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Rai community of Darjeeling hills not to accept Development Board

Darjeeling : The Rai community of the Darjeeling hills, under the aegis of the All India Kirati Khambu Rai Association, has decided not to accept a community development board being offered by the state government, arguing doing so would do away with their primary demand of achieving tribal status. The decision was taken in Darjeeling during a central committee meeting, where more than 90 per cent of the association’s members decided against accepting the proposed development board. At a press conference following the meeting, AIKKRA president Sachin Rai said, “After prolonged discussions on the pros and cons, 95 per cent of the members decided against accepting a development board. All of us felt that such a board would divert our main demand of tribal status, which is already in process.” The Rai community’s decision comes at a time when other communities are clamouring for development boards, after chief minister Mamata Banerjee formed boards for the Lepchas, Sherpas, Bhutias, Tamangs and Mangars. 

Besides their primary demand of tribal status, the association is also of the opinion that the development boards formed by the state government were not empowered and were only ad-hoc arrangements. “We have a population of around 5 lakh in Darjeeling district alone and as such, a development board will not be able to fulfil the aspirations of our people. At best, such a board will only provide us financial support, which will hardly benefit 5 per cent of our people. Also, the board will not have any constitutional guarantee,” Rai pointed out. Of the total hill population of about 8 lakh, the Rai community constitutes 35 per cent, making it one of the largest communities. Since the past two decades, the Rais have been demanding tribal status, which the central government has yet to accede. The Rai community in Sikkim, though, has been granted tribal status. The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha has also demanded tribal status to ten hill communities, which include the Rais. “We are constantly pursuing the tribal status issue with the CRI, RGI and the Union tribal affairs ministry. At this point of time we don’t want to be divided as is the policy being pursued by the state government. In fact, we will communicate our decision to the chief minister,” said the AIKKRA president. The AIKKRA is the off-shoot of the Kirati Khambu Rai Sanskriti Sansthan and was formed in 2014 to represent the Rai community at the national level. Reminded that a section of the community was in touch with the chief minister to secure a development board, the association’s Darjeeling sub-divisional president, MK Rai, said, “Those in favour of a development board are in the minority. 

They are working in their individual capacity and do not have the consent of the central committee, which is mandatory. We will start an agitation if the state government tries to project any individual from our community.” Meanwhile, Sandip Rai, general secretary of the Khambu Rights Movement that was formed in 2012, said accepting a board would not divide the community as is being propagated by the AIKKRA. “We are under the KKRSS and some youths from the AIKKRA are also members. A board will preserve and safeguard our language and culture, so there is no question of division,” he said adding that they had started communications with the chief months four months ago. Tara Kumar Rai, president of the KKRSS, did not take calls due to ill health. A senior member who did not wish to be named, said, “We have not yet taken any decision on accepting a development board. However, our members are of the opinion that we should first see how the boards of the other communities are functioning and what powers they have been conferred with by the state government.” 

- EOI

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