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A fresh campaign to clean up Agra mounted

Wednesday, October 06, 2010 11:32:32 AM, Brij Khandelwal, IANS

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Agra: With a lot of Commonwealth Games visitors expected to descend on the Taj Mahal, the city's new municipal commissioner has launched an all-out war on garbage and pervading squalor to make it "cleaner, greener and worthy of its great monuments".

Vinay Shankar Pandey has mobilised an army of 2,500 sanitation workers to clean up heaps of garbage, de-clog drains and clear polythene dumps from the Yamuna river bank.

"Agra must look fit enough to be called the city of the Taj and its half-a-dozen precious heritage sites," Pandey told IANS in an interview.

Although the ancient capital of the Mughal sovereigns on the banks of the Yamuna river is home to India's biggest tourist draw, it is described as a "dirty city" by most visitors though it remains a major tourist destination because of its many splendid Mughal-era buildings besides the Taj Mahal.

The need to clean up Agra has gathered a new momentum because thousands of athletes and officials taking part in the Oct 3-14 Commonwealth Games are expected to visit the world famous 16th century white marble monument.

Pandey said after a week-long survey that Agra's slums housed more than 500,000 people, living in poverty and squalor. "Our findings were alarming and shocking. We have started a four-pronged programme to transform the slums into liveable habitats.

"A focused programme to address the problems of the slums like lighting, hygiene, hand pumps, cleaning and providing public toilets has been launched," he said. "The results will start showing soon."

Agra has only 2,500 sanitation workers whereas the World Health Organisation health manual stipulates a strength of at least 7,500 for a city of this size that has a population of about 1.5 million, said Pandey.

Work has begun in 156 of the 252 identified slums but the official said there were 300-400 unidentified slums in the city.

According to Pandey, leather cuttings from the 300-odd small and big shoe industries and waste from 350 'petha' making units were the chief source of pollution. These find their way into the open drains, clogging them.

The recent floods caused by heavy rains and the swollen Yamuna made matters worse for the city, which recieves thousands of Indian and foreign tourists every day.

"Very soon the petha makers will have to switch over to a new system which will ensure that our streets in the inner city remain clean," said Pandey, referring to the popular sweet from Agra.

The municipal commissioner complained that Agra's people lacked a sense of pride and attachment to their heritage and history.

"One by one heritage structures, the havelis and mansions are disappearing. We want to conserve this history and culture. Very soon we will announce incentives for those owning these properties.

"Also, under consideration is a proposal to levy a fee on the use of the expression Taj Mahal, as a product or brand, because the city must benefit from the heritage sites.

"The campaign to make the city cleaner, greener and worthy of its great monuments will continue with full force and support of the people. We will soon have exhibitions and contests involving youth," he added.

(Brij Khandelwal can be contacted at





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