The Indian Railways plans to outsource heritage conservation activities. Heritage conservation has suffered criminal neglect in past decades on account of official apathy to such tasks by the state-owned transporter.
While thousands of steam engines remain in working condition in the UK and the European Union countries, the steam workhorses of the Indian Railways – called black beauties – have mostly been cut up and sold as scrap in past decades.
These include the wooden third class coaches in which Mahatma Gandhi travelled and the first locomotive that ran on Indian tracks to cover the distance from Mumbai to Thane in 1853. The clocks, bells, telephone instruments or uniforms and caps of the railway men of yore have mostly been lost.
Only 16 of the Indian steam engines have survived. Seven original coaches of the Palace on Wheels – over a hundred year old – have lying unused at New Delhi’s National Rail Museum.
Official indifference towards conservation needs have been grave. A few months ago, the Railways decided to pull down portions of the 125-year-old Byculla station in Mumbai suburban to create space for building two new tracks. Last year, the transporter sanctioned and began civil work to convert the pre-Independence era Narrow Gauge Line into Broad Gauge at Dholpur in Rajasthan, but was prevented from proceeding following protests from the locals. “Sensitivities on heritage conservation have been low, while the Railways have also lacked funds. Therefore, it is being proposed that an “outside agency” be entrusted with the tasks”, an official said.
According to a proposal under consideration of the Railway Board, heritage conservation work should be entrusted to an independent and registered society comprising various stake holders including rail enthusiasts and entrepreneurs.
With corpus funds from the government (possibly jointly by the Railways and Culture ministries), the society should get a 10-year moratorium to execute a successful business model, says the draft proposal.