Pulling up the Centre and Uttar Pradesh governments for failing to do the needful to protect the Taj Mahal, the Supreme Court on Thursday sought to know who was responsible for the upkeep of the monument which was facing the brunt of pollution.
A bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta asked what would happen if the UNESCO withdraws its world heritage tag.
The court, which has been monitoring efforts to restore the Taj, noted that the draft vision document on protection of the monument, submitted by the UP government was prepared without consulting the Archeological Survey of India, which was responsible for maintaining it. The bench termed this “surprising”.
“First the environment ministry files an affidavit, then ASI and then Uttar Pradesh government. What is happening?” Justice Lokur said after going through the draft vision document, which was drawn up by the Delhi-based School of Planning and Architecture (SPA).
“Why have you given a draft plan? Are we supposed to vet it for you? Is it our job to vet it?” the bench asked the state government counsel. It added that “the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing”.
Appearing for the state, Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said the draft was prepared as per the apex court’s directions by the School of Planning and Architecture and not by the state government. “The attempt is to show our bonafide. Now, there will be consultations on it and within a period stipulated by the court, the final report will be prepared,” he said.
Justice Lokur said, “Someone has to take responsibility. There has to be one authority which takes charge. It seems that authorities have washed their hands of the Taj. We are now in a situation where a vision document is prepared without ASI’s involvement.”
On the world heritage tag, the bench asked Attorney General K K Venugopal, “Have you been filing management plan (of Taj Mahal) before the world heritage centre of UNESCO? This is not being filed. What will happen if the UNESCO says that we will withdraw the world heritage tag of Taj Mahal.”
Venugopal replied that it will “be great, great embarrassment for the country” and “we cannot afford to get it removed from UNESCO’s list of world heritage sites”.
The judges wondered how polluting industries continued to operate in the Taj Trapezium Zone (TTZ) despite its order. The TTZ is an area of about 10,400 sq km spread over the districts of Agra, Firozabad, Mathura, Hathras and Etah in Uttar Pradesh and Bharatpur district of Rajasthan.
Venugopal said the ASI does not have the mandate to relocate industries in TTZ. The court asked both the Centre and state to identify departments in their respective governments that are responsible to maintain TTZ and monitor the development in the area.
The court then directed the state government to supply SPA’s draft vision report to conservation experts, including INTACH and ASI for its comments. Views of Agha Khan Trust would also be taken, the court said, as it fixed August 28 to hear the matter again.
The court will on July 31 hear the issue with regard to the polluting industries operating in the TTZ.