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Sunday, Oct 20, 2019

If Taj Mahal goes, you will not get a second chance, Supreme Court tells officials

There will be no “second chance” to preserve the Taj Mahal, the Supreme Court said on Tuesday, asking the authorities to take a larger perspective on issues of pollution and green cover

india Updated: Aug 28, 2018 22:48 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
New Delhi, Hindustan Times
A deserted view of Taj Mahal in Agra ahead of visit by Belgian Royal couple King Philippe and Queen Mathilde.
A deserted view of Taj Mahal in Agra ahead of visit by Belgian Royal couple King Philippe and Queen Mathilde. (PTI File Photo)

The Supreme Court suggested on Tuesday that Agra be designated a heritage city to protect the Taj Mahal, citing the example of Ahmedabad, and urged experts preparing a vision document on the 17th century Mughal monument to take into account industries running in the Taj Trapezium Zone (TTZ) and the impact of pollution.

“If Taj Mahal goes once, you will not get a second chance,” justice MB Lokur told conservation expert Meenakshi Dhote of the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA). Dhote heads the SPA team that prepared a draft vision document to preserve Taj Mahal at the behest of the Uttar Pradesh government.

The judge told Dhote that she must proceed with confidence on the final vision document and could approach the court for any assistance if she felt she was not receiving sufficient help from government officials. A final vision document should be given to the court within a month, the bench said.

Additional advocate general (AAG) for Uttar Pradesh Aishwarya Bhatti said the state needed two months time for placing a proposal before the Centre, which has recently written to the state government on the Taj Mahal.

Justice Deepak Gupta ,who was also a part of the bench hearing the case, along with Justice SA Nazeer, found it surprising that the Uttar Pradesh government had so long to submit a proposal to the Centre to secure a heritage city tag for Agra.

“Ahmedabad was recently declared a heritage city, then what is the problem in Agra getting the tag?. Ahmedabad is also a modern city, with modern amenities,” said Justice Gupta.

Additional solicitor general AS Nadkarni informed the bench that Centre had written to UP government three days back and was yet to receive a response on the matter. Bhatti said the plan would be prepared in consultation with the Centre.

“We have been told that no modern activity can take place once a city gets a heritage tag,” Bhatti said. But, the court asked UP government to submit the proposal before the next date of hearing, which is September 25.

Ahmedabad last year became the first Indian city to get the coveted world heritage city status, joining cities such as Paris, Vienna, Rome, Edinburgh and Brussels, entailing special measures for the protection and conservation of its heritage structures.

Dhote was asked to address the court on the vision document. She informed the bench that the team entrusted with the task was taking into account larger perspective such as pollution and green cover to prepare the document. When asked whether the government had give her the figures on the number of industries in the TTZ, an area of 10,400 square metres around the Taj, Dhote said the data her team received turned out to be incorrect. “So we are awaiting fresh figures,” she informed the bench.

“This is the problem. If you get incorrect information then you vision document would also be incorrect,” justice Lokur told the lawyers appearing for the Centre and UP government.

Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Tushar Mehta, also representing UP government, assured the court that the SPA team would prepare a comprehensive plan after taking into account the suggestions from expert bodies such as the Aga Khan Foundation, the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) and the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS).

Nadkarni said the Archaeological Survey of India’s (ASI) was in the process of preparing a heritage plan for the Taj which would be filed with UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) in three months.

At the end of the hearing, the court asked petitioner and environmentalist M C Mehta, to submit his suggestion to the SPA panel within a week. Mehta, a lawyer by profession, had filed the petition two decades ago to preserve the Mughal-era white marble monument

The top court has been monitoring developments in the TTZ and has on several occasions slammed the Centre, Uttar Pradesh government and the TTZ Authority for their failure to restore the pristine glory of the Taj Mahal.

Justice Lokur told Dhote that the restoration plan must include revival of the Yamuna river and also a green cover around the Taj Mahal.Dhote said the forest cover was only around 6%t and open density in the area has diminished, which was a cause of major concern.

“You go slowly and steadily so that everything can be worked out,” justice Lokur told her, saying if the government was not willing to implement solutions, she should approach the court for directions.

First Published: Aug 28, 2018 18:56 IST

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