The World Heritage Center(WHC) has expressed concern over Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) in view of the ongoing violence by GJM and may bring it to the attention of World Heritage Committee when it meets next year.
It has already sent two letters to the Centre to verify the nature and extent of the damage caused to two stations of DHR by GJM supporters stations in the ongoing indefinite shutdown in Darjeeling Hills, WHC director, Mechtild Rossler told PTI. The letters have also inquired about the overall state of conservation of the DHR, she said adding UNESCO is ready to provide assistance to India in its efforts to safeguard this “invaluable heritage”.
The WHC is a coordinator within UNESCO for all matters related to world heritage and Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, which was built between 1879-1881 and was declared a World Heritage Site by the UN agency in 1999. “Please let me assure you that the UNESCO World Heritage Centre is following with concern the outbreak of civil unrest in Darjeeling Hill. We have received reports of arson attacks at the Ghayabari and Sonada stations as well as of an arson attempt at the Elysia Building, all of which are important elements of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR), a component part of the serial World Heritage property ‘Mountain Railways of India’,” she said in an e-mail.
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“Should the outstanding universal value of the World Heritage property remain under threat, the state of conservation of the Mountain Railways of India may be brought to the attention of the World Heritage Committee at its 42nd session in 2018,” Rossler said. Railways officials and tour operators expressed concern over the damage to DHR, which is commonly known as ‘toy train’ and is a major attraction for tourists, in the agitation. But the GJM, which is leading the indefinite shutdown, remained indifferent. “Due to the unrest in the hills since mid-June, we have been unable to run any sort of service of the DHR and its revenue has dropped sharply. The destruction of several DHR stations has worsened the situation. We are suffering huge losses,” the Chief Public Relations Officer of Northeast Frontier Railway Pranav Jyoti Sharma told PTI.
The tour operators say the toy train and its quaint stations are among the major USPs of tourism in the scenic Himalayan town and it was necessary to protect them. “If the DHR services are not maintained or are stopped, tourism in Darjeeling will be badly hit,” chairman of eastern chapter of Travel Agents Federation of India, Anil Punjabi told PTI. The GJM leadership on the other hand appeared unconcerned about the losses that DHR is facing. “You are talking about losses of DHR, but what about the loss of lives of nine pro-Gorkhaland supporters?” GJM general secretary Roshan Giri shot back when contacted by the news agency.
He alleged that it was the ruling Trinamool Congress in West Bengal who have destroyed DHR property to “malign” GJM. Countering his allegations, state tourism minister and senior TMC leader Gautam Deb said, “The GJM claims that it is fighting for the heritage of the Gorkhas. Is the toy train not part of the heritage of Darjeeling? Then why are they trying to destroy it ? What will they get out of it?”