Mumtaz Mahal would be squirming in her grave if she could see the Indian government’s monumental neglect in preserving and protecting the iconic Taj Mahal built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan as a magnificent mausoleum to her in the 17th century.
Thanks to severe air and water pollution, the white-marbled, eye-catching monument in Agra city on the banks of the Yamuna river in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh (UP) is fast losing its architectural splendour and sinking into dangerous disrepair day by day.
Brush aside the threats posed by anti-Muslim leaders of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) by questioning the origin and ownership of the 400-year-old world heritage site but the environmental damage caused to the dome and minarets of one of the Seven Wonders of the World must be seen to be believed.
Globe-trotters say the once-gleaming-snow-white Taj Mahal first turned yellowish over the years, then became brownish in the past two decades and now looks greenish due to atmospheric pollutants even as the powers that be made half-baked efforts to prevent the environmental degradation and preserve its pristine beauty.
The suspended particulate matter released by nearby industrial units, smoke and toxic effluents from hundreds of household generators running on kerosene and diesel, and corrosive excrement left behind by clusters of tiny insects breeding in the garbage-choked Yamuna have all discolored the Mughal marvel and sullied its reputation.
What’s more, with some seven million people thronging the Taj year after year, damage has also been done to the walkways in the garden, terraces and buildings. If the humidity due to human presence in the inner chambers has affected the interiors, tourists and their guides touch the marble with moist and greasy hands, leaving marks on the ‘monument of love’ which has also been defaced by graffiti at various places.
Not surprisingly, on July 11, India’s highest court castigated the federal government, the UP administration and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) for their failure to save the crucial tourism magnet, and even threatened to shut it down.
The Supreme Court, which has been monitoring development in and around the Taj for the past three decades even ordered the authorities to demolish the Mughal masterpiece if they cannot restore it while expressing its anger over their inability to produce a vision document for protection of the country’s heritage jewel.
On July 17, stung by the apex court’s rap on the knuckles, several ministers of the Narendra Modi government and UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath, who have been so far denying any damage to the Taj, went into a huddle in Delhi and quickly formed a high-level committee to suggest steps to be taken on a war-footing to conserve the marvellous mausoleum.
Some of the measures to be taken include afforestation along the Yamuna, construction of a rubber dam, solid waste management and developing a 35-km-long garden along the waterfront of Yamuna in UP, Haryana and Delhi.
In addition, the panel will take a tough stand on hazardous industries in the vicinity of the Taj and the use of bio fuel, green fuel and electric vehicles will be popularised in Agra with an affidavit listing the steps planned being filed in the Supreme Court later this week.
On its part, the cash-strapped, toothless ASI has made haphazard restoration efforts to reduce smoke-release in the area, like introducing electric cremation, popularising the use of cleaner liquefied natural gas among local households instead of fuelwood and biomass and shifting as many industries as possible from the protected Taj Trapezium Zone around the Taj.
The ASI has been periodically coating the Taj with a herbal mud pack to mitigate the damage but this has done little or nothing to repair its blemished marble.
In latest measures after the court rebuke, it allows only 40,000 visitors a day as against 75,000 earlier, supervises optimum use of lighting and has just turned down French fashion house Christian Dior's request to hold a fashion show at the sublime shrine to eternal love.
Since the environmentalists have time and again been warning of the danger to the wondrous monument, the Supreme Court has said it would hear the matter daily from July 31, indicating the seriousness it attaches to the Taj’s preservation. The result is that the ministers and bureaucrats of Prime Minister Narendra Modi have woken up from their deep slumber and swung into action to save Taj Mahal.
But with the BJP-backed Hindu brigade creating a ruckus at the monument now and then on flimsy grounds and wanting the Mughal mausoleum to be renamed Tejo Mahalaya (meaning ‘the Great Abode of Shiva’), there is not the ghost of a chance of Mumtaz Mahal’s soul resting in peace for now.