There is a whiff of excitement in the air over prospects of another property of the Indian Railways being put up on the prestigious UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.
With a two-member UNESCO team scheduled to arrive later this month for a final inspection, the Matheran Light Railway (MLR) has only the last hurdle to clear.
The MLR is a heritage railway in Maharashtra, built by industrialist Abdul Hussein Adamjee Peerbhoy at a cost of Rs 1, 60,0000 between 1901-1907. The train covers a distance of 20 kilometers over large swathes of forest territory connecting Neral (midway between Mumbai and Pune) to Matheran in the Western Ghats.
Providing for International recognition, an inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List brings huge spin-off benefits - leading to infrastructure development and a boost to environmental conservation and tourism promotion activities of the selected site.
Selection of sites for inscription on the UNESCO list is done through a rigorous process. Of the 600-odd proposals posed by 185 countries for 2009, the UNESCO committee short-listed 40. Finally, only 13 sites were inscribed.
Arriving in India on October 25, the two-member UNESCO team is headed by Swiss citizen Gion Caprez and includes Dr SS Biswas of the International Council for Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS).
On UNESCO's behalf, evaluation studies are conducted by the International Council for Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) - an international non-governmental organization of professionals, dedicated to the conservation of the world's historic monuments and sites.
On-the-spot evaluation will be conducted between October 27-29, ministry officials informed. The team was earlier scheduled to arrive in India in September, but the visit had had to be put off because of the unseasonable thundershowers that disrupted the train service.
"Restoration work is now over and the train service is scheduled to re-start next week", an official of the Western Railways said on conditions of anonymity.
Ahead of the January 2010 deadline, India had submitted detailed nomination dossiers for the UNESCO listing on two other sites: Jaipur's Jantar Mantar and the Western Ghats. "The scrutiny of Jaipur's Jantar Mantar is already over", an official of the Culture Ministry said.
The Archeological Survey of India - a wing of the Culture Ministry - is the nodal agency for finalizing nominations for the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.
Against the international average of one UNESCO nomination in ten years, India (the Railways in particular) has attained huge success in recent years.
During the past six years, three Railways sites have been put up on the UNESCO list. These include the mountain rail network of the Nilgiris and Kalka-Simla, besides the Mumbai Victoria Terminus (VT) station.
Besides, three sites of the Indian Railways find a mention on UNESCO's tentative list: The Church gate building (housing the Western Railway headquarters), the Railways Oak Grove School at Mussorie and the Maharaja Railway or the Gwalior Light Railway (GLR).
Among other Indian sites that have made it to the UNESCO list in past years includes the Group of Chola temples, Valley of Flowers, Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka, Champaner-Pavagarh archeological park and New Delhi's Red Fort.