The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has expressed fears that the damage caused to the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) in India’s West Bengal due to the ongoing Gorkhaland agitation may put in peril its World Heritage tag.
The DHR earned the distinction from the international conservation body in 1999.
Two prime stations Gayabari and Sonada were torched while an arson attempt was made on Elysia Building, the headquarters of the DHR, during the pro-Gorkhaland bandh in the eastern Indian state.
“Because of the damage caused to DHR during the strike, the World Heritage status enjoyed by it, may come up for review in the next World Heritage Committee meeting in 2018,” Moe Chiba, a UNESCO official in New Delhi said.
“The DHR heritage toy train is already very vulnerable given the natural environmental surrounding and landslide and other disaster threats it faces. Now this social turmoil has added another layer of vulnerability to it.”
An indefinite shutdown and protest called by Gorkha Janmukti Morcha or GJM (Gorkha Peoples Liberation Front) has been affecting normal life in the tourist hill resort since June.
Markets, shops, hotels and other business establishments are shut down and public transport is off the roads. The ongoing agitation has crippled tourism in the hills.
Officials have also suspended the iconic toy train service in wake of the shutdown.
The agitation in the town began against imposition of Bengali language in schools across the hills.
Though local government has clarified that the new rule to impose Bengali would not be enforced in the hill districts, the protesters led by GJM now have started a decades-old demand of a separate state of Gorkhaland.