Siliguri, Sept. 24: Employees of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, tour operators and toy train lovers will raise a slew of demands to improve the world heritage site when Mamata Banerjee visits the hills on September 26.
According to Darjeeling district Trinamul Congress leadership, the railway minister will be in the hills on September 26 and 27 and she has tentatively kept aside her first day to meet delegations and individuals.
“It is quite encouraging that the railway minister is visiting the hills and we will definitely meet her with long-pending demands like the full-fledged functioning of the DHR headquarters in Kurseong. We want the designated officials to function from there for the convenience of the employees and the management of the hill railway,” said Vishal Mukhia, the president of the NFR Employees’ Union (Kurseong branch).
“The second vital point is the upgrade of the NFR press. Rs. 4.3 crore has been granted for the NFR press but the sum is insufficient for installation of state-of-the-art machinery and complete renovation of the press. We want a special package for thorough modernisation of the NFR press,” Mukhia who is also an employee at the press, said.
The dwindling manpower at the 95-year-old locomotive and carriage workshop at Tindharia is another demand the DHR lovers want to bring before the railway minister.
“There is not enough manpower at the workshop and every year, employees are retiring with no initiative to fill up the vacant posts. We demand that these posts be filled up immediately. In fact, a training school should be opened at Tindharia, where the senior personnel at the workshop can impart their expertise in running and maintaining steam locos and carriages to the younger employees,” Sushil Dikshit, the president of the Kurseong-based DHR Goodwill Forum, an association of toy train lovers and ex-DHR employees, said.
“We will also request her to start a rail bus service on DHR tracks.”
Former DHR employees have expressed concern over the quality of coal supplied for steam-hauled rides.
“The main attraction for tourists is the steam-hauled toy train rides. But there are instances when joyrides have to be stopped because of poor quality coal. We will request the minister to ensure that good quality coal is supplied throughout the year,” said Hari Sharma, a former DHR employee.
Tour operators have wanted a policy to link people living along the tracks to the heritage railway.
“There was a proposal by the Unesco Forum to declare areas adjacent to DHR stations at Sukna, Tindharia, Kurseong and Ghum as heritage parks to boost tourism. But the plan has not been implemented till date. We will ask the railway minister to form policies to include local communities in the heritage railway projects by way of tourism so that they can have a sustainable livelihood,” said Raj Basu, the director of Help Tourism.
State urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya said here today that Mamata was visiting the hills to enter into a tacit understanding with the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha and to incite the party to renew violence across the hills.