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WORLD HERITAGE  STATUS FOR THE D.H.R.

Introduction

 The Darjeeling  Himalayan Railway (DHR) is one of only five railways in the world to be granted World Heritage status by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).
It gained this coveted status at the 23rd Session of UNESCO's World Heritage Committee on
2 December 1999.  This short article covers;

Criteria  for World Heritage status

Achieving World Heritage status for the DHR

What is Protected?

The Practical Implications of World Heritage status

The Future

Criteria for  World Heritage status

UNESCO uses  several criteria to establish a site's eligibility for World Heritage  status. In the case of the DHR two were relevant, and in its justification  for approval UNESCO stated:

"Criterion  (ii) The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is an outstanding example of the  influence of an innovative transportation system on the social and economic  development of a multi-cultural region, which was to serve as a model  for similar developments in many parts of the world."

"Criterion  (iv): The development of railways in the 19th century had a profound influence  on social and economic developments in many parts of the world. This process  is illustrated in an exceptional and seminal fashion by the Darjeeling  Himalayan Railway."

The brief description  of the DHR in the Report of the 23rd Session of the UNESCO World Heritage  Committee states:

"The Darjeeling  Himalayan Railway is the first, and still the most outstanding example  of a hill passenger railway. Opened in 1881, it applied bold and ingenious  engineering solutions to the problems of establishing an effective rail  link across a mountainous terrain of great beauty. It is still fully operational  and retains most of its original features intact."

Achieving  World Heritage status for the DHR

Application  for World Heritage status can be made only by the State Party under whose  jurisdiction the site is located, and involves the preparation of a very  detailed document to rigorous requirements laid down by UNESCO. Indian Railways,  on behalf of the Government of India, prepared an application for the DHR's  inclusion on the World Heritage List, and submitted it to UNESCO in June  1998.

UNESCO's regulations state that applications "received by 1 October of a given year will be considered during the following year". The procedure  then includes an inspection of the site by an "appropriate non-governmental  organisation".
In the case of the DHR, Dr. Robert Lee, consultant to UNESCO's  International Council On Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), visited the railway  in February 1999. Dr. Lee's report was considered by UNESCO and further  information collected from the Government of India.
The World Heritage Committee  meets once a year, and at its meeting in Morocco at the end of November  1999, the D.H.R. was accorded World Heritage site status.

What is Protected?

The World Heritage  Convention was established in 1972. Its focus was the protection and preservation  of geographical sites of exceptional beauty and fragility, and old and  valued buildings. The criteria for World Heritage status therefore concentrates  on evaluating the fixed assets of a site. The wording of the convention  is such that it protects the structure in the location where it was built,  and thus prevents any removal of it.
Thus it is the fixed assets of the  DHR. (i.e. the permanent way and buildings) that have World Heritage status  and not the moveable assets such as the locomotives and rolling stock.

The notion  of a railway or any other kind of industrial site being awarded World  Heritage status is relatively new. To some extent there is a mismatch  between the nature of industrial sites in general (and railways in particular)  and the wording of the 1972 Convention.
UNESCO is aware of this, and it  is to be hoped that the Convention will be amended to safeguard every  aspect of a site with World Heritage status.

The Practical  Implications of World Heritage status

As  the DHR has World Heritage status, the Government of India is obliged to  care for the railway and to give a conservation report to UNESCO every five  years.
The Government of India was also required to prepare a conservation  and management plan for the DHR that includes proposals to restore and maintain  the buildings and permanent way.
There are no direct monetary awards attached  to World Heritage status, but there is a World Heritage Fund that will consider  applications for modest grants to help with conservation.
These grants can  be given for such purposes as emergency work, training of local personnel  or technical co-operation.

The Future

The Present Position (January 2019)

Almost twenty years ago –on 2 December 1999 – the DHR gained World Heritage Site listing and it was a condition that a Comprehensive Conservation Management Plan (CCMP) should be produced. In reality it took until mid-2016 for the project, funded by Indian Railways and driven by UNESCO India, to start. The two key phases of the CCMP are firstly, documentation and secondly, implementation, and the project is now at the transition point between those two elements.

The documentation consists of a comprehensive set of guidance manuals covering all aspects of conservation from first principles, through building design and maintenance to disaster risk management. Another manual covers locomotives and carriages, and one still to be completed will cover track maintenance. The manuals are now in final draft format and the quality is clearly excellent. Much of the work has been done by the talented members of the UNESCO CCMP team based at Kurseong and latterly in Delhi. But there has also been significant input from the Society (notably David Charlesworth) and from Peter Tiller, a former DHRS member and Paul Atkins, a DHRS member and transport logistics consultant.

As regards implementation of the CCMP, this must ultimately rest in the hands of Indian Railways. It is after all their day to day responsibility, both as a WHS but also as a fully operational railway. Within accepted standards they must have the freedom to operate the line as efficiently, safely and economically as possible. On the other hand,  UNESCO clearly needs reassurance that the standards they expect will be delivered, and that those staff responsible are carefully selected, aware of those special standards and trained to implement them.

Discussion as to exactly how the resourcing/staffing issues will be dealt with is currently ongoing between UNESCO and Indian Railways and DHRS members will get a full update at the Society’s 2019 AGM at Kidderminster on 21 April.  Meanwhile,  the Society’s input to the CCMP continues to be considerable and much appreciated by UNESCO and by our many friends in Indian Railways.

For further information, please contact Paul Whittle, Vice Chairman DHRS at pro@dhrs.org