With the Supreme Court making clear that the Archaeological Survey of India “will have to be thrown out of the picture” if the Taj Mahal has to be saved, the Centre Wednesday informed the court it was considering the suggestion to involve international experts in the conservation of the 17th century monument.
Additional Solicitor General A N S Nadkarni conveyed this to the bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta which has been hearing a matter related to the protection of the Taj.
Expressing concern that the marble structure was turning green, the bench on May 1 asked the Centre and Uttar Pradesh government to think of hiring experts from outside if local experts could not do the job. “You all appear to be helpless. Money should not be the consideration. We might order you to hire experts from within India or abroad. We need to save it,” the bench said.
Nadkarni said the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change was considering the court’s suggestion.
The court was upset with the role of the ASI which, in a report, suggested that stagnation of water in the Yamuna river and high phosphorus in the riverbed had made it a breeding ground for insects that formed patches on the walls of the Taj every summer. To resolve this, the ASI suggested that the water level of the Yamuna be increased and sources of pollution be plugged immediately to stop algae formation on the river bank.
These insects, the ASI report stated, disappeared during winter and reappeared in April. It said they were also fewer in number during the monsoon. The problem, the report stated, had increased since 2015. Earlier, the insects would be eaten by the fish in the Yamuna but marine life, the report stated, had disappeared due to increasing toxicity caused by pollution.
Hauling up the ASI, the bench said: “This situation would not have arisen if the ASI had done its job. We are surprised with the way the ASI is defending itself.”
The judges told Nadkarni: “You (Centre) please consider if the ASI is needed there or not. The view of ASI is very clear from their submissions. They are not prepared to accept the problem… you have to remove the ASI because they are saying they are doing an excellent job. ASI will have to be thrown out of the picture.”
The bench asked ASI counsel A D N Rao whether algae could fly and how it had reached the top of the structure. Rao said the problem would remain as long as there was water stagnation in the river which, he said, had become a dumping ground for waste.
On the marble changing colour, Rao said one of the reasons was the high turnout of visitors who entered with dirty socks. While dignitaries who visited the monument were provided socks, the others carried their own, he pointed out.
Appearing for the UP government, Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta informed the bench that a vision document on protection and preservation of Taj and environment in the Taj Trapezium Zone (TTZ) was under preparation and would be finalised by July — the TTZ is spread over 10,400 sq km, across the districts of Agra, Firozabad, Mathura, Hathras and Etah in Uttar Pradesh and Bharatpur in Rajasthan. He said the report will soon be filed in court following which the bench adjourned the matter.