Other States

Ire over toy train monetisation plan

A section of people in the Darjeeling hills of West Bengal are protesting against the Centre’s proposed monetisation of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railways (DHR). They have staged protests at 10 stations of the heritage railway that connects New Jalpaiguri with Darjeeling, across 87.48 km.

There are four fully functional and operational railways networks in mountains and hilly terrains in India — the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway located in the foothills of the Himalayas in West Bengal; the Nilgiris Mountain Railways located in the Nilgiri Hills of Tamil Nadu; the Kalka Shimla Railway located in the Himalayan foothills of Himachal Pradesh; and the Matheran Railway located in Maharashtra.

The protests against the proposed monetisation of the DHR were led by supporters of Anit Thapa, the chairperson of Gorkhaland Territorial Administration. Nipen Chettri, one of leaders who participated in the protests, said private companies’ focus would be on profit, and local aspirations of the people would be ignored.

Raj Basu, secretary general of the DHR India Support Group, said they were not against privatisation, but it could not be a unilateral decision. “The Railways, the UNESCO and the local people should sit together and create guidelines, so that the heritage site can be preserved and sustained,” he said.

Mr. Basu, whose support group has about 2100 active members, wondered why private companies would invest in a Railway whose earnings were ₹5 crore while the investment required to sustain it was ₹20 crore.

He said the DHR was the only surviving, fully functional two-feet gauge railway in the world and that it was the pride of the people of Darjeeling.

The services of the DHR resumed on August 25, 2021, after being suspended for almost a year due to COVID-19. The toy train service known for its curves and loops had suffered major damages over the past few years due to frequent landslides. On Monday, the DHR introduced a short service from Siliguri Junction to Rongtong, to attract more tourists.

Built in the British era between 1879 and 1881, the Darjeeling toy train was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999.

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Printable version | Jul 3, 2022 5:32:39 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/ire-over-toy-train-monetisation-plan/article36190916.ece