The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has created a park between the main Taj Mahal structure and the Yamuna river to beautify the complex but a prominent Mughal historian says it can endanger the 17th century monument.
DD Dayalan, the ASI chief in Agra, says: "We have beautified the riverfront which was earlier an eyesore, with litter thrown all around. Visitors were always throwing all kinds of things from the main platform of the Taj."
But noted historian Prof R Nath, who has at least 60 books on Mughal history and architecture to his credit, disputes the ASI's claim.
"It has all the potential to endanger the heritage monument. The ASI has created an artificial park that did not exist in the original Taj complex plan. The Yamuna river has been pushed a good distance away, around 100 feet," Nath said.
Past records and documents show the river flowing close by, even touching the rear wall of the structure. Most conservationists agree that the river should be full of water and touch the foundation on which stands the Taj Mahal.
"In the original Taj plan, as is clear from old photographs of the Taj Mahal, including the 45 odd maps and designs of the Taj Mahal prepared in 1942, the river is seen flowing touching the rear wall. In fact there were two gates leading to the staircases used by the Mughals to climb up the Taj from boats.
"Instead of clearing the debris and bringing the river back to its original status and glory, what they have done is a huge cover up which is violative of a directive of the Supreme Court which had clearly stated that there should be no tampering with the physical settings in and around the Taj Mahal."
Dayalan said that long back there used to be a bathing ghat and special entry points for royal family members. In the course of time, the patch became a big dumping ground for dirt and garbage.
"The ASI therefore chose to develop the area into a lawn which definitely provides a better and more beautiful setting. The cleaning and de-silting process would have meant incurring huge expenditure and since there is no water in the river we thought it would be better to turn the area into a green patch," Dayalan said.
But the problem is not with the greening effort. Nath says there's a big difference between dynamic momentum and dead weight piled up at the foundation of the Taj Mahal at the rear.
"They should have de-silted the whole area and allowed the river to flow on its original course, as the water is absolutely necessary for the structure," Nath said.
He charged that the ASI did not consult anyone, nor did it conduct an investigation on the likely repercussions of the new facility on the 350-year-old monument.
Emperor Shah Jahan is believed to have selected this particular location for building the Taj Mahal because of the huge water body in the background. But now the ASI has created a big barrier between the river and the Taj.
"They are playing with the Taj Mahal. It is not conservation," said Nath.
ASI, however, says no harm will come to the monument. "We have no basis to suggest that there should be water in the river or the river should flow touching the foundation of the edifice," argued an official.
The 100-metre long park from Khan-e-Alam to Dussehra Ghat has further distanced the Taj from the Yamuna, which unfortunately has been reduced to an open drain.
India earns millions of dollars from Taj centric tourism, but when it comes to spending money on conservation and upkeep the response is always negative.
The ASI had earlier overlooked former chief minister Mayawati's controversial Taj corridor project, which would have entailed construction of a shopping mall and a tourist complex. It was disallowed by the Supreme Court as it was considered a threat to the monument.