Protecting Taj Mahal “A Hopeless Cause?”

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The one who is visiting India for the first time, it is completely impossible for the stroller to skip the bucket list worthy Taj Mahal. This monument in Agra is India’s most famous mausoleum, and a majestic shrine to eternal love.

But recently both the condition and situation turned so pathetic that Supreme Court had to say that there will be no “second chance” to preserve the Taj Mahal. The authorities were asked by the Apex Court to take a larger perspective on issues of pollution and green cover to prepare a vision document on protecting the Taj.

Is it baffling you? So if one wants to understand this complete scenario of hassle then there is a need to give a glimpse upon the past.

SLOW DECAY OF TAJ MAHAL

The 17th-century monument is located in the busy, industrial city of Agra, Uttar Pradesh. Repercussions of being situated in the industrial area being faced by the domes and minarets of the monument.

Researchers say years of burning fossil fuels, biomass and garbage as well as dust have left behind carbon deposits which are turning the white marble of the Taj Mahal brownish yellow, there are many who blame air pollution for discoloring of the famed monument.

This discoloration of the white marble has long been a concern, but the year-long study in December 2014, by two American universities – the Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Wisconsin – the Indian Institute of Technology at Kanpur, and the Archeological Survey of India, has identified the pollutants that are causing the marble of India’s iconic Taj Mahal to turn yellow.

To identify the cause researchers placed small samples of pristine marble on the 370-year-old famed monument of love, left them there for two months, and then analyzed the particles deposited on their surfaces. Quiet interesting, isn’t it?

“We have [an] increasing fleet of diesel vehicles nowadays in cities, large vehicles, trucks, that’s number one. And that is a major emission source for black carbon and organic carbon. But biomass burning – particularly the season now – we are seeing people, when they feel cold; they burn any kind of stuff. People, maybe in houses, they are burning just wood etc., but outside the people are burning cow dung and different kinds of trash. Burning is also a major source of organic carbon.” -Professor S.N. Tripathi, Indian Institute of Technology at Kanpur, one of the study authors

 EFFORTS TO REDUCE POLLUTION

The officials over the last ten years have banned vehicles within 500 meters of the monument. To lessen the effect of diesel machines they have also tried to support clean fuel and improve the power supply.

But despite of these measures, a study found in 2010 that the non-stop growth of industry, population and traffic have only worsened air pollution in Agra.

WHAT NEEDED THE MOST

Preservationists and people are trying to keep the monument safe and are stressing on the need for more targeted protection of the symbol of love.

Ratish Nanda, Conservationist in New Delhi explained that some weathering is needed in the monument. He also believes that the only issues of discoloration should not be blown out of proportion.

Ratish stressed on the need of more funding and requirement of intensive monitoring and greater involvement of the scientific community to protect the Taj Mahal.

“There are lot of studies which are saying that is the discoloration happening and how it is happening, but there is absolutely no real work on what to do to prevent it. The whole preservation mechanism of the Taj Mahal needs to change… Absolutely the one thing that is absolutely essential is to put in a regime of conservation, that whatever cleaning is done, should be sensitive and have no long term impact.” -Ratish Nanda

Authorities have been giving the monument mud pack treatments since 1994, to remove the pollution stains. It’s a centuries-old beauty treatment used by women which involves plastering the monument’s surface with lime-rich clay and then peeling it off. But experts warned that this could have unwanted side effects.

MULTIPLE BIDDERS

Multiple private bidders have shown keen interests for maintenance and upkeep of the world heritage, which is being developed by the government into “iconic destination”.

Rashmi Verma, Tourism Secretary summoned to the members of the tourism industry in Agra on March 22, 2018, that the bidders with the permissible guidelines of Archeological Survey of India will commence gap analysis of requirements of the basic and advanced amenities and prepare a vision bid proposal for the site opted by them.

She further explained that Memorandum of understanding will be signed with the party, once the vision bid is accepted, for the enhanced experience of the tourists and maintenance of the monument.

Along with that various suggestions to enhance the tourist’s facilities in Agra at the time of discussion during the meeting were made. One was for night shows or programs that will encourage tourists to stay back in Agra overnight. Other involved the up gradation of sound and light show at Agra Fort, and a facility for scheduled commercial flights to Agra.

WHAT UNESCO HAS TO SAY?

