Why Donald Trump’s 6.4 tonne car ‘Beast’ is making Agra admin jittery
Officials in Agra are tight-lipped over details regarding the vehicle to be used by the visitors but superintending archaeologist (Agra circle), Archaeological Survey of India, Vasant Swarankar, maintained that the Supreme Court’s guidelines will be complied with.Updated: Feb 20, 2020 11:48 IST
The district administration is pulling out all the stops to give a facelift to Agra ahead of US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump’s visit here, but local officials are worried about the president’s car, nick-named The Beast, which has already arrived in Agra’s Kheria airport, and is waiting to ferry the couple to the Taj Mahal and back.
Their worry arises from two factors: one, will the car be allowed to drive up to the Taj Mahal, as the President’s security detail, the US Secret Service wants it to? After all, a Supreme Court order of 1998 bars the use of anything but electric vehicles in close proximity to the 16th century monument.
Two, will the car, which is expected to be part of a convoy that is at least several dozen cars, and which weighs 6.4 tonnes, be able to traverse a railway overbridge which is around a kilometre from the airport and meant only for light vehicles?Also Watch | ‘I like Prime Minister Modi a lot’: Donald Trump ahead of his visit
President Trump and the First Lady are scheduled to visit the Taj Mahal on February 24 evening.
There is no clarity on the first issue yet.
Officials in Agra are tight-lipped over details regarding the vehicle to be used by the visitors but superintending archaeologist (Agra circle), Archaeological Survey of India, Vasant Swarankar, maintained that the Supreme Court’s guidelines will be complied with.
“The issue about the vehicle in which the VVIPs enter the Taj premises is something to be looked at by the Agra administration,” said Swarankar, distancing himself from the issue.
Meanwhile, the Agra Development Authority has prepared a well-furnished, battery-operated, bus which can be used in an exigency. However, there is no confirmation on its deployment on February 24.
However, a former government official said that this issue will likely be sorted out.
He cited then US President Barack Obama’s planned visit to Taj, which was cancelled at the eleventh hour because he had to fly to Saudi Arabia to express condolences on the death of King Abdullah in January 2015.
“The restriction on his vehicle, Beast, from entering the Taj forecourt was not the primary reason. The issue was raised, but we could have sorted it out. The Saudi King’s death made him fly to Saudi Arabia,” said a retired official (now) who was in service in Agra in 2015.
As for the second, local officials are hoping it is just a scare.
The Uttar Pradesh Public Works Department (PWD) has declared a railway over bridge , a kilometre from the airport, unfit for heavy vehicles.
The bridge, which passes over a track of Agra Cantt railway station, is maintained by the PWD and Indian Railways, and has a board stating that it is “not fit for heavy vehicles” .
To be sure, 6.5 tonnes is heavy for a car, or SUV, even van, but it is definitely less heavy than a bus or truck, which are typically classified as heavy vehicles.
“This notice was placed about eight months ago when it was found that the over bridge was not fit for heavy vehicles. We have informed the Agra administration about this and the final decision on the route selection rests with them. On our part, we have initiated the process for repairing the bridge, for which sanction has been sought. Work will start after the sanction,” said Yogesh Pawar, superintending engineer, PWD.
Commissioner (Agra Division), Anil Kumar, said the US Advance teams know of the route and the bridge and have not raised any concerns. .
“Details about route to be taken, including this bridge, have been given to the Advance teams. But experts from US have not raised objection,” said Kumar.
The retired government official cited in the first instance said that this too should not be an issue.
“During his visit in 2000, Bill Clinton travelled from the airport to Taj Mahal in his own heavy car. This car, along with his cavalcade, entered the forecourt of the Taj premises,” he recalled.
However, two years later, when he was no longer President, he had to use a special battery-operated bus, although he was still accorded VVIP treatment.