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 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

Other World Heritage Railways

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

Clearly this  is still much to do to ensure that the DHR retains its special identity  as a steam-operated hill railway. This brief explanation of World Heritage  status is not the place to go into details. In summary however, we can  say that the conservation of the DHR will be of necessity a slow process.  As far as the buildings are concerned, there is a lot of research to be  done to discover what they originally looked like. Following this, much  careful and expert restoration needs to be undertaken, which means that  craftsmen capable of this work need to be found or trained. Any work to  the permanent way is naturally dependent upon traffic on the Hill Cart  Road and can only be carried out in a phased manner. Indian Railways has  already done much on relaying the track and renewing bridges.

The 'B'-class  locomotives and rolling stock are NOT protected by UNESCO's inscription.  However, they are an integral part of the identity of the D.H.R. Their  importance was recognised and emphasised by Dr. Lee in his submission  to UNESCO. Regardless of possible changes to the operation of the line,  the 'B'-class locomotives must therefore continue to be found a place  that is financially viable in future plans for the running of the railway.