EDITORIAL NOTES

Save the Taj Mahal: The Statesman

The Taj Mahal in Agra.
The Taj Mahal in Agra.PHOTO: AFP

In its editorial, The Statesman notes that the historic monument is crying for attention. 

Shah Jahan would have been aghast. Taj Mahal, the mausoleum that he had built for his wife, Mumtaz Mahal - the “Chosen One of the Palace” - stands as a mute victim of environmental degradation. 

The black smoke that billows from a wood-burning crematorium nearby has damaged the gleaming white marble, that is gradually yellowing under threat from pollution. 

Perhaps in no other country are national treasures so callously neglected. Which clearly has provoked the Supreme Court to direct the Uttar Pradesh government to decide on the relocation of the crematorium within three weeks.

While the state administration is guilty of having tacitly condoned negligent nonchalance, the ultimate responsibility for the upkeep of historical monuments rests on the Archaeological Survey Of India, whose performance has as often as not often come under the scanner of India's accounting monitoring body, the Comptroller & Auditor General of India. 

The Uttar Pradesh government was accused by the Bench of failing to pay sufficient attention to the “finesse of the building during recent construction works in and around the white marble mausoleum. 

Work has been planned to build a stronger, 500m road around the Taj Mahal site but the state government has been criticised for the ugliness of the construction so far. 

Your engineers should be ashamed of themselves,” the Supreme Court told the state government. “People from all over the world come to see the monument and any construction done near Taj should be as good as Taj. You messed it up.”

It was a resounding message from the Bench. Culpable no less must be the Agra municipality which appears to have permitted a crematorium to come up within a 500m radius of the Taj. 

Yet no action has been taken to check the withering away of the white marble. 

Notably, the apex court’s order follows a caveat by a sitting judge, Justice Kurian Joseph, on what he calls the “serious hazard to the grandeur and glory of the Taj, caused by the cremation of at least 25 bodies each day, using firewood and other fuels which might ultimately pose a threat to the stability of the structure”.

The method is antediluvian and the callous indifference to one of the abiding legacies of Mughal India has over the years been overlooked. 

The crematorium ought to be either relocated or an electric furnace installed. 

Rightly has Justice Joseph linked the twin imperatives to the Prime Minister’s Swacch Bharat campaign and the ongoing discourse on climate change and the very real danger of an environmental disaster. 

This week’s imposition of a cess on Clean India should serve as an impetus to the exercise. Taj Mahal cries out for protection, and India’s cavil against the developed world will ring hollow at the Paris conference next month.

The Statesman is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, a grouping of 22 newspapers seeking to promote coverage of Asian affairs.