Taj city hopes for cleaner, greener 2011

Taj city hopes for cleaner, greener 2011

The once Mughal capital seems headed to transforming into a modern metropolis.
The most important development is the banning of polythene bags from Jan 1, announced by the Agra Municipal Corporation.

The other new year initiatives are: war against encroachments by district authorities in tandem with the Archaeological Survey of India to free historical monuments of trespassers and a comprehensive scientific plan to streamline traffic movement in the city from Jan 1.

A lot of groundwork has gone into reducing pollution, improving water supply and cleaning up the place. The Japanese Bank has committed to funding the laying of a conduit line from a Ganges canal to divert 140 cusecs of water for Agra. Work on the project is likely to be completed in 2011.

Agra residents are keenly watching the fate of these major initiatives which in the past have always been stalled or fallen flat for want of support from political decision-makers.

"This time the district officials have been clever in roping in the local leaders and the corporators of the municipal body," Surendra Sharma, president of the Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society, told IANS.

Municipal commissioner Vinay Shankar Pandey says, "We will overcome. This time people of Agra are supporting our initiatives."

The Yamuna-Express way, a project of Jaypee Cement, to link Agra and Greater Noida on the outskirts of the national capital, is likely to be completed in the new year. Earlier it was expected to be completed before the Commonwealth Games in October, but land acquisition disputes and farmers' agitation delayed the project. Once completed, tourists would be able to zip into Agra in just one-and-a-half hours.

Agra has already got a new fleet of around 60 CNG run-Marco Polo buses. The city commuters have begun switching over to these buses from the ubiquitous auto-rickshaws. Several projects under the Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission (JNRUM) are set to upgrade civic amenities in 2011.

The annual 10-day festival Taj Mahotsava promises to be a grand affair. The authorities have for the first time made efforts to involve the local people in the decision-making process and in selecting the theme and the artistes by popular consent. The tourism industry showed signs of resurgence after years of lull. Most hotels have reported full occupancy in the new year. Some have taken advantage of the space crunch by inflating room tariffs.

The tourism industry is also waiting for the international airport project to take off. The airport would help tourists land directly in Agra without touching down in New Delhi. An extra day added to their itinerary would mean longer stay in Agra and therefore higher spending. "But the political bosses in the state seem bent on siting the new airport at Jewar (100 km from Agra close to the Yamuna Expressway), evidently to help the Jaypee group," tourism industry leader Sandeep Arora told IANS.

The Taj Mahal, Agra's and India's main tourist draw, is to get a new facilities centre in the new year to ensure there is no chaos at the main entrances. Security too will be stepped up.

Free ambulance and medical aid would be made available from January.
For the builders the recent buoyancy in the real estate market is expected to boost this sector.

Quite a few half-finished projects are waiting for customers, even offering attractive schemes. At least three new malls are ready for opening as well as a couple of new hotels on Fatehabad road tourist complex. A dozen township projects by big builders like Unitech and Parsvanath are coming up near the Shamshabad-Fatehabad Road.

On the power front, the situation appears to have improved after the private discom Torrent took over in April.

The polluted waters of  the Yamuna river have grabbed international attention. Seven  years after the Supreme Court blocked the Taj Corridor project, which envisaged the construction of an entertainment and shopping complex, debris of the ill-conceived project is yet to be removed and the river cleaned up. The forest department claims there has been a marked reduction in air pollution after the closure of some polluting industries.

The past year was full of problems, from floods to dengue and swine flu scare. But Agraites hope the coming year will be better.

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