After a shutdown of more than 100 days, the Taj Mahal and all other heritage monuments across the country are set to reopen from Monday. Union Culture Minister Prahlad Patel on Thursday said that his ministry has given the go-ahead for all ASI-protected monuments to welcome visitors from July 6.
He said the decision was taken after consultation with senior officials from the Ministry of Culture and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
“I have taken a decision along with the Ministry of Culture and the ASI to open all monuments from July 6,” Patel said. He assured that all guidelines issued by the Health Ministry in the wake of Covid-19 will be strictly followed.
There are more than 3,000 monuments under the ASI, including the Taj Mahal, Khajuraho temple, Sanchi Stupa, Red Fort and Qutb Minar. The minister said the monuments will be opened in “compliance of the state and district administration”.
Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, all the monuments were closed since lockdown was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in March. As many as 3,691 centrally protected monuments and archaeological sites maintained by the ASI have been shut since March 17.
Now, with interstate travel opening up and hotels resuming operations, pressure was building on the government from stakeholders in the tourism industry to allow monuments to reopen for visitors. For instance, the closure of Taj Mahal has been a prime concern for tourism and allied industries in Agra.
Last month, in line with the Centre’s direction to open all places of worship on June 8, the ministry had reopened 820 monuments where religious worship takes place. So while the Taj Mahal remained shut, the Fatehpuri Masjid on the south-west corner of its entrance, the mosque on its premises and the Kali masjid near it were allowed to open.
About SOPs for opening centrally protected monuments, an ASI official told The Indian Express, “Only those monuments/ museums in non-containment zones will be allowed to open, and entry tickets will be issued electronically; tickets windows will not function.”
He said there will be a cap on the number of visitors at monuments which see crowds, and some “interior or vulnerable” parts of monuments will be out of bounds for visitors.
Visitors will have to share their phone numbers at the entrance of monuments for the purposes of contact tracing, if required later.
The number of visitors for Taj Mahal has been capped at 5,000 a day (in two slots), while that of other popular monuments is between 1,000 and 1,500.
The Taj gets an average of 6 lakh tourists a month. However, the ASI official said they are not expecting a rush at the outset since international travel remains suspended and domestic movement for leisure is likely to be limited in the coming months.
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