Agra: Conservationists are aghast at the decision to permit unrestricted
access to the Taj Mahal for three days from Tuesday for the annual
urs of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, saying this goes against their
campaign to reduce the human load on the 17th century monument.
The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has decided to permit
free entry of visitors during the urs June 28-30.
This year, ASI and tourism circles estimate that a record number
of people would visit the monument during the urs.
"The number could cross 1.5 lakh," a hotelier estimated.
"Why they can not have some kind of a quota system to restrict the
entry? The safety of both the devout and the monument has to be
ensured. Of particular worry is the casual approach of the
security personnel who allow everyone in without frisking," Rajeev
Tiwari, a senior tourism industry leader, said.
According to Surendra Sharma, president of NGO Braj Mandal
Heritage Conservation Society, "for a long time, we have been
trying to persuade the authorities to restrict the number of
visitors and switch over to online booking of entry tickets, but
to no effect. The number of visitors keeps going up every day".
"If you closely monitor the health of the monument," said tourist
guide Ved Gautam, "you will find unmistakable proof of fatigue and
distress. Some of the ugly scars are man-made. It has an oily
surface due to touching by hordes of visitors. The main staircase
leading to the main platform, is almost gone, though they have now
put a protective wooden cover".
"The red sandstone lined pavements bear the stress marks so
boldly, calling for urgent measures to reduce the human load,"
Last year too, the monument was flooded with tourists and the
devout during the urs, causing additional stress and pressure on
the monument. The ASI had come under considerable flak for
overlooking security considerations.
Entry to the real graves of Shah Jahan and his empress, Mumtaz
Mahal, is allowed only during the urs. People choke the chambers
where the real graves are located. There is hardly enough room for
free movement and this is a matter of concern, say
Deputy Superintending Archaeologist M.C. Sharma had recently
discussed the arrangements with members of the urs organising
committee headed by Ibrahim Zaidi and appealed to them to refrain
from bringing loudspeakers, drums and musical instruments inside.
Additional District Magistrate (City) Arun Prakash reviewed the
security arrangements with Siddharth Verma, the circle officer of
the Taj security office.
In 1993, the Supreme Court appointed high-powered committee headed
by S. Vardarajan had recommended restrictions and control on entry
of visitors to the Taj.
Since then, the Taj is closed to visitors every Friday.
(Brij Khandelwal can
be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)