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization have declared the Taj Mahal a world heritage site in 1983 because of the following reasons said by UNESCO:

  1. The best example of Mughal architecture.
  2. Known as the Jewel of Muslim art.
  3. Greatest monuments in Indo-Islamic architecture with its artistic harmony and fine craftsmanship as well as the unique qualities in symmetry and balance.
  4. It was built by precious and semi-precious stones.
  5. Genius and unique planning.
  6. Perfect symmetrically built building.

But now after noticing the degrading condition of the Taj Mahal, UNESCO felt it compulsory to speak on the matter. UNESCO is keeping a close watch on all the issue revolving around the Taj Mahal. Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director-General on the discoloration of the monument of love’s white marble have said that her organization has reviewed several reports of the Taj tilting and turning yellow due to environmental pollutants and is keeping a sharp eye on monuments upkeep.

“We are keeping a close eye on the conservation status of the Taj Mahal. We have a regular reporting system on the state of Taj’s conservation. We don’t have any specific information as of now on a serious threat to the monument. Should there be any specific change or damage to the monument, our world heritage centre will be alerted by the reporting system and we will take steps. We make regular visits to the Taj to check it conservation status and observe if the white marbles are getting discolored.”  – Irina Bokova

“An immense mausoleum of white marble, the Taj Mahal is the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world’s heritage. The existence of several historical and Quaranic inscriptions in Arabic script have facilitated setting the chronology of Taj Mahal. For its construction, masons, stone-cutters, inlayers, carvers, painters, calligraphers, dome builders and other artisans were requisitioned from the Central Asia and Iran. The Taj Mahal is considered to be the greatest architectural achievement in the whole range of Indo-Islamic architecture. The Taj Mahal is a perfect symmetrical planned building, with an emphasis of bilateral symmetry. Taj Mahal represents the finest architectural and artistic achievement through perfect harmony and excellent craftsmanship in a whole range of Indo-Islamic sepulchral architecture. It is a masterpiece of architectural style in conception, treatment and execution and has unique aesthetic qualities in balance, symmetry and harmonious blending of various elements.”  -UNESCO

 REVENUE AND FOOTFALL

Around 70 lakh tourists, including 6-7 lakh foreigners, every year buy tickets to get a site of this white marble symbol of love. And if we include children below 15 years and VIP’s who are exempted from buying entry tickets, the number would easily cross 1 crore.

In 2017 total 41.58 lakh, including 5.2 lakh foreigners visited the monument between January and August, as per the ASI data. In 2016, 62 lakh tourists visited the Taj which earned Rs. 25 cr just from entry ticket sales.

“Just because of Taj, nearly 4 lakh people directly or indirectly get employment. The tourism of Agra would be nothing without the monument. It is a major source of job creation, not only in Agra, but also in Delhi’s hospitality sector.”  -Rajiv president, Paryatan Mitra, an organization working for the tourism industry

“Taj has been declared a World heritage monument by the UNESCO. Taj Mahal drives the tourism engine of the entire sub-continent. There is no other monument which draws so many foreign tourists in the country.” –Rajeev Saxena, Secretary, Tourism Guild of Agra

Taj Mahal alone had 23% share of foreign tourists travelling to India. But in spite of being the most visited monument of the country recently, there has been a constant fall in the number of foreign visitors.

Year Number of foreigners
2010 6.1 lakh
2011 6.7 lakh
2012 7.9 lakh
2013 7.4 lakh
2014 6.4 lakh

 WARNINGS BY SUPREME COURT

Supreme Court on a regular interval of time slams the Centre, Uttar Pradesh government and Archaeological Survey of India for their apathy in protecting the monument from pollution.

  1. A bench that comprises justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta, has been repeatedly asking the Union and the state governments for a blueprint to ensure that the Taj survives more than the predicted 400 years. On 11 July 2018 Supreme Court gave a very controversial remark by warning government that it may shut it down if they don’t step up its efforts.

“There is absolutely no willingness to protect the Taj Mahal. It has to be protected. Either you restore it or demolish it. Eighty million people visit the Eiffel Tower. Our Taj Mahal is so much better. Do you know how much foreign exchange you could earn?”  -The Bench

  1. Supreme Court has slammed the Centre and the UP government on 26 July 2018 for filing a draft report of the vision document that if immediate steps were not taken, the Taj Mahal might lose its status as a UNESCO world heritage site.

