Unesco pulls up Darjeeling railway over encroachment
The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is in trouble with Unesco. A Unesco team Thursday expressed concern over encroachments on the world heritage site and pulled up railway officials over slow restoration of tracks hit by landslides.
A three-member Unesco delegation led by Heritage Committee chief Haribansh Kirat inspected the narrow gauge railway that runs between New Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling in West Bengal.
The team expressed displeasure over the slow progress of restoration work of tracks badly affected by landslides in 2010 that disrupted train services.
The team inspected tracks in Kurseong, Ghoom and Darjeeling.
It said illegal shops and houses have been constructed near the tracks at many places which have considerably slowed down the speed of the trains.
"There are so many encroachments. A world heritage site should be free from this," said Kirat.
He said he will send a detailed report regarding the encroachments to the chief of the Unesco heritage committee.
Built between 1879 and 1881, the 78-km-long Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is only the second railway to have the honour of world heritage site bestowed upon it, the first being Semmering Railway of Austria.
The Unesco team also said the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway was yet to submit a proposal on how it proposed to spend the $6 million sanctioned to it by Unesco.
Railway officials assured the team they were committed to make efforts to attract tourists from across the globe.
The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is also planning to run a Red Panda special train from Darjeeling to Kurseong giving passengers a glimpse of the endangered species.
"We are planning to soon start the Red Panda special train," said Darjeeling station master Suman Pradhan.
Meanwhile, South Eastern Railway's Area Manager (Siliguri) Partha Sarathi Seal said train services between the landslide-affected Siliguri and Gayabari was likely to resume by Dec 25.
"Restoration work between Gayabari and Kurseong is in full swing and only 30 percent of work is left," said Seal.
Unesco had earlier issued a warning to the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway threatening to withdraw the world heritage site tag following disruption of train services between Darjeeling and Siliguri due to the 2010 landslides. Subsequently, the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway allocated Rs.85 crore for restoration work.
Another Unesco delegation is slated to make a re-inspection in January.
(Posted on 19-12-2013)