Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Excerpt from Indian Express : UNESCO may give 'endangered' tag to Darjeeling heritage line

The 132-year-old Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR), the country's only railway line which is a World Heritage Site, may be labelled as an "endangered site" by the Unesco, if nothing is done by India soon.

Recently, the Unesco office in New Delhi had suggested to the Railways to send a senior official to its World Heritage Centre in Paris, France, to apprise its team that is concerned about the progress in restoration work. To be on the World Heritage List implies that the site needs to fulfil a certain criteria as mentioned in the Unesco World Heritage Convention.

Popularly known as the Toy Train, the DHR is a 78-km-long narrow guage line that connects New Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling in West Bengal. Built between 1879 and 1881, the line touches the maximum elevation of 2,200 metres, including Ghum, the highest railway station in India. The DHR received the World Heritage Site in 1999.

However, since 2010, the line has been facing disruptions. It was severely hit by the 2011 earthquake in Sikkim. Several assessments say the restoration work has been slow due to the apathy from both the Centre and the state.

In a letter to Minister of State for Railways, A R Chowdhury, Director and Unesco representative to India, Bhutan, Maldives and Sri Lanka, Shigeru Aoyagi, has said that the state of DHR is serious. "If no action is taken by the government of India to restore it urgently, there may be a chance that the Intergovernmental Committee of World Heritage Convention [may] advise to place the DHR in the list of endangered sites to provide focused attention for conservation," the letter stated.

Chowdury has been assigned to follow-up on this issue since the DHR is in his home state.

The Unesco has also started talks with the Heritage directorate of the Railway Ministry for a technical cooperation to develop a Comprehensive Conservation Management Plan. If everything goes well, the plan may be ready by August.

Comment by Praful Rao
On 31Jul2012, I spent an entire day at the Tindharia workshop area, checking the drainage flow in the vicinity of the Tindharia DHR workshop and interacting with locals and DHR authorities. The captioned photographs above are from that visit.
My personal (gloomy) assessment based on the lack of progress of any landslide prevention measures there till date is that if we have prolonged and heavy rainfall in the area during the ensuing monsoons, parts of the heritage workshop will certainly crumble into the massive landslide which has already damaged the structure.

Sadly, the truth is that having wasted the valuable dry season (0ct2012-Apr2013) when major slope stabilization works should have been undertaken, we have the south westerly monsoons knocking at our doorstep once again (June first week). 
And it is common knowledge here that except for fire-fighting measures no serious river training, drainage correction or slope stabilization work can be undertaken in the next 4-5 months of rains as such we will have to wait until after the monsoons (ie till Oct2013) for any major stabilization work to be initiated.
And that, may just be a little too late.

Praful Rao,

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