Experts to meet in Delhi to discuss the future of world heritage Darjeeling Himalayan Railways
Darjeeling, June 18, 2017: The ongoing agitation in the Darjeeling Hills has cast a shadow of uncertainty on the future of the world heritage Darjeeling Himalayan Railways (DHR.) The DHR has been bearing the brunt of the unrest with property gutted and rolling stock vandalised. The team of experts including representatives of UNESCO will be sitting in a meeting later this week to chalk out future plans for the DHR.
Darjeeling hills and Kalimpong district are in the grip of an agitation since June 8. As part of the agitation all Government offices (Centre, State and Gorkhaland Territorial Administration) were shut down. This was followed by an indefinite general bandh since June 15.
Despite the DHR having stopped operations with the declaration of Government office bandh by the GJM since June 12, the DHR properties have not been spared. The heritage Sonada Railway station was torched on July 8 followed by the Ghayabari Railway station on July 13. Both the stations have been gutted.
There were attempts to torch the DHR headquarters located at Kurseong on July 14. The wood panelled corridor of the building was gutted before residents and security forces doused the fire.
Incidentally a UNESCO team comprising of experts are working on a two year long project which includes developing a working plan for the preparation of a Comprehensive Conservation Management Plan (CCMP) for the DHR since 2016.
The two year long project involves survey, documentation, dialogue and will take into consideration institutional management, finances, legal and technical aspects. The fund for the two year long project is to the tune of over 5.33 lakh US dollars.
The CCNP will include preparing manuals on how the DHR should be managed along with maintenance procedures of rolling stock and buildings. A database of heritage resources; Identification of boundaries; Review of the Management process and designing of the museum in Ghoom is also included in the CCNP.
The DHR was marked as a World Heritage site by the UNESCO on December 2, 1999. In the past there were instances when there were recommendations that the DHR be included in the world heritage endangered list" stated the UNESCO Expert.
Inclusion of a world heritage in the endangered site list is an attempt to draw focused attention. There is also a provision of delisting a world heritage site if the 21 member committee on world heritage decides on it.
The team of experts will be sitting in a meeting in Delhi later this week to review the situation and to take stock of the progress in the preparation of the CCMP.
"The meeting will take place either on Thursday or Friday in Delhi. It is a technical meeting of the project chiefs. All the issues regarding the CCMP will be discussed. The required data for the CCMP has been collected. The meeting will discuss how to collate the data and prepare a management plan" stated Moe Chiba, Section Chief and programme Specialist for Culture, UNESCO, talking to Oneindia.
A stakeholders meet is also on the anvil. However this meeting cannot be held unless the situation normalises in the Hills.
In the year 1879 work started on the DHR, then called the Darjeeling Steam Tramways. The stretch from Siliguri to Kurseong was opened on August 23 1880. The Siliguri to Darjeeling track was inaugurated on July 4 1881. The name of the rail company was then changed to Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Company. At present it does a 88 km stretch from Darjeeling to New Jalpaigur along with joy rides.
The DHR is a major attraction for tourists, specially foreign tourists. Tourists and Railway enthusiasts from all over the globe visit Darjeeling to experience the world heritage DHR.