Remember the song ‘Meri Sapno Ki Rani’ in the film Aradhana (1969), where Sharmila Tagore was on board the Toy train in Darjeeling.
The world heritage status of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railways (DHR), better known as the Toy Train, could be under threat if it fails to implement some of the recommendations of UNESCO experts, who have said that the toy train that runs between Siliguri and Darjeeling should be brought under a separate management within the Indian Railways.
On the occasion of the 136th foundation day of DHR, UNESCO expert Paul Atkins said, “It has been recommended in the Comprehensive Conservation Management Plan (CCMP) for the DHR that a separate management structure within the Indian Railways be developed for this world heritage site. The Indian Railways have responded positively and we expect it to be implemented within the next 18 months.”
The move will ensure that there are more employees to look after this unique rail system that still runs on narrow gauge.
The section between Siliguri and Kurseong, known as the Darjeeling Steam Tramways, opened on August 23, 1880. The day is commemorated as the foundation day of the DHR. The DHR was declared as a world heritage site by UNESCO on December 2, 1999.
A UNESCO team is now working on a two-year project and will prepare a Comprehensive Conservation Management Plan (CCMP) for the DHR. The estimated cost: US $5.33 lakh.
Atkins said claimed that UNESCO has been told by a number of professionals that DHR is not meeting the criteria of a world heritage site. The problems include encroachment of land on the two sides of the tracks. “Fifty per cent of what had been listed in 1999 has disappeared,” said Atkins.
“The railways will implement all practical and feasible recommendations of the UNESCO committee,” said ND Bhutia, director of DHR.