Restore Taj

In this photograph taken Jan. 3 Indian laborers work amid scaffolding during conservation work at the Taj Mahal in Agra. Restoration work at India's most popular tourist attraction has been dragging on for years, blighting views for tourists. (Dominique Faget/AFP/Getty Images)

NEW DELHI — The Supreme Court July 11 came down heavily on the Center and the Archaeological Survey of India for their failure to protect the iconic Taj Mahal, and said they either need to "shut it down" or "demolish or restore" the Mughal structure.

The apex court was displeased that the Uttar Pradesh government had failed to deliver a vision document to protect the Taj Mahal.

A bench of Justice Madan B. Lokur and Justice Deepak was upset with the authorities for not taking any step to preserve the Taj Mahal and said it was "sheer lethargy" on the part of the authorities.

"There is absolutely no willingness to protect the Taj Mahal. Pristine beauty of Taj Mahal has to be protected. You can shut down the Taj Mahal or demolish it. Restore it if you want or demolish it if it has to be demolished," said the bench.

The court said the Taj Mahal is more beautiful than the Eiffel Tower and could have solved the country's foreign exchange problem.

"There is the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Perhaps it is nothing compared to Taj Mahal. Our Taj Mahal is more beautiful. 80 million go to watch Eiffel Tower which looks like a TV Tower. This is eight times more than what we have. If you had looked after it, your foreign exchange problem would have been solved.

"Do you realize the loss caused to the country due to your apathy?" the bench asked.

The Uttar Pradesh government had earlier told the bench that it would place before the court a draft of a vision document on the protection and preservation of the Taj Mahal that was built by Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal.

Saying the next hearing in the case would be July 31, the bench told the Central government to furnish a list of the steps taken and actions it intends to take to protect the Taj Mahal, as well as a list of the responsibilities and those to be held accountable from the concerned departments.

During the hearing, the bench said that there was a Parliamentary Standing Committee report which dealt with the effects of pollution on the Taj Mahal, but the authorities have not bothered to take appropriate steps on the issue.

The Central government submitted that the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur was conducting an assessment of air pollution levels in and around the Taj Mahal and Taj Trapezium Zone – a 10,400 sq km area spread over the districts of Agra, Firozabad, Mathura, Hathras and Etah in Uttar Pradesh and Bharatpur in Rajasthan – and the report would be delivered within four months.

The court also sought personal appearance by the Taj Trapezium Zone chairman to explain the violation of its orders prohibiting expansion of industrial units in the zone.

The Uttar Pradesh government had said it was also trying to take care of the environment around the structure so that the historic monument could be there for another 400 years and not just another generation.

The court has been hearing a plea filed by environmentalist M.C. Mehta seeking protection of the Taj from the ill-effects of polluting gases and deforestation in and around the area.

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