 

“The decision is not right; it is arbitrary and will create resentment in the Darjeeling hills. The GJM is very displeased,” said Mr. Giri, adding that it would have serious political implications in the hills. 

The GJM leadership is already peeved with Ms. Banerjee for announcing development projects for the hills at an event in Darjeeling on January 29 about which it had been kept in the dark till the previous day. Mr. Gurung, who had taken particular exception and construed it as a personal affront, has already expressed his desire to step down as the GTA’s Chief Executive and devote his energies towards taking the GJM’s movement for a separate State forward. 

“The setting up of a separate development board is in contravention of the memorandum of agreement for the formation of the GTA,” Mr. Giri said.

Ms. Banerjee, however, while speaking to journalists at Siliguri on her return from the hills on January 31 had maintained that the agreement allows for such a board.