Taj sparkles in rain, Agra totters

Is this really a World Heritage city? This was the question most tourists were asking after a massive downpour left the Taj city in shambles, exposing the city's crumbling civic infrastructure. 

While the 17th century marble wonder Taj Mahal is sparkling after the recent rains, the city of monuments has degenerated into what one resident described as a "civilisational sink".

To add to Agra's woes, the sudden pressure from vehicles coming down the new Yamuna Expressway which abruptly terminates on the Firozabad Road has made life miserable.

The latest round of rain Monday just epitomised a crisis that had been building up. Not a single road, not even the lifeline Mahatma Gandhi Road, has been in a fit condition after days of rainfall.

"In the past few days there have been many accidents with motorists falling into blind holes or depressions caused by stretches of roads caving in," pointed out Vijay Nagar resident Sudheir Gupta.

"But the municipal corporation is not responding urgently," he said.

Officials say they are waiting for the monsoon to end. Municipal Corporation Commissioner D.K. Singh has opened a toll-free helpline number where victims can register complaints. He has promised to take speedy action.

Thanks to the relentless rain, the Taj city looks like a war-ravaged  zone, say residents.Water-logging, choked drains, overflowing sewer lines and heaps of garbage at every street corner greet visitors.

The Agra Municipal Corporation seems helpless. The officials have experimented with all sorts of  strategies to arrest the rot but have now virtually given up, said social activists.

"It is a virtual free-for-all scenario, with one arm of the government not knowing what the other is up to. Little wonder there is urban chaos," said activist Anand Rai.

Commissioner Singh has been supervising the cleaning up operations but the scale of the problem is said to be gigantic.

Unless there is a fundamental shift in the mindset of the people regarding health and hygiene, the results of any clean-up drive cannot be lasting, said "My Clean Agra" member Shravan Kumar Singh.

Former municipal commissioner Vinay Shankar Pandey had launched a "polythene-free Agra" drive.

The situation is back to square one, with polythene usage back with a vengeance, said "Wake Up Agra" president Shishir Bhagat.

With most roads suffering from craters and gaping holes, vehicle owners are having a virtual obstacle race through the city.

Echoing a widely held view, college student Vikas held the Agra Nagar Nigam responsible for the sad state of roads.

Public Works Department officials say the repair of roads continues  round the year, so there is no special reason why any extra efforts should be made now.

The Agra-Delhi highway also needs urgent repairs. Last year a number of roads in Agra were top dressed with funds made available by MPs. But the repairs proved superficial with the very first monsoon showers.

In sharp contrast are the better maintained roads in the Agra Cantonment area.Several citizen groups have demanded immediate repairs and re-laying of the Mahatma Gandhi Road and the Yamuna Kinara Road used by most tourists.

The street lighting needs to be improved. An official of Agra Development Authority said the biggest threat to the city's roads came from encroachers and squatters.

"Until the government formulates a clear policy on this sensitive issue, all efforts to beautify the city will fail," warned social activist Rajan Kishore.

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