The Railways will soon send a detailed report to the UNESCO World Heritage Centre on the damage done to the Darjeeling Himalayan Railways (DHR), popularly known as the toy train service, during the recent Gorkhaland agitation.
Two stations of DHR — a world heritage site — were burnt and ransacked during the 104-day long agitation in the Hills. Other stations were also partially damaged. The report will contain information about all stations, tracks and personnel.
UNESCO has already expressed concern over incidents of arson having affecting the DHR and had even written to the Centre.
Built between 1879 and 1881, the DHR is a 2-feet narrow-gauge railway which runs between New Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling (87 km). India’s highest railway station in Ghum, is part of this network. The rail line has a total of six zig zags and five loops and its highest point is at 2,200 m (7,218 ft), in Darjeeling. A major tourist attraction, the DHR got its heritage tag from UNESCO in 1999.
A UNESCO team, which was forced to return from Darjeeling as the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) led agitation started, will be revisiting Darjeeling shortly.
“We have asked for a detailed report from DHR regarding the damages and present condition. The report will be sent to the UNESCO World Heritage Centre through the union cultural ministry,” said Subrata Nath, executive director heritage (Railway Board), speaking to The Indian Express from New Delhi.
“I do not think the world heritage tag is in danger. But we will seek the help of UNESCO during the repair and restoration process. Funds will be allotted for that purpose,” he added.
In January this year, then Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu had signed an agreement to enable UNESCO to develop a Comprehensive Conservation Management Plan (CCMP) for the DHR and a framework for an effective management system.
The strike in the Darjeeling Hills, called by the GJM for a separate state of Gorkhaland, had started on June 15.
“The UNESCO team, who were there making the conservation plan, had to abandon it and return during the agitation. They are on their way back,” said Nath.
On July 8, supporters of Gorkhaland had set fire to Sonada station. On July 13, Gayabari station was torched allegedly by GJM supporters. However, GJM has maintained that it was the work of “miscreants to defame the party”. Both stations were badly damaged.
On June 12, train services were stopped after agitations in the Hills and incidents of arson. They partially resumed on October 15.