The Indian Express published a report on the 14th of July where it was claimed that the World Heritage Site status of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR), popularly known as Darjeeling toy train, was under threat. It further stated that UNESCO intends to send a team to ascertain the conditions of the property.
The report on Darjeeling toy train by Indian Express states, “Not satisfied with the information the Indian Railways has been furnishing about the state of conservation of the World Heritage Site, UNESCO will send its Reactive Monitoring Mission, comprising experts from UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee and the International Council on Monuments and Sites, to Darjeeling to ascertain the condition of the property jointly with the Indian Railways. It will identify priorities for action and report on these while also formulating a set of recommendations for the Railways aimed at preventing further erosion of the property’s ‘Outstanding Universal Value’, according to draft minutes of UNESCO’s annual meeting last week in Azerbaijan.”
The report further stated that the Reactive Monitoring Mission is sent when World Heritage Sites are in danger and may lose their place in the prestigious list.
The UNESCO, now, has issued a clarification over claims made in the Indian Express report about the Darjeeling toy train, which it calls ‘misleading’.
The world body stated, “While the essence of the article written by Avishek G Dastidar is accurately based on the official and public documents of the World Heritage Committee, the headline is unfortunately stating as fact an element which must first and foremost be confirmed by the Government of India. Your presentation is therefore misleading.”
The clarification by the organization also states clearly that in fact state parties (in this case, India) have been requested to extend an invitation to the Reactive Monitoring Mission so that the team can assist the government to conserve the site effectively. “You may think of this formulation as diplomatic niceties,” says the statement by UNESCO, “but it makes for an importance distinction.”
The statement reads further, “For its part, our UNESCO team in New Delhi have supported extensively Indian Railways over the last couple of years and I wish Mr. Dastidar had contacted us. We make ourselves readily available to the news media and this would have helped put more perspective on your article.”
It was also stated that UNESCO New Delhi works “very closely” with the Heritage Division of Indian Railways and the stakeholders in West Bengal to ensure the formulation of a Comprehensive Conservation Management Plan very soon. While it admitted that it was “incontrovertible” that there were threats to the DHR, it hopes that it will be able to “proudly keep the railway on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list”.
Thus, it appears that contrary to the impression that the Indian Express report conveys, the UNESCO New Delhi team and the Indian Railways have been working closely to find a solution to the threats that DHR faces. Furthermore, the Reactive Monitoring Mission will be sent with the express purpose of conserving the site and not necessarily to remove the prestigious tag. Also, the team can be sent only if the GOI extends an invitation to it, an invitation that has been requested by the organization.