SLAMMING THE Centre, the UP government and other authorities for the “apathy” and “lethargy” in their efforts to preserve and restore the Taj Mahal, the Supreme Court Wednesday gave vent to its anger and frustration: “You can shut down the Taj. You can demolish it if you like, and you can also do away with it if you have already decided.”
Additional Solicitor General A S Nadkarni, who appeared for the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), was also told by the bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta: “Uttar Pradesh (government) is not bothered. No action plan or vision document has come yet. Either you demolish it (Taj) or you restore it.”
“We want you to give us an action plan of what you propose to do. We will hear it and finally dispose it. If it has to be shut down, let it be shut,” said the bench which is monitoring measures to preserve the Taj.
The bench said it will take up the matter on a day-to-day basis from July 31.
The Supreme Court had earlier ordered a moratorium on expansion of industrial units in the Taj Trapezium Zone (TTZ), an area of nearly 10,400 sq km spread over the districts of Agra, Firozabad, Mathura, Hathras and Etah in Uttar Pradesh and Bharatpur in Rajasthan.
In December 2017, the court asked the Uttar Pradesh government to come up with a “detailed and comprehensive vision document” that would protect the Taj for at least another couple of centuries.
The delay in filing such a document did not go down well with the bench. When one of the lawyers said that the vision document was being prepared, the bench said: “Will the vision document come after the Taj is demolished? Taj Mahal has to be protected or the Government of India has to decide if it has to be demolished.”
On the last date of hearing, the court had suggested to the Centre to involve foreign experts, if need be, for the protection of the Taj.
ASG Nadkarni told the court that the Centre had set up a committee subsequent to this direction. “Centre has taken a serious view of the matter. The committee will find out the exact source of pollution in and around Taj. Three to four months are required for the report to be prepared” he said.
The court, however, found this “vague.”
Drawing a parallel between the Taj and the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the bench said the former was perhaps more beautiful, but India continued to lose tourists and foreign exchange due to negligence.
“There is the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Perhaps it is nothing compared to Taj Mahal. Eighty million people come there (Paris). This is eight times more than what we have. You can destroy the Taj, we don’t want to do it,” the court remarked.
In India, the bench said, there were concerns about security, but in other countries, towers like “TV towers” have been made from where tourists can get a view of the entire city.
The bench also observed that the central and state governments had failed to do the needful to reduce the impact of pollution on the Taj’s marble despite a parliamentary committee report on this.
The bench also asked the TTZ chairman about allegations that industrial units in the area, which had been shut down many years ago, were being allowed to resume operations. “This permission is granted against the moratorium,” the bench said, and asked the chairman to be present in court on July 16.
The ASG submitted that the IIT was conducting an assessment of air pollution level in and around the Taj and TTZ and would submit its report within four months.