New Delhi: Talking tough, the Supreme Court said authorities in India should display a “far greater concern” than shown by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) over the upkeep of Taj Mahal that has been affected by pollution. The apex court earlier this month said protecting Taj Mahal has become a “hopeless cause” and slammed the Centre, Uttar Pradesh government and Archaeological Survey of India for their apathy in protecting the monument from pollution.
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The court had also deplored the Taj Trapezium Zone (TTZ) authority on environment protection in and around the Taj Mahal in Agra, asking it whether preservation of the monument was a “tamasha” (drama) or a “joke”.
During the hearing on a petition on the preservation of the monument, the court was informed by Attorney General K K Venugopal that the joint secretary in the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change and the commissioner of Agra Division would be the officers responsible for the maintenance of the Taj Trapezium Zone (TTZ).
The bench was apprised that director general of the ASI would be responsible for the maintenance of Taj Mahal.
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.
The remarks relating to the UNESCO by the bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta came after the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) said it has given a plan on Taj Mahal to the UN body in 2013.
The apex court then asked why “from 2013 till 2018, nothing was done?”
When the ASI’s counsel said that the UNESCO was informed about the status of Taj matter, the bench said, “This is the problem.”
“Organisation like UNESCO has to express concern about the situation (regarding Taj Mahal). It is an organisation of the United Nations. Our concern should be far greater than that shown by the UNESCO,” it said. The ivory white marble mausoleum is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The apex court also made it clear that from now on, affidavits would be filed in the matter only by the three identified officials — joint secretary of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, commissioner of Agra Division and the director general of the ASI.
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“Affidavits filed by any other person will not be entertained,” it said.
At the outset, the Attorney General told the bench that commissioner of Agra division, who is also the chairman of the TTZ, would be responsible for maintenance of TTZ as far as Uttar Pradesh government is concerned.
“For Union of India, the joint secretary of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change will be the in-charge of the TTZ,” he told the bench. The ASI’s counsel told the bench that director general of ASI would be responsible for maintenance of Taj Mahal and the TTZ authority has to ensure that nothing comes up in the “regulated area” around the monument.
The Attorney General said that it was the ASI’s job to ensure that no further construction should be made there and the UNESCO’s plan for protection of Taj was implemented.
Environmentalist M C Mehta, the petitioner in the case, told the bench that the TTZ authority has been “defunct” and they have not done anything for the protection of environment in the area.
“They (TTZ) are doing nothing,” the bench observed.
Mr Mehta said that TTZ authority should be “revamped” and persons, who have the vision to do the work should be made members of the authority.
Mr Venugopal said if the petitioner wanted to have a special committee like the Bhure Lal committee, then they have no objection and they would welcome Mr Mehta’s suggestions in this regard.
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“What about having independent persons (in the committee)?” the bench asked. Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for Uttar Pradesh government, said they would take instructions on it. The bench asked Mr Mehta to give his suggestions in this regard within three weeks and posted the matter for hearing on August 28.
It also asked the petitioner to go through the draft report of vision document on protection and preservation of Taj Mahal and give his suggestions.
The apex court had on July 26 made it clear that somebody has to take responsibility for protection of Taj Mahal and had asked the Centre to apprise it as to which departments of the central and Uttar Pradesh governments would be responsible for the maintenance of the TTZ.
The apex court has been monitoring development in the area to protect the Taj Mahal, built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in the memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal at Agra.
Its construction was completed in 1643 but work continued on other phases of the project for another 10 years.
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