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Lockdown helps Taj heal, but for how long

Lockdown helps Taj heal, but for how long

Seventy days of respite due to the lockdown, may have helped the iconic 17th century monument of love, the Taj Mahal, to temporarily heal itself and be restored to good health for the first time in its history, questions continue to be raised whether the city's environmental conditions over the years have drastically changed to assure continuous healthy conditions to the ageing historical monuments.

As the city celebrates the World Environment Day, local activists say there has been no fundamental change in the environmental conditions in the eco-sensitive Taj Trapezium Zone, spread over 10,000 sq km.

Minus the 70 days of the lockdown that has seen some improvement in the Yamuna water quality and the air pollution levels, the overall picture remains largely grim despite Nearly three decades of environmental activism, and a series of judicial interventions by the Supreme Court of India in the famous M.C. Mehta PIL.

The air pollution level continues to remain alarming, affecting both humans and stones.

A meeting of the River Connect Campaign activists early Friday, at the Etmauddaula view point park, demanded urgent steps to save river Yamuna, which they said was dying due to lack of fresh water, and a heavy load of pollutants released by industrial clusters upstream of Agra.

High level of noxious gases, suspended dust particles, emissions from vehicles, denudation of green cover to construct roads and houses, had affected both men and stones, green activist Devashish Bhattacharya said.

Tourism has been badly hit and the health of the local population is in peril, activist Jugal Kishor said.

Activists said various recommendations of expert committees were gathering dust and the Supreme Court orders had been blatantly ignored.

In the past, a series of orders came from the apex court. But Shifting orders for dairies, dhobi ghats, cremation sites, petha units, have been shelved. Transport companies emitting pollutants on the Yamuna Kinara Road, have not been shifted either.

Repeated pleas by environmentalists to free the Yamuna banks of encroachment have fallen on deaf ears.

The National Green Tribunal has been struggling with its orders on clearing encroachments on the Yamuna floodplains. After years of dilly-dallying even the boundaries of the flood plains have not been clearly demarcated, the campaigners complain.

Forest land in the Soor Sarovar area has been reduced as groups of vested interests managed to secure land for developing commercial activities. Local green activists have lamented the apathy of the elected Vidhan Sabha and Lok Sabha members towards the Yamuna, the lifeline of the city.

A dry and polluted Yamuna remains a constant threat to the safety of the Taj Mahal, say the activists of the Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society. Water in the Yamuna was required for the good health of historical monuments along the Yamuna's banks, because the foundations need continuous moisture and a pollution-free ambience, Society's president Surendra Sharma said.

The Society in a letter recently reminded the Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkiri of his promise to start a ferry service for tourists between Delhi and Agra. In his election campaign speech at the Agra College ground, BJP President Amit Shah had promised that Yamuna cleaning would be taken up on top priority after the elections.

Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi had spoken of steps to save the Yamuna.

Having announced the construction of a barrage downstream of the Taj Mahal, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has suddenly developed cold feet, the green activists said. Despite repeated demands, the Yamuna Barrage project, downstream of the Taj Mahal, hangs fire.

The river activists also demanded a comprehensive National Rivers Policy and a Central Rivers Authority.

Green activist Shravan Kumar Singh said that despite persistent demands, so far no initiative had been taken to desilt and dredge the river bed, which had become hard owing to pollutants, preventing seepage and percolation of water.

Environmentalist Chaturbhuj Tiwari said, "Though the Supreme Court had categorically directed ban on entry of cattle into the river and shifting of dhobis (washermen) polluting the river, no effort has been made by the district authorities in this direction."

The meeting called for a white paper on the expenses incurred by various government agencies on cleaning the Yamuna between Delhi and Agra..