Darjeeling stir may rob iconic toy train of heritage tag
The UNESCO has cautioned that the damage caused to the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) due to the Gorkhaland agitation may put in peril the World Heritage tag it earned in 1999.
Two prime stations Gayabari and Sonada were torched while an arson attempt was made on Elysia Building – the headquarters of the DHR during the pro-Gorkhaland bandh that entered its 54th day on Sunday.
"The DHR heritage toy train is already very vulnerable given the natural environment surrounding and landslide and other disaster threats it faces. And, now this social turmoil has added another layer of vulnerability to it," said Section Chief and Programme Specialist for Culture at UNESCO New Delhi Office Moe Chiba.
"We are very worried about the DHR as, after the UNESCO tag, it is a heritage symbol of outstanding universal value.
And with all the damage caused to it during the strike, the World Heritage status enjoyed by it may come up for review in the next World Heritage Committee meeting in 2018," she said.
Indian Railways and UNESCO are currently working on preparing a Comprehensive Conservation Management Plan (CCMP) for the DHR, work on which had begun in mid-2016.
An office for the CCMP, with a team of experts, was set up in June last year in a room of the 1896-built Kurseong Station that falls midway on the 88-km-long narrow-gauge railway network between New Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling.
The ongoing agitation for a separate Gorkhaland has halted the project operation in the hill town and UNESCO has opened a temporary office for it in its headquarters premises in Delhi.
"Around June 8, the stir began in Darjeeling and we continued for a few days but finally, the situation became difficult and on June 12, we closed our CCMP project office in Kurseong.
"We evacuated our staff and asked them to go back to their hometowns and work from there and later set up a CCMP office at the UNESCO Office in Chanakyapuri," Chiba said, adding, "as soon as the area is made accessible, our team will visit Darjeeling to assess the extent of damage caused to this World Heritage".
Delhi-based conservation architect Aishwarya Tipnis, part of the CCMP project team, said DHR was included in the UNESCO list nearly 20 years ago, and it is "Asia's first industrial heritage site to earn the coveted tag".
"DHR is a complex cultural landscape, which impacts the everyday life of a large population. And, the unfortunate events of deliberate damage caused by arson attacks on Sonada, Gayabari stations and 'Elysia' brings to light an important question regarding the protection of world heritage sites in conflict situations in our country," Tipnis said.( With PTI inputs)