A new Indian government survey has revealed that the Taj Mahal, the nation's best-known monument, is again facing a major threat from Environment Pollution.
The report, compiled by India's National Environment Engineering Research Institute, shows that measures taken after previous scares that the 17th-century
tomb was being irreparably damaged by air and water pollution are failing. The survey, commissioned by the Ministry of Environment, found that pollution
levels in Agra, where the Taj Mahal is located, had risen over recent years as a result of growth in industry, traffic and population.
The effects of the pollution on the Taj Mahal were first noted when the façade began showing signs of yellowing in 1998, and measures were taken to prevent
further damage from pollution. In fact, at the time, then-president Bill Clinton used the situation as an opportunity to discuss environmental issues, stating
that pollution had done “what three hundred and fifty years of wars, invasions and natural disasters had failed to do begun to mar the magnificent walls of the Taj Mahal.”
The £90m government programme, launched between 1998 and 2000 after the monument's famous white marble was seen to be turning yellow, has had some
impact, the report says, but not enough to keep up with pollution around the site. Even President Bill Clinton saying that pollution had done "what 350 years of wars, invasions and
natural disasters have failed to do [and] begun to mar the magnificent walls of the Taj Mahal".
The new report found that emissions of nitrogen oxide and particulates, for example, had reached levels higher than those that prompted a supreme court
intervention to force authorities to act a decade ago. Environmental campaigners in Agra, said that the Taj Mahal was also threatened by dropping water tables and pollution from the river
Yamuna, which runs alongside the structure. The water is heavily polluted due to the continuing discharge of effluents from
industry and to rubbish clogging drains around the monument.
Taj Mahal is falling prey to rising air and water pollution, eight
years after the government spent Rs 220 crore to reduce pollution levels. Levels of gaseous pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide (NOX), which can
dilute the sparkle of Taj Mahal, have crossed the 1996 levels, a decade later, after showing a falling trend till 2002. NOX levels in 2006 had
been recorded at 30 units per cubic meter of air as against 22 ug/m3 in 1996. Most historians and architects have been expressing fears that a dry Yamuna river could pose a threat to the Taj Mahal.
In 1993, disposing of a public suit filed by eco-lawyer M.C. Mehta, a Supreme Court bench headed by Justice Kuldip Singh ordered far-reaching
structural changes to make the 10,000 sq km eco-sensitive Taj Trapezium Zone safe for the Taj Mahal. The measures to be taken were based on the
20-odd recommendations of a high-powered committee headed by eminent scientist S. Varadarajan. Two decades after the judgment, Khandelwal says, "the situation is
actually worse, going by pollution control board data. The Yamuna is a sewage canal, and increased traffic means heightened air pollution. The
recommendations of the S. Varadarajan committee have been forgotten."
The chemical laboratories of the Archaeological Survey of India in Agra suggest that the suspended particulate matter (SPM) level annually averages around 400 micrograms per cubic metre, against the safe level of 100.
The effects of the pollution have led to repeated attempts to use a clay pack
treatment to maintain the shimmering, pristine appearance of the marble. The report added that measures such as a natural gas pipeline laid to supply clean fuel to industries in Agra, street-widening projects, the construction of a bypass, the replacement of diesel-run rickshaws by cleaner vehicles, heavy
investment in a refinery to reduce emissions and an improved power supply that has meant less reliance on dirty diesel generators have had a positive impact, but could only mitigate the threat.
The restrictions imposed by the Supreme Court on the expansion and opening of new industrial units in the districts of Agra,
Mathura, Firozabad, Hathras and part of Aligarh, to contain air pollution, which was harming the Taj Mahal and other historical
structures in the region, according to REDCO (an organisation of real estate developers and colonisers) president K C Jain. Disposing of a public litigation filed by eco-lawyer M.C. Mehta, the
apex court had ordered shifting of polluting industries, or switching over to natural gas.
Now Tulsi (Holy Basil) Plant will help Taj Majal to retain its pristine allure.
Forest department has come up with a quick- fix project -- plant a Tulsi drive in Agra. The officers claim, has full backing from ancient texts which hold Tulsi to be the panacea for all problems from cosmic to cosmetic.
The department is all set to launch the Tulsi plantation drive from January 2009. The public-private joint venture is expected to provide an
eco- protection cover to sensitive Taj trapezium zone surrounding the 17th century monument. Tulsi (Occinum sanctum) chosen for its anti- pollutant anti- oxidation and air-purifying properties making it an ideal ornamental
shrub in the vicinity of the Taj Mahal.