Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, minister of state for railways, has blamed the lackadaisical attitude of the West Bengal government for delay in the resumption of Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) services in the Siliguri to Kurseong stretch in Darjeeling district of West Bengal.
The allegation comes in the wake of a letter from Shigeru Aoyagi, director and UNESCO representative to India, Maldives and Sri Lanka raised serious concerns regarding the DHR and also talked of including the DHR in the endangered site list of world heritage.
The letter states that if the government of India fails to take immediate action towards the restoration of the DHR, then there are chances of the Inter-govermental Committee of World Heritage Convention of recommending the inclusion of DHR in the endangered list to ensure “focused attention for conservation”.
The DHR was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO on December 5, 1999. The stretch from Siliguri to Kurseong has been non-operational since June 2010 owing to a landslide that damaged a 500m stretch of the National Highway 55 on which the DHR tracks run at the 14th mile. Another devastating landslide in September 2011 damaged DHR tracks at Tindharia along with the DHR workshop. This 100 year old workshop was further damaged by another landslide in 2012.
“I was the one to apprise the UNESCO of the DHR services being discontinued on the Siliguri-Kurseong section. We cannot by ourselves repair the National Highway 55 which is essential for the restoration of DHR services.
“The ministry of road transport and highways has already sanctioned Rs. 83 crore for the restoration of the NH 55. Funds are already allotted but the state has to take the initiative for urgent repairs so that we can start the restoration work for the DHR service.
“I will exert pressure on the West Bengal government for this. The West Bengal government is too busy with the Saradah scam to bother about the World Heritage DHR. It will be a disgrace if we cannot conserve our own heritage,” alleged Chowdhury while speaking to HT.
Chowdhury further stated that the UNESCO has advised his office to get in touch with Manu Goyal, executive director, heritage, Indian Railways for the preparation of a Comprehensive Conservation Management Plan (CCMP.) A CCMP is mandatory for all world heritage sites.
Interesting on September 2, 2009 Rs. 1.2 crores had been sanctioned by the Indian Railways for the preparation of a CCMP. However the fate of the CCMP is not known.
“Tendering process for the repair of the NH 55 has already started. This will be followed by the technical bid evaluation process. The evaluation committee from Kolkata will be departing for Delhi soon to meet the chief engineer, project 3, who is the head of this committee to initiate the technical evaluation process” stated Nirmal Mondal, executive engineer, division 9.
In the year 1879, work first started on the DHR, then called the Darjeeling Steam Tramways. The stretch from Siliguri to Kurseong was opened on August 23, 1880. The Siliguri to Darjeeling track was inaugurated on July 4 1881.
The name of the rail company was then changed to Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Company. The DHR does a 88km stretch from Darjeeling to New Jalpaiguri. It starts at 398 feet at NJP in the plains and climbs up to 7407feet at the highest point at Ghoom.