Proposal to declare Matheran railway on heritage list in limbo

Mumbai: The Indian Government`s proposal to UNESCO to confer heritage status on the 105-year-old Matheran toy train railway is mired in controversy with the descendants of its founder Sir Adamjee Peerbhoy moving the Bombay High Court to rename the railway after him.

The Court has expedited the hearing of the petition although it has not come up for arguments, Ali Akbar Adamjee Peerbhoy, the petitioner and great grandson of the founder of Matheran railway, said on the occasion of 167th birth anniversary of Sir Adamjee Peerbhoy falling Monday.

The petition has argued that despite the recommendation of Maharashtra Government to rename Matheran Railway station after its founder, the Central Government has rejected the proposal without applying its mind on the issue.

Justice D D Sinha and Justice V K Tahilramani, while declining to grant interim relief, recently ordered that the petition`s hearing be expedited so that it is finally decided.

In 2010, the Peerbhoy family had also written to UNESCO, who said the matter was within the purview of the Indian Government and it would forward their request to the concerned authorities to rename the Matheran railway after its founder.

Meanwhile, President of Matheran Municipal Council Ajay Sawant recently assured the Peerbhoy family that civic body will honour Sir Adamjee Peerbhoy and his son Abdul Hussain Peerbhoy by exhibiting their photographs in the gallery of distinguished persons, who strived for Matheran`s development.

Long ago, when palanquin was the only mode of transport from Neral on the foothills of Matheran to the hill top, Sir Adamjee Peerbhoy and his son Abdul Hussain Adamji had set up a railway at a cost of Rs 16 lakh in 1907. Four engines and accessories including the tiny tracks were imported from Germany to lay down the railway.

After the Independence, the department of Railways took over Matheran railway from the Peerbhoy family and promised to pay royalty to them. However, the amount still remains unpaid, the family has claimed in a separate petition which is yet to come up for hearing. They have claimed Rs 100 crore from the Indian Government.

The Peerbhoy family has also written to the Indian Government urging it to hand over their ancestral bungalow back to them for setting up a museum. The bungalow, located at Matheran hill station, now serves as a railway rest house after its acquisition by the government in 1952.

Sir Adamjee Peerbhoy had been conferred the title of Knighthood by the British rulers and was made Sheriff of Bombay during the foreign rule in India.

Sir Adamjee Peerbhoy is also remembered for discovering the road from Neral to Matheran. During his lifetime, he had undertaken many philanthropic works and his services to the nation can be remembered better by renaming Matheran Railway station after him, says his grandson Ali Akbar Peerbhoy.

However, an affidavit filed by an officer of the Home Ministry in the High Court has contended that though Science and Technology Ministry, Department of Posts and Survey of India have given their no objection to the renaming proposal, yet the final decision rests with Ministry of Home Affairs.

"The Government of India is the owner of all assets of Matheran Steam Light Tramway Company Ltd under a registered conveyance dated June 26, 1951, and have been running the said Matheran Railway through Central Railway. It is the legal right and prerogative of the Union of India to accept or reject any proposal for renaming of any Railway station including the Matheran railway," the affidavit said.