The World Heritage Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) has been chosen by the central government as one of the state-owned assets that has been listed for monetisation.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Monday announced the National Monetisation Pipeline (NMP) wherein the government plans to monetise Rs 6 lakh crore worth of state-owned assets over the next four years under its asset monetisation pipeline, which would mean handing over the assets that have been listed to the private sector for a certain period of time.
However, the Centre has specifically mentioned that the ownership of the assets would remain with the government and that the private sector partners that will take them over have to hand it back to the government after some time.
According to Darjeeling’s BJP MP Raju Bista, these are just proposals, and that whenever decisions on implementing the PPP model is taken for the DHR, it will be taken keeping in mind the World Heritage status, the sentiments of the local communities and the rich history and legacy of the railways.
The National Monetization Pipeline Volume-2 asset pipeline issued by the NITI Aayog, the think tank of the government of India, also says that the heritage nature of such assets has to be preserved by whoever runs it. The DHR is one of the only five railways in the world to be granted World Heritage status by UNESCO in 1999.
“In the 2021-22 Union Budget, monetisation of operating public infrastructure assets has been identified as a key means for sustainable infrastructure financing. Due to the pandemic, global economic activities have slowed down and the same is true for India.
To make sure the economy gets necessary support from the government, the Finance Ministry and NITI Aayog have identified infrastructure as being the central pillar, through which if public expenditure happens, the revival will be clearly predictable and spillover effect itself will create a cycle of demand,” Mr Bista, also the BJP spokesperson, said.
According to him, among the assets on the NMP list are roads, railway stations, train operations and tracks, power transmission lines, hydroelectric and solar power assets, fibre optic cables, telecom towers, natural gas pipelines, petroleum product pipelines, railway stadiums, airports, coal mining projects, major ports, and warehousing assets.
“Since it was only announced yesterday, I haven’t had the opportunity to study the entire document. However, there has been a long-standing proposal for the monetisation of the mountain railways of India, which includes the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, the Nilgiri Mountain Railways, the Kalka Shimla Railway, and the Matheran Railway,” Mr Bista said.
“Since these are World Heritage Railways, they may be monetised through the Operation Maintenance Development (OMD) based Public-Private-Partnership model as the infrastructure may require rehabilitation and augmentation investment. This way, we attract private investments in the operation and maintenance of these assets, while the government retains the ownership of the assets,” he added.