Court orders removal of crematorium near Taj Mahal

NEW DELHI • India's Supreme Court has ordered a state government to remove a wood-burning crematorium near the Taj Mahal, following concerns that its smoke may damage the 17th century marble mausoleum, media reported yesterday.

The judges made the order after receiving a letter from another Supreme Court judge, who said he had noticed the mausoleum spewing smoke and ash during a recent visit to the monument and was concerned about the impact of air pollution on the marble structure, The Guardian said.

Hindus, who make up the majority of India's population, traditionally use wood in cremation pyres.

The court suggested Uttar Pradesh state authorities move the crematorium or build an electric one instead, according to the BBC.

"It is a very good suggestion and I totally agree with the judge's letter," Mr Vijay Bahadur Singh, the state government's advocate general, was quoted by the Indian Express as saying. "Give me a fortnight and I will come back to this court with a solution."

Crematorium staff, however, denied the pollution charges. "Ghee, camphor, sandalwood paste and cow dung cakes used in the pyres are instead helping to enrich the environment," manager Sanjay Singh told the Times of India.

More than three million tourists visit the Taj Mahal in the city of Agra annually, according to The Guardian. Its domes and minarets, inlaid with semi-precious stones and carvings, are considered the finest examples of Mughal art in India. It was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1983.

The monument was built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died while giving birth to their 14th child.

A local official said highly sensitive "religious sentiments" had clouded the issue over the ancient Muslim monument.

"The crematorium is nearly 200 years old and it is not easy to relocate it," said Agra divisional commissioner Pradeep Bhatnagar.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 19, 2015, with the headline 'Court orders removal of crematorium near Taj Mahal'. Print Edition | Subscribe