city hopes for cleaner, greener 2011
The city of the Taj can look forward to a whole lot of new developments in 2011,
from banning of polythene bags, a much-needed war on encroachments
around historical monuments, streamlining traffic and completion
of the vital Yamuna
Till recently it was a mere conjecture, but now signs of stress
and physical distortions on the marble surface are beginning to
confirm what everyone has been fearing - the Taj Mahal is in real
danger from the dry and polluted Yamuna.
"It's simple, plain and logical to suggest that the Taj Mahal
cannot remain in good health for long if its sustaining force, the
river Yamuna, is in poor condition," declares R. Nath, whose
latest book on the Taj, India's iconic tourist destination and a
World Heritage monument, explains the developing scenario in
Experts in the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) have all along
been downplaying the threats from the dry and polluted river.
Entry to the chambers in the foundation of the huge edifice has
been sealed for years and no independent agency has carried out
extensive surveys that could reassure and allay the fears
expressed by doomsday forecasters like Nath.
ASI officials refuse to entertain questions about the state of the
Taj's foundation. However, a senior ASI official, who preferred
not to be named, confided that cracks in the foundation were
noticed some years ago and that they had been repaired.
"The cracks were not small, they were big," he said.
Raman, a member of the Supreme Court monitoring committee, said:
"I have heard reports about ant-hills and termite colonies in the
basement of the Taj Mahal."
The controversial Taj Corridor project - construction of a
corridor on the river bed - left the monument in the lurch and the
artificially developed park in the rear has permanently distanced
the Yamuna from the Taj Mahal, fundamentally altering the physical
conditions of the whole complex.
This was against the categorical directive of the S. Varadarajan
committee, which said there should be no tinkering with the
physical conditions around the monument, an activist said.
Shravan Bharti, a conservationist, said "they (the authorities)
are playing with the safety of the Taj Mahal."
R.K. Dixit, the official in charge of the Taj Mahal, confirmed
that from the main gate to the central white marble dome the
distance is 300 metres. Also, from Mehtab Bagh across the river to
the Taj Mahal, the distance is exactly 300 metres."
This means the river was central to the overall design of the
whole complex, stressed Rajan Kishore, who has been organising
action programmes and fasts for the river Yamuna's protection from
"If one part of the body is sick and paralysed how can one say the
monument is healthy and in good shape?" he asked.
According to Surendra Sharma, president of the Braj Mandal
Heritage Conservation Society, the sand blowing in from the dry
Yamuna and tonnes of desert sand coming with the westerlies have
been a cause of concern for long.
Both V.K. Shukla of the Central Pollution Control Board and B.B.
Awasthi of the UP State Pollution Control Board confirm that the
soot and dust in the air around the Taj Mahal continues to remain
alarmingly high. The dry river bed could be a contributing factor,
However, "the Agra air is much cleaner and safer now with the
sulphur dioxide level gone down significantly," insisted one
The level of finer sand particles is much higher than the normal
but can be brought down if there is water in the river, scientists
of the pollution board said.
Author Nath is particularly concerned about the use of Fuller's
Earth to whiten the Taj's marble surface. Fuller's Earth is widely
used in Europe as a bleaching agent before the shearing of sheep.
"In the beginning it was once in several years, but lately it's
every now and then. They misled public opinion by calling it "Multani
Mitti." Only later it was discovered that they were importing
Fuller's Earth. The original "Vajra Lep," the polish on the white
marble, did not require any further treatment and should have been
left undisturbed," Nath told IANS on phone from Ajmer.
The extensive use of saline or brackish water from the Yamuna has
also affected the monument's surface, said Vishal, an
environmentalist and photographer.
The question to the ASI is simple, says Nath. "Was a dry Yamuna in
the original plan of Shah Jahan (the Mughal emperor who built the
monument in memory of his wife Noor Jehan). If the river was
integrated in the original plan, for the Taj Mahal's safety and
for the scenic ambience it provides, is the objective fulfilled by
the dry and polluted river?" he asked.
(Brij Khandelwal can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)