UNESCO has asked the Indian Railways to submit a report by next February on the state of conservation of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railways after the UN body found the trains and tracks of the world heritage site were suffering from "insufficient maintenance".
UNESCO's World Heritage Committee in a report, submitted in its 43rd session held in Baku, Republic of Azerbaijan, on June 30, said many of the station buildings which are identified as major attributes of the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) have "lost original fabric and seriously deteriorated" since the inscription of the property on the World Heritage list in 1999 and its subsequent extensions in 2004 and 2008.
"In most cases, this is due to ill-advised "modernization" efforts compounded by lack of maintenance. The buildings of Sonada and Gayabari stations, which were damaged during riots in 2017, have not been restored," it said.
It further states that the boundaries of the property did not appear to have been properly defined, since there was currently no clear map or established buffer zone.
The report also said that the property suffers from "serious encroachment" by illegal construction and from waste dumping along the tracks.
"The trains and tracks are suffering from insufficient maintenance... At the time of inscription, in 1999, most of the 88-kilometre route of the DHR passed through either forest or tea garden landscapes.
"Currently, however, much of the DHR runs between illegally constructed houses and shops, and a lot of this encroachment is on a 20-metre corridor owned by the Northern Frontier Railway Zone and the Ministry of Road Transport," it said.
The report said that the issues stem from the absence of a management system with appropriate focus on priorities for protection, maintenance and conservation and the capacity to implement these.
"There is also a general lack of understanding of the unique management needs of narrow-gauge heritage steam railways. In this regard, lack of suitably trained staff to operate the railway constitutes an important aggravating factor," it said.
Responding to a query on the UNESCO report, the Indian Railways said they were working closely with the UN agency for the preservation of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railways (DHR).
"The main challenge being faced is encroachment and NFR is working with the state administration to the meet the same. The routine visit from the UNESCO team should not be misconstrued," they said on the visit of the UNESCO's Reactive Monitoring Mission to Darjeeling.
The monitoring team comprises experts from the agency's World Heritage Committee and the International Council on Monuments and Sites.
The report once submitted will be examined by the World Heritage Committee at its 44th session in 2020.
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