Concerned over India’s lack of interest in restoring the 132-year-old Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, which has been in disuse since the 2011 earthquake, Unesco has decided to provide $600,000 to the Indian Railways, which is facing an acute frunds crunch, to do the job.
The rehabilitation of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, which is the first mountain railway in India and only the second in the world to have received the status of a World Heritage Site, will now be spearheaded by the UN body after the railways failed to do it even two years after it was ravaged by the earthquake.
The Unesco will sign an agreement with the railways in September, terming railways the main implementing body for a 24-month-long special restoration project costing $665,154 (Rs 42.5 crore).
The 78-km railway system, commonly known as the “Toy Train”, went to the brink of getting an “endangered” status and even being delisted from the list of World Heritage Sites recently because the railways failed to send any official to a crucial meeting held at the Unesco World Heritage Centre in Paris where it was supposed to argue its case against such a move.
Sources said a last-minute request from the ministry, including from Railway Minister of State Adhir Chowdhury, who hails from Bengal, averted what would have been an embarrassment for India. It is believed that the matter will be taken up again on October 24 on United Nations Day.
In a letter to Railway Board Chairman Arunendra Kumar this week, Shigeru Aoyagi, Director and Unesco representative to India, Maldives and Sri Lanka, said that the railways needed to do much more than what it has done to protect the heritage site.
“In view of the serious concerns raised by the international community regarding the condition of the DHR, it is important that your ministry demonstrate its active commitment to the protection of DHR so as to maintain its status within the World Heritage List,” the letter said.
Railways has repeatedly failed to send anyone to the World Heritage Centre to explain itself. “May I also reiterate my advice for your ministry to visit the World Heritage Centre in Paris in the near future. such proactive approach by your ministry will be extremely helpful to dissolve critical views regarding the current management of DHR,” it said.