Darjeeling’s pride and joy, the Toy Train or the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR), maybe on its way to being privatised under National Monetisation Policy (NMP) announced by union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Monday.
The Toy Train, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999, is one of the prime tourist attractions of Darjeeling. From reel to real life, it has captured the imagination of one and all.
The NMP will serve as a medium-term roadmap for asset monetisation initiative of the government, said the Niti Aayog. The Centre has finalised Rs 6 lakh crore worth of infrastructure assets to be monetised, with highways, railways and power as the top three sectors.
The Toy Train will also be on the list, which is being opposed by tour operators in North Bengal. They said if this was taken over by private players, it would lose its value as a heritage site. They added that they planned to write to the central government to rethink this decision.
Samrat Sanyal, general secretary of Himalayan Tourism Development Network, said “We think this will create a problem, and that will affect tourism in the area. We will definitely write to the Centre.”
Former state tourism minister Gautam Deb, too, opposed this. “This will increase the fare leading to an issue, they are selling off everything and we will go all out to protest this.”
Raj Basu, DHR India support secretary general, said, “Privatisation can take place, but it should not put heritage status at risk. If this aspect is taken care of, then privatisation can take place.”
Siliguri MLA Shankar Ghosh of the BJP has welcomed this decision. He said, “This will help in development. Tourism will develop, job opportunities will increase.”
The Trinamool Congress, however, has planned a countrywide protest against the NMP.