News Analysis |
Expressing concern over blue and green patches on the Taj Mahal, the Supreme Court on Wednesday slammed the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) for ‘failure’ to protect it from rising pollution and even wondered whether the body should be relieved of the task to manage the affairs of the world heritage site.
A bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta said ASI was not properly discharged its duty in maintaining the beauty of Taj Mahal and asked the Centre to consider whether some other agencies be given the responsibility to protect and preserve the 17th-century world heritage site.
Advocate A D N Rao, appearing for ASI, told the bench that it was doing whatever is required to protect the monument. He said the patches on Taj were because of insect-breeding in the stagnated water on Yamuna river bed. The court, however, slammed ASI for not accepting the environmental threat to the Taj, saying it was not doing enough to save the monument.
The Taj Mahal, listed as one of the UN seven wonders of the Modern world and a prime Indian tourist destination, was not mentioned in a Uttar Pradesh government booklet to promote tourist spots.
Rao told the bench, “I am not saying that there is no problem but we are trying our best.” Not convinced with his submission, the bench told the Centre, “You need to take ASI away from Taj. It is not discharging its duty.” The bench pointed out that order passed by the apex court in 1996 had not been complied with in the last 22 years and a number of industrial units, which were to be shut down, had increased since then.
Additional solicitor general Tushar Mehta, appearing for the US government, said the state is committed to protecting the monument and all necessary steps would be taken. ASG ANS Nadkarni, appearing for the Centre, told the bench that the government is also considering the SC’s suggestion to appoint international experts to recommend measures for protection and preservation of Taj Mahal.
Advocate MC Mehta, who had been fighting a legal battle for the last 30 years for preserving the monument, said the Centre and state had not followed the court’s various orders, resulting in damage to the heritage site.
India’s top court on May 1 had sharply criticized the government for failing to protect the Taj Mahal, the centuries-old monument to love which has been changing color because of pollution. The brilliant marble of the Taj Mahal — a UNESCO world heritage site — has acquired a yellow tinge over the years.
The bench pointed out that order passed by the apex court in 1996 had not been complied with in the last 22 years and a number of industrial units, which were to be shut down, had increased since then.
The color of the marble “was first becoming yellow. Now it seems to be green and black,” a Supreme Court bench said after reviewing recent photos of the monument. The Taj Mahal has been slowly yellowing because of smog in the region. Insects also leave green stains on its rear wall, which faces the heavily-polluted Yamuna River.
Various methods — including using mudpacks to draw the stain from the marble — have been employed since conservationists first raised alarm about the decay. Authorities also announced plans earlier this year to limit the number of visitors to reduce wear and tear.
Supreme Court justices M.B. Lokur and Deepak Gupta gave Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government and the government of Uttar Pradesh state a week to respond. This is not the first time the Supreme Court has criticized Indian authorities on the issue. In February, it warned that the state government’s “ad hoc” approach was jeopardizing the monument.
The Taj Mahal was built in the 17th century by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as a memorial tomb for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth in 1631. It has attracted some of the most famous people in the world and is often a stop for world leaders on state visits to India. Diana, the late British princess, was famously photographed alone on a marble seat there in 1992.
The court, however, slammed ASI for not accepting the environmental threat to the Taj, saying it was not doing enough to save the monument.
However recently it has also faced off against another threat, namely Hindutva. Sangeet Som, a BJP lawmaker had targeted it as a non-Indian monument. The Taj Mahal, listed as one of the UN seven wonders of the Modern world and a prime Indian tourist destination, was not mentioned in a Uttar Pradesh government booklet to promote tourist spots.
The iconic building is the ivory-white marble mausoleum of the Queen Mumtaz Mahal, wife of the Moghul Emperor Shah Jahan which attracts 7–8 million visitors a year. Described by Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore as “the tear-drop on the cheek of time”, it is regarded by many as the best example of Mughal architecture and a symbol of India’s rich history.