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Potential world wonder Taj Mahal is ill

india Updated: Jul 02, 2007 12:31 IST
Sunil Kataria
Sunil Kataria
Reuters
Highlight Story

The Taj Mahal is ill and could be slowly dying.

India's most famous monument, which is in the running to be voted as one of the seven new Wonders of the World, flanks a stinking, garbage-infested river and is almost always enveloped by dust and smog from belching smokestacks and vehicles.

Millions of Indians hope the majestic white marble mausoleum, which took 17 years and 20,000 workers to build, will feature on the Wonders list, but conservationists and environmentalists are urging people to pay attention to its darker side.

"If things continue like this, the Taj Mahal's age will decrease, like that of a diseased man," said KS Rana, a leading campaigner for saving the Taj, located in Agra, a four-hour drive from New Delhi.

"Because of the pollution, there will be a corrosion effect, a deterioration of sorts in the stones."

Earlier this year, a parliamentary committee said airborne particles were being deposited on the poignant 17th century monument's white marble, giving it a yellow tinge.

But the committee said while air pollutants such as sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxide gases were generally within permissible limits, "suspended particulate matter" had been recorded at high levels except during the rainy season.

Environmentalists and historians worry the soot and fumes would eventually dull the gleaming white monument.

Dirt and decay

Sugam Anand, a leading historian who heads the history department at Agra University, said the Taj was suffering from "jaundice" and needed to be treated fast.

"Because of increasing population, because of the polluting factors of the atmosphere, it is true that the Taj is decaying faster," he told Reuters. "Now we have to control that. We have to take measures, which will stop that decay."

The monument was built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as a mausoleum for his wife Mumtaz Mahal.

Authorities have made various attempts in the past to keep the area around the Taj Mahal pollution free, including setting up an air pollution monitoring station in Agra, a bustling city of nearly four million people.

But that has not stopped the decay, which many blame the government for.

Homes, businesses and factories in the city are left without electricity for hours every day, forcing many people to depend on fuel-operated generators for power. Glassware and other factories in neighbouring cities are being persuaded to use gas instead of coke in their furnaces. But the change is slow.

Inspite of the dirt and pollution, the Taj's magnificent appeal has not diminished and every day nearly 20,000 tourists walk past its manicured lawns.

Jesse Nicholas, a tourist from the United States, said he had voted for the Taj because of its breathtaking beauty, regardless of its filthy surroundings.

"It really shows you both sides of man," he said.

"On one hand you have one of the most perfect things ever built on the planet by a man, and on the other hand you have this garbage that we have done as well."