“It would be embarrassing to lose the UNESCO world heritage site tag. Vision document will take years and years. What happens in the interim? Why have you given a draft plan? Are we supposed to vet it for you? Is it our job to vet it? What will happen if UNESCO says that we will withdraw the World Heritage tag of the Taj Mahal?” -a bench of justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta

 “Do you even have a list of polluting industries?

Do you know which one is polluting the air or water?

Do you know if they have sewage treatment plants?

Do you know how many challans have been issued by the pollution control board.” -Justice Gupta

  1. The Supreme Court on July 30th, 2018 said the concern of the preservation of the monument should be larger than UNESCO’s.

“Our concern on Taj Mahal should be far greater than that shown by UNESCO.”  -the Supreme Court ruled.

  1. On July, 31, 2018, Supreme Court said authorities in India should display a “far greater concern” than shown by the UNESCO over the upkeep of Taj Mahal that has been affected by pollution. On environment protection the court had also condemned the Taj Trapezium Zone (TTZ) authority in and around the Taj Mahal in Agra, asking it whether preservation of the monument was a “tamasha” (drama) or a “joke”.

What happened presently?

On 28th August 2018, Supreme Court said to the project coordinator, who is involved in the process of preparing the vision document that there will be no “second chance” to protect the Taj Mahal, asking the authorities to take a larger perspective on issues of pollution and green cover to prepare a vision document on protecting the monument.

The apex court, also said that while preparing the vision document the other issues like vehicular traffic, pollution from the industries operating in the Taj Trapezium Zone (TTZ) and the water level of river Yamuna, must also be looked into.

The TTZ is an area of about 10,400 sq km spread over the districts of Agra, Firozabad, Mathura, Hathras and Etah in Uttar Pradesh and the Bharatpur district of Rajasthan.

“If the Taj Mahal goes once, you will not get a second chance.” -a bench of Justices Madan B Lokur, S Abdul Nazeer and Deepak Gupta

Tushar Mehta, Additional Solicitor General (ASG) and advocate Aishwarya Bhati, representing the Uttar Pradesh government, said that the School of Planning and Architecture in Delhi was preparing a vision document.

ASG A N S Nadkarni, said that they have received suggestions from expert bodies like the Aga Khan Foundation, the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) and the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) in this regard.

The Centre has communicated to the Uttar Pradesh government to send a proposal to declare Agra a ‘heritage city’ said Nadkarni. He further told that the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) was in the process of preparing a heritage plan for the Taj that in three months would be filed with the UNESCO.

MC Mehta, environmentalist and a petitioner told the court that green cover in the area has reduced and there were encroachments in and outside the Yamuna floodplains there.

“Things have changed from what was told to this court in 1996. There were 511 industries then and now it is 1,167. Has all this being taken into consideration?” –The Bench

The bench was told by the project coordinator that they were looking into all the aspects and verifying data on the number of industries as the list given to them was “incorrect”.

“If the information given to you is incorrect, the vision document would be incorrect. This is the problem.”  -The court

“You can come to the Supreme Court in case you want any kind of assistance. You go slowly and steadily so that everything can be worked out. If they (government) do not do it, then court is there.”  -The bench

Supreme Court has posted the matter for hearing on September 25.

LOOPHOLE IN GOVERNMENT’S EFFORTS

522 houses have been identified in the villages around the Taj, where as regular fuel for cooking and other daily needs, coal or wood were found to be used, according to a report submitted by the local administration to the TTZ authority.

LPG AND VILLAGES AROUND THE TAJ

Villagers namely Budhana, Budhera, Syyed Ahmed Bukhari, Jalal Bukhari, Pagla Pema and others, have never used LPG for cooking, and it was found during a survey that none of these villages had any LPG connections.

The villagers mentioned that they had tried to get an LPG connection many times, but it was too costly and it’s unaffordable to buy a connection.

UJJWALA YOJNA

When asked about the central government’s Ujjwala Yojna, then a complete unawareness was expressed about this scheme and further mentioned that the political leaders who visited their villages never mentioned this scheme or talked about its benefits.

Some villagers who did know about the scheme claimed that in spite of the connection being free under this scheme, the refill cylinder was too costly for them to be able to buy it.

ARCHAEOLOGICAL SURVEY

The local administration was blamed by a senior Archaeological Survey of India official for this problem. He mentioned that where on the one hand a vision document was being prepared by the central government and ASI for the Taj Mahal’s conservation for the next 100 years with the help of experts from various fields, the local administration was not even able to make sure the prohibition of polluting activities around the Taj after compliance of the Supreme Court’s orders.

