Responding to Gorkha Janmukti Morcha president Bimal Gurung’s attack on development boards set up by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, the hill bodies in Darjeeling said the GJM-run GTA “should not interfere in projects of development boards”. Last week, Gurung had said he would file cases against “each and every project” that the 15 hill development boards would take up, as execution of these projects was an intrusion into GTA’s jurisdiction. “We cannot allow the state government to interfere in GTA’s functioning. Are development boards bigger than the GTA?” Gurung had said on January 25.
Gurung’s threat came after the state decided to give hill bodies the mandate to carry out development work such as supplying drinking water and construction of community halls and museums – projects previously undertaken by the GTA. Earlier, the boards’ work was largely confined to building houses for the communities they represented.
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“The boards have so far been building houses, which was the mandate given to them, especially in remote areas. However, a number of boards have started some really good schemes, such as supplying drinking water in areas where they were previously not available. This is what has provoked Bimal Gurung’s remarks,” former GJM spokesperson and founder of Jan Andolan Party Harka Bahadur Chhetri told The Indian Express. A development board member told Express that the boards have been able to start taking development projects to remote areas where “no development had been happening under the GTA”. “Whether it’s the GJM or us, we are all working for the benefit of the Gorkhas,” he said.
In an unusual departure, Chhetri, one of Gurung’s biggest critics, admitted that the formation of the boards is illegal. “Yes, the boards are illegal. Simply because according to the agreement signed between GJM and the CM, there were 59 departments including departments such as minority affairs, SC and ST and other such departments which were transferred to GTA. So development boards are actually illegal. However, instead of taking the state government to court, Gurung has just been making noise. He only says these things at public meetings, but does nothing. I believe his remarks were prompted by the CM’s last visit, when she said Rs 5,000 crore had already been given to GTA under various schemes – both central and state. She asked for an audit. As a reaction, Gurung is asking for an audit of the development boards’ expenditure,” said Chhetri.