Where is the third-class coach number 2949 of the Gandhi Special — the train that carried the ashes of Mahatma Gandhi from New Delhi to Allahabad on February 12, 1948?
Or the air-conditioned coach that travelled from Delhi to Prayag (Allahabad) on June 7, 1964, carrying the ashes of India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru?
Or the vintage engine that powered India’s first train journey from Mumbai to Thane on April 16, 1953?
A routine inquiry conducted by the railway board in 2009 discovered that Indian Railways sold the heritage items as scrap.
Of all the railway items related to leaders of India’s freedom struggle, just one has survived: The coach in which Rabindranath Tagore made his last journey on July 25, 1941 from Bolpur to Sealdah. He died 14 days later.
The Indian Railways’ track record in preserving heritage items leaves much to be desired. Of the 4,000-odd steam engines that operated 40 years ago, only 40 have survived. A fraction of the records of pre-Independence India have been preserved.
“The task of collecting, archiving and digitising available material relating to railway heritage needs to be urgently taken up,” said Saoli Mitra, chairperson of the Railways Heritage Committee.
The middle compartment of the Gandhi Special had been converted into a hall and a table covered with the Tricolour had been fixed in the centre. On it was a palanquin with the urn containing Gandhi’s ashes.
“It is unfortunate that the railways have lost the two rail coaches relating to the last journeys of Gandhi and Nehru,” said retired railway board member V N Mathur.