Associations representing Muslims and Christians in the Darjeeling hills today said they would approach the state government to form separate development boards for them, instead of a common body for different minority communities in the region.
The demand comes a few days after chief minister Mamata Banerjee announced the formation of a minority board for Christians, Muslims and Bengali and Hindi-speaking people in the hills.
"We have been demanding a separate development board for Muslims in the hills since 2014. In total, 35,000 to 40,000 Muslims live in the hills and we feel instead of a common minority board, there should be a separate board for Muslims and other minority communities," Arif Khan, the president of the Paharia Muslim Welfare Society, said.
The society's representatives, Khan said, will meet minister for municipal affairs and urban development Firhad Hakim in Calcutta on Monday and take up the demand with him.
Today, members of the All Christian Minority Association - an umbrella body of most Christian organisations in the hills -met here and raised the demand for a separate development board for the community.
"We respect the sentiments of other minority communities. But we want the state to form a separate development board for Christians in the hills. The government is yet to come up with a notification on creation of a minority development board. We have already spoken to Trinamul leaders in the hills about the matter and want to approach the state through them," Jyotima Subba, the coordinator of the association, said this evening.
According to Subba, over three lakh Christians live in the hills.
Sources said the minority communities were apprehensive that if a common board was formed for them, there could be differences among them over a number of issues, ranging from composition of the board to utilisation of funds.
Binny Sharma, the spokesperson for Darjeeling district (hill) Trinamul, said Muslims and Christians were free to raise such demands and it was up to the state government to make further moves.
Told about the Christian organisation's plan to approach Trinamul leaders, Sharma said: "The party has never interfered in the formation of any development boards in the hills or selection of their office-bearers and won't intervene in future."(TT)