Christian community of hills wants development board announcment postponed

21 Nov 2016

The Christian community of the hills, under the aegis of the All Christian Minority Hill Association (ACMHA), today said it would not accept a development board - which would also include the Muslim community - and requested the state government not to make any declaration or announcement to that effect. The Christian community has said it would first make an observation of the functions of the proposed development board and other technicalities.

According to ACMHA president Jyotima Subba, state PWD minister Arup Biswas, who is also the TMC's in-charge of the hills, told them in a meeting on November 19 in Kolkata about the proposed 'Pahari Development Board' comprising the Christian and Muslim communities. “We had only heard about the proposed board for the two minority communities and to make sure, we called on the PWD minister in Kolkata earlier this month. We were informed that the state government was indeed mulling a development board for the Christian and Muslim communities under one head,” Subba said today at a press briefing. Citing sources, the ACMHA president said the state government had plans to make a formal announcement of such a development board for the two minority communities on December 27.

“We have come to know through our sources that an announcement would be made on December 27, but we feel it is too soon as we are not prepared. We will first need to make observations and understand what the functions of the board would be. Also, since we are a big organisation not many among our community are aware of it,” reasoned Subba. Another important factor is the strength of the Christian community in the hills, standing close to 3 lakh, which is why the community wants separate boards to be formed. “Our population is about 3 lakh if not more in the hills. As such, we feel we should not be clubbed with the Muslim community. We do not mind a development board if the state government forms a separate one for us,” she stated.

The ACMHA said it had submitted a memorandum to chief minister Mamata Banerjee through the Darjeeling district magistrate requesting the announcement of the formation of the Pahari Development Board to be kept on hold. The Muslim community too echoed similar feelings and said it would only accept a separate development board. “We have also been demanding a development board for our community in the hills since 2014. We have submitted several memorandums to the state government. But it was only on October 27 of this year that minister Biswas informed us about the proposal to form a board for our community, but the details were not provided,” said Arif Khan, president of the Paharey Muslim Welfare Society (PMWS), when asked about the matter. Khan also said he was not aware of plans for a development board comprising the two communities. “We feel that a separate board for us would be beneficial. If we are combined there could be complications and it must also be remembered that we only have a strength of about 35,000 to 40,000 members in the entire hills,” the PMWS president said, adding that a 14-member team of the community would leave for Kolkata on Tuesday to meet the state's minority minister and the PWD minister on the issue.

The state government has already formed 12 development boards in the hills since 2013 amidst allegations by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha that it was a ploy to divide the people to curb the statehood demand. Darjeeling district magistrate Anurag Srivastava could not be contacted for comment even after repeated attempts while senior officials refused to come on record. (EOIC)