COAL BURNING AND PETHA INDUSTRY

The local administration has already banned coal burning in the Petha industry said Sami Aghai, chairman, Bhartiya Muslim Vikas Parishad and further told that it is trying to shift the industry out of Agra or making them all take CNG or LPG connections.

But surprisingly 522 houses around the Taj Mahal were still using coal and wood as fuel and the administration was not able to provide them with a gas connection.

He said that to ensure the allocation of gas connections to these houses Gaurav Dayal, the then district magistrate of Agra had written a letter to the Indian Oil Corporation Ltd on priority basis under the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) of IOCL.

Rs 13.59 lakh had been estimated the total cost of the connections, but no action was taken on the DM’s letter by IOCL and the burning of coal and wood around the Taj Mahal continues.

TAJGANJ CREMATORIUM

Sami Aghai further said that the Tajganj crematorium near to the Taj Mahal was also contributing to a great deal of air pollution in the area due to approx 100 dead bodies being cremated in the crematorium every day, which means the burning of tons of woods per day.

It costed several lakhs for the installation of the green cremation facility in the crematorium, but is non-functional, resulting in the burning of huge volumes of wood.

He explained that it was the need of the hour that the green cremation system at the Tajganj crematorium must be active as soon as possible after altering its flaws, so that the pollution could be controlled in the nearby vicinity of the Taj.

EMERGENCE OF SYMBOL OF LOVE

  1. The Taj Mahal was built by the Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan, in the loving memory of his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Mumtaz died while giving birth to her 14th child. She was a favorite of the Mughal Emperor, and Shah Jahan spared no expense to build the memorial for his wife. Both the Emperor and his wife were finally laid to rest in the Taj.
  2. The construction of the humongous Taj began in 1632, a year after Mumtaz’ died, and was completed nearly 20 years later. It involved 20,000 laborers, artisans and workmen to create the monument, who were called from across the globe.
  3. The Taj which is a fine example of Mughal architecture is made up of white marble. The large dome, the four minarets and the high platform are a few of the unique features of the structure.
  4. The Taj Mahal have beautiful and detailed carvings, as well as a fair amount of Persian calligraphy as portraits and idols are never represented on Indo-Islamic construction
  5. Under the dome, the two decorated tombs are fake. The original tombs of the Emperor and Mumtaz are in a basement below, and they are completely bare, with not a bit of decoration on them.

CELEBRITIES FOOTFALL

Princess Diana has famously photographed alone on a marble seat at the iconic white marble monument in 1992

Prince Charles visited the monument of love in 1980

Multiple private bidders have shown interest for the “mainteThe Duke and Duchess of Cambridge sat on the same bench at the end of a week-long royal tour of India in April 2016

Hollywood couple Catherine Zeta-Jones, 48, and Michael Douglas, 73, also posed outside the famous monument with their children Dylan, 17, and Carys, 14

Oprah Winfrey at the Taj Mahal in 2012

Actors Anil Kapoor and Tom Cruise at the Taj Mahal in 2011

Russian President Vladimir Putin went to the Taj Mahal with wife Ludmila in October 2000

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg visited Taj Mahal in October 2015

AWAKENING THE REALIZATION

It’s only once that so beautiful and majestic monument is built. It’s an impossible task to create such a genius masterpiece again. Imagine India without Taj Mahal? Imagine your future generation listening about Taj Mahal only in stories? Imagine India being dropped out from the list of seven wonders of the world? Does that picture scare you?

The condition of Taj Mahal has deteriorated so much if we compare it to the day it was built. It’s high time and the need of the hour the government must keep Taj Mahal for now in the limelight so that its conditions can be improved a bit. Instead of making it a communal issue we should think it as a national issue. All the loopholes that have been deciphered in the vision report till now must be sorted. A committee should be formed that must keep an eye on the money involved as whether the government allotted money are used judiciously or not.

No doubt Taj Mahal has a major hand in the foreign exchange of the country, let us not change it. It’s impossible for the government to do the work alone; they need its citizens helping hand and it must be our responsibility to do our bit for this mesmerizing artwork.

Till now Taj Mahal has given countless appreciations and respects, it’s time for Indians to pay Taj back.

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