Taj a national treasure, protect it

The Central and Uttar Pradesh governments need to act quickly to save the iconic Taj Mahal. The walls of the once white marble mausoleum are “browning.” Apparently, air pollution and insect excrement are to blame. In a sharp rebuke of the government for not utilising expertise or, perhaps, even not bothering about the Taj’s condition, the Supreme Court has ordered the government to consult experts in India and abroad to address the discolouration of the building. Discolouration of the Taj isn’t a recent problem. Its marble has been turning yellow for decades. This was in part the outcome of over three centuries of exposure to natural elements. However, the main culprit was identified as pollution from heavy vehicular traffic and hundreds of industries in the vicinity of the Taj. The thick smoke that Mathura Refineries was emitting was found to be causing much damage to the marble. It prompted M C Mehta, an eminent environment lawyer, to file a petition before the court to get the government to shut down industries that were polluting the air and water near the Taj. Although hundreds of polluting industries were shut down, the problem persisted. Indeed, the discolouration problem appears to be worsening.

Neither Mehta nor the Supreme Court has given up on their crusade to protect the Taj. Mehta has filed countless petitions to save it from damage and the apex court has issued dozens of directives to the government to do more to protect the monument. But successive governments in Uttar Pradesh haven’t acted to protect the monument; rather they seem more preoccupied with “developing” the area near it. This development, of course, consists of ugly structures, industries, roads etc that are disfiguring the environment in which the Taj is set or releasing smoke that stains the marble. Last year, the local government began construction of a multi-level parking for vehicles, located just a kilometre away from the Taj’s eastern gate. The Supreme Court stepped in to halt the construction. A few months earlier it had intervened to stop the cutting down of 400 trees for the laying of a railway track nearby.

The UP government has repeatedly ignored and violated Supreme Court orders relating to the Taj. For instance, the court identified a 10,400 sq km area around the Taj as the “trapezium zone,” where no industry or constructions could be undertaken without the court’s consent. Yet, industries are operating illegally in this zone. It is doubtful, therefore, that the UP government will respond positively to the court’s latest orders. This is a pity as the Taj is easily among the most elegant of India’s monuments and a national treasure.

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Taj a national treasure, protect it

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