Pollution still threatens Taj Mahal even 30 years after Supreme Courts order
A dry and polluted Yamuna remains a constant threat to the safety of the Taj Mahal | Pic: PTI

Pollution still threatens Taj Mahal even 30 years after Supreme Court's order

Almost three decades after the Supreme Court announced a series of measures to insulate the Taj Mahal from environmental degradation, not much seem to have changed.

As the city of Agra celebrates World Environment Day on Sunday, local activists say there has been no fundamental change in the environmental conditions in Agra, Mathura, Firozabad districts that come under the Taj Trapezium Zone (TTZ). Green activists say that water and air pollution levels continue to remain alarming, an IANS report says.

International concern was first raised in the 1970s when the decision to site India’s biggest oil refinery at Mathura was taken by the Indira Gandhi government. The PIL filed by eco lawyer M C Mehta in the apex court triggered a series of drastic measures to contain environmental pollution in the eco-sensitive TTZ, spread over 10,400 sq km.

No visible change despite SC orders

The apex court ordered in 1993 a slew of measures while considering the high-powered experts committee, headed by senior scientist Dr S Varadarajan’s report in the MC Mehta PIL on pollution threats to the Taj Mahal. Over the years, thousands of crores of rupees have been spent without discernible changes to the overall environmental scenario in the TTZ.

Also read: World Environment Day: 68% of India’s plastic waste unaccounted for

“Air, water, noise pollution levels are alarmingly high, as high as they were in 1993, when the judgement came,” says environmentalist Devashish Bhattacharya.

The Supreme Court had also ordered that several rows of trees be planted on the western periphery of the city to filter the dust-laden westerlies that blow from Rajasthan. That has not happened and greenery has all but vanished as tall buildings now stand where community ponds once existed, the report says.

“The builders and colonizers have grabbed all water bodies to build malls and multi-storey buildings. Parks have been encroached upon. In fact, the historical monuments are dwarfed by illegal structures, and no one really cares,” say members of the River Connect Campaign.

Tourism takes a hit

Due to high level of pollution in the city, tourism has been “badly hit” and the health of the local population is in “peril”, activist Jugal Kishor of the River Connect Campaign told IANS. He said various recommendations of expert committees were gathering dust and the Supreme Court orders had been blatantly ignored.

In the past, a series of orders came from the apex court. But shifting orders for dairies, dhobi ghats, cremation sites and petha units have been shelved. Transport companies emitting pollutants on the Yamuna Kinara Road, have not been shifted either.

Also read: Pollution kills 9 mn people a year; nearly a quarter are from India: Lancet study

Repeated pleas by environmentalists to free the Yamuna banks of encroachment have fallen on deaf ears. The National Green Tribunal has been struggling with its orders on clearing encroachments on Yamuna flood-plains.

After years of dilly-dallying even the boundaries of the flood plains have not been clearly demarcated, the campaigners complain, the report adds.

Polluted Yamuna a big threat

A dry and polluted Yamuna remains a constant threat to the safety of the Taj Mahal, according to the activists. “Water in the Yamuna was required for the good health of historical monuments along Yamuna’s banks, because the foundations need continuous moisture and a pollution-free ambience,” IANS quoted Sonal Singh Mittal of the Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society.

Despite repeated demands, the Yamuna Barrage project, downstream of the Taj Mahal, hangs fire, though some Rs 20 crore have been sanctioned for it in the state’s 2022 budget.

Also read: Tourists offer namaz at Taj Mahal, arrested; against SC order, says ASI

Activists say that despite the tall promises made by leaders, the Yamuna continues to stink, flow polluted carrying all the toxic effluents and waste from Delhi and upstream cities. Forget human beings, even historical monuments including the world heritage monument, the iconic Taj Mahal, along its bank, are not safe as pollutants in the river not only create visual pollution but also endanger the protective eco-ambience in the vicinity.

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