File picture of a Darjeeling Himalayan Railway toy train
Siliguri, March 19: The New Delhi office of Unesco has expressed concern over the delay in restoring the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway tracks between Kurseong and Siliguri after several landslides breached the line at two places nearly three years ago.
“The Unesco New Delhi office has indeed expressed concerns regarding the current status of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway affected by several landslides. However, there is no official warning as such nor attempt to remove its heritage tag — this being the task of the Intergovernmental Committee of the World Heritage Convention…” Moe Chiba, programme specialist for culture, Unesco, New Delhi, wrote in an email to The Telegraph today.
Last week, Unesco officials held a meeting with the Indian Railways where the UN body took up the matter.
The hill railway comes under the Indian Railways and the heritage tag was bestowed on the DHR 14 years ago.
The Kurseong-Siliguri section of the DHR has been non-operational since June 2010 after a landslide damaged a 500m stretch of NH55 at 14th Mile near Paglajhora, 30km from here. The DHR tracks running parallel to the highway were also swept away in the slide.
Another landslide at Tindharia, 5km from Paglajhora along NH55, damaged the tracks in September 2011 and has put at risk the 100-year-old Tindharia Locomotive Works — the hill railway’s workshop.
In June last year, another landslide at the same spot damaged a portion of the workshop.
The DHR authorities said Unesco was not happy with the lack of initiative from the Indian Railways to restore the damaged rail lines and the workshop.
The hill railway officials said restoration of the tracks could start after the Union ministry of surface transport and highways repairs NH55.
“The delay in restoration of the DHR tracks is because of the delay in the repair of NH55. We are ready to start repairing the tracks as soon as we get a green light from the Union ministry of surface transport and highways. Unesco has been asking the railway officials to start restoring the tracks. But we are unable to do so until the highway is repaired completely,” a DHR official said.
On March 12, Adhir Chowdhury, the Union minister of state for railways, had announced an allotment of Rs 83 crore for repairing the toy train tracks.
“The situation is, however, very complex and one cannot simply blame the Indian Railways for not having taken immediate step after the landslides, because many parts of the land where DHR is found is under the jurisdiction of several other ministries,” Chiba wrote in the email.
The 132-year-old DHR is the second narrow-gauge railway in the world after Semmering Railway in Austria.
It is the first in the country to be bestowed a Unesco World Heritage Status in November 1999.
The DHR line between New Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling is 80km-long.
But as the Kurseong-Siliguri stretch is shut, DHR services are available only on the Kurseong-Darjeeling stretch.
It is mandatory for all Unesco heritage sites to be maintained by a comprehensive conservation and management plan (CCMP),a master-document outlining the conservation, management and sustainable development of heritage sites.
The Indian Railways sanctioned funds for preparing a CCMP for the DHR in 2009, 10 years after it got a heritage status.
“Unesco usually works in support of the government to find a solution; Unesco has been in talk with the ministry of railway since 2009 to find measures to develop a comprehensive site management plan to ensure the protection of the heritage value of the DHR,” Chiba wrote.