Prabhu signs $5-lakh pact with UNESCO for Darjeeling railways

UNESCO to draw up plan to preserve Darjeeling Himalayan Railway. Prabhu also thanked the people of the Darjeeling Hills for being an integral part of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Eco-system and their efforts in preserving and conserving it.

Guwahati: The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is all set to receive a major conservation boost with the Indian Railways on Friday signing a fund-in-trust agreement worth $5,33,332 to enable UNESCO develop a Comprehensive Conservation Management Plan (CCMP) and a framework for an effective management system for it. Signing the agreement in Darjeeling, union railway minister Suresh Prabhakar Prabhu described it as a historic moment and said Indian Railway was committed do everything possible to perverse the priceless heritage of the DHR that was declared a World Heritage by UNESCO in 1999.

Indian Railways signed a Fund in Trust (FIT) agreement with the UNESCO on Friday for development of a Comprehensive Conservation Management Plan (CCMP) for the heritage Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) at Darjeeling in presence of the Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu and a senior regional representative of the UNESCO in charge of India, Bhutan, Maldives and Sri Lanka.

The FIT is aimed at preparing a conservation guideline for the century-old Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, a Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) source said here. As per the FIT the UNESCO has been tasked to draw up a CCMP for the DHR.
“Conservation of heritage starts at the hearts and minds of people and Indian Railway would do everything possible to conserve railway heritage,” Prabhu said after singing the FIT with UNESCO and lauded the people of Darjeeling for their contribution towards preserving DHR eco-system.

The Railway already transferred Rs 3.21 crore to the UNESCO to formulate the conservation plan and the FIT signed on Friday amounted to formal launching of the CCMP. The UNESCO with its expertise is expected to draw up a comprehensive plan for preservation of the DHR within two years.

The UNESCO had accorded the heritage tag to the DHR in 1999.

In the CCMP, apart from identifying the core, buffer and heritage areas, UNESCO would create an inventory of DHR assets, come up with guidelines on how to maintain the old heritage structure and document craftsmen associated with the DHR.

The DHR had started operation way back in 1881. It now has 13 steam locomotives aged over a century and six diesel engines. Last year, a UNESCO team had visited the DHR to conduct a preliminary survey. The total annual expenditure incurred by the Railway to run the DHR is Rs 15 crore and sources said that for the first time since Independence, the DHR was looking at breaking even, a NFR source informed.

While the CCMP for Darjeeling Himalayan Railway had actually commenced in April, 2016, once successful, it would be replicated in Nilgiri Mountain Railway and Kalka Shimla Railway too. While Nilgiri Mountain Railway was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005, Kalka Shimla Railway was given the same status in 2008. The three together are called Unesco’s ‘Mountain Railways of India World Heritage Site.’ “This Fund-In-Trust agreement is the first step towards realising the CCMP, and aims at assisting the Ministry of Railways in enhancing the conservation and management of the Mountain Railways of India,” Northeast Frontier Railway CPRO PJ Sharma informed. An effective management system would in turn serve as the master document for formulating projects towards future interventions in respect to heritage matters of DHR and the other two mountain railways, he added.

With several stake-holders operating in the area, the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway has been severely affected by rampant construction along the line and in coming up of urban settlements, lack of inventory of historic buildings that have been already demolished, renovated, restored or reconstructed has also added to its problems. “Lack of a management plan for the World Heritage property and an undefined buffer zone along the length of it has also severely threatened the future of the World Heritage property. There is lack of meaningful collaboration and clear governance arrangements to deal with regional issues affecting the DHR with special regard to the World Heritage property and buffer zone management,” CPRO Sharma said. The CCMP, once completed and implemented, is expected to remove the existing anomalies and ensure proper conservation of all the three heritage railways, he added.