Darjeeling Rail services, which were closed for one and a half years due to Corona epidemic, have resumed, but the sword of privatization is hanging on this narrow gauge line of Himalayan Railway, popular among tourists. The trains which have been decided to be leased out to the private sector include the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway’s (DHR) toy train included in the UNESCO Heritage List. Due to this, tourists and people associated with this industry are apprehensive. They fear that as soon as it goes into private hands, this train, which has been the center of tourist attraction, will lose people’s interest, the fare will increase and its heritage value will be lost. This service was closed from New Jalpaiguri to Darjeeling since last year due to Corona epidemic. In January last, it was run between Darjeeling to Ghoom. But it was closed in the second wave of Corona. This service between New Jalpaiguri to Darjeeling was stopped since last year. This service, about 141 years old, is included in the UNESCO Heritage List. This train has been the biggest center of attraction for tourists visiting Darjeeling. After being closed for a long time, this toy train has started again from August 25. Opposition to privatization With the re-start of this train, there is hope of getting some support to the economy of the region based on tourism.
But with the decision to hand it over to private hands, the clouds of doubt have started deepening over the future of this historic train. Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has announced the identification of 400 railway stations, 90 passenger trains, 15 railway stadiums and several railway colonies for the privatization of railways. Along with this, the government has also talked about privatization of railways in Konkan and some other hilly areas. As a precaution, instead of using the word privatization in this matter, the government calls it Public Private Partnership. According to the Finance Minister, vacant railway lands, colonies, stadiums and trains will be given in private hands for development. With this private partners will invest and earn their profits for twenty to ninety years. But the ownership will remain with the government. With this, the rapid development of railways will be possible. Fearing heritage status, tour operators of the area are opposing the Centre’s decision to hand it over to private hands. He argues that this will lose its importance. All the organizations associated with the tourism industry have also decided to send a letter to the Center demanding reconsideration of this decision.
Samrat Sanyal, general secretary of the Himalaya Tourism Development Network, says, “In my opinion, this will increase the problem which will have an impact on tourism. We will send a letter to the Centre.” Raj Basu, general secretary of DHR India Support, says, “Privatization can be done. There should not be any threat to the heritage status of the train. The Center should take care of this aspect.” West Bengal Tourism Minister Gautam Deb has also opposed the Centre’s decision. He says, “This will increase the train fare wildly. The central government is bent on selling everything. We will oppose it with all our might.” Vishwajit Das, general secretary of the Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industries, North Bengal, says, “This train should be managed better in the present situation. The organization is against its privatization.” On the other hand, Siliguri’s BJP MLA Shankar Ghosh has welcomed the decision. He says, “It will lead to development of the area, tourism This will help the industry to develop and new employment opportunities will be created.” History of Toy Train This short line train has a history in itself. This railway line was constructed between the year 1879 to 1881.
This line is at an altitude of about 22 hundred meters above sea level in Darjeeling. After Franklin Prested, an agent of the Eastern Bengal Railway, came to the mind of this, it took almost eight years to prepare its plan. For the first time on April 4, 1881, this train reached Darjeeling from Siliguri. Till the eighties, this train was the main means of supply of food grains and other goods in the mountainous area. But after it took more time and the roadway was ready, this work started being done by road. In the year 1999, UNESCO included it in the list of World Heritage. Apart from the common tourists, this train has also been the center of attraction for Bollywood for many decades. Songs and scenes of many films including Aradhana have been shot on it. Shubhanan Chanda, Chief Public Relations Officer, Northeast Frontier (NF) Railway says, “This train has started again from today. There will be 17 seats in the first class for passengers and 29 seats in general. It is expected that this train will again be the same as before. Will prove to be popular.” See also: The world of trains in a hall.