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regular-article-logo Saturday, 25 May 2024

Heritage tag worry for ‘privatised’ toy train

Set up in 1879, the DHR is the sole heritage property of the Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) zone

Bireswar Banerjee Siliguri Published 25.08.21, 01:39 AM
“What concerns us is whether the heritage status of the DHR can be maintained if handed over to a private company,” said Raj Basu, secretary general, DHR India Support Group, adding the Centre has to ensure the private group concerned does it.

“What concerns us is whether the heritage status of the DHR can be maintained if handed over to a private company,” said Raj Basu, secretary general, DHR India Support Group, adding the Centre has to ensure the private group concerned does it. Telegraph picture

The Centre’s plan to lease out the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway — a world heritage site recognised by the Unesco — to private players under its National Monetisation Pipeline (NMP) project has raised concerns on whether its heritage status would be preserved though some tourism stakeholders think the move may result in bettering the services.

“What concerns us is whether the heritage status of the DHR can be maintained if handed over to a private company,” said Raj Basu, secretary general, DHR India Support Group, adding the Centre has to ensure the private group concerned does it.

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Set up in 1879, the DHR is the sole heritage property of the Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) zone.

In 2017, when the statehood agitation had rocked the hills, the world heritage committee of Unesco had expressed concern about the DHR and had written to Indian Railways. The railways signed an agreement with Unesco for a comprehensive conservation and management plan (CCMP).

“Now, the railways should confirm if the private company concerned will adhere to the CCMP. Also, it will be odd if in due course, billboards and banners of products hang outside coaches or at the century-old stations,” said a tourism stakeholder in Siliguri.

The DHR apart, other signature mountain railways such as Nilgiri (Tamil Nadu), Kalka-Shimla (Himachal Pradesh) and Matheran (Maharashtra) are up for grabs as part of the NMP that Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced on Monday.

According to the broad contours of the NMP project, the Centre intends to provide the four mountain railways of India under the OMDA (operation, management and development agreement) based private-public partnership mode.

Rolling stocks as well as the stations and adjoining land of these mountain railways will be offered to private players for 30 to 50 years. Private firms can earn revenue from passengers and rents from tenants on sub-leased land.

Private players may improve the quality of services of DHR, some tourism stakeholders feel. “A major complaint against the toy train is irregular services. If run by a private party, services will improve,” said a tour operator.

However, the Centre’s plan to monetise public assets has drawn flak from the Opposition. On Tuesday, Trinamul MP Sukhendu Sekhar Roy said: “The (central) government is behaving like the East India Company and handing over Indian Railways to private players.”

Additional reporting by Avijit Sinha

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