ASI shoots down ropeway project behind Taj

August 2nd, 2009 - 2:55 pm ICT by IANS  

By Brij Khandelwal
Agra, Aug 2 (IANS) The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has opposed a plan for a ropeway behind the Taj Mahal, drawn up by the Agra Development Authority apparently without seeking clearance from the ASI or the Supreme Court, which has laid out clear-cut guidelines for preserving the surroundings of the heritage monument.

A series of preliminary studies and surveys by experts of the Usha Breco group, roped in by the ADA for the project, have already been carried out. The ropeway is aimed at boosting tourism.

ADA vice chairman Tanvir Zafar Ali has announced plans for two ropeways, one from the 17th century Taj to the Mehtab Bagh across the river and the other to Agra Fort. He has even spoken about his discussions with Supreme Court amicus curiae Krishna Mahajan on the project and his reported agreement to it.

However, Krishna Mahajan told IANS on phone from New Delhi: “Tanvir met me and I told him to get Supreme Court clearance first and then talk about the project. I never agreed. I am in fact surprised how he has gone on record saying the Supreme Court would approve of the project.”

ADA officials say the projects are needed to boost tourism. Only a small percentage of the tourists visiting the Taj go to other monuments in Agra, they maintain.

Last year, more than 37 lakh (3.7 million) tourists visited the Taj. “Once you have a ropeway connecting monuments on the other bank of the river, tourists will not only save time and traffic snarls, but enjoy the trip on a cable car,” said an official.

“Tourists wanting to visit monuments behind the Taj Mahal in Mehtab Bagh area need not take the time-consuming circuitous route via the Strachey Bridge if the plan of the Agra Development Authority to construct a ropeway materialises,” says a tourism industry official Rakesh Chauhan.

Meanwhile, superintending archaeologist A.R. Siddiqui told IANS: “We are clear and categorical that we will not allow any such project in the vicinity of the Taj Mahal. Clear-cut guidelines and rules are there which we need to follow.”

“They have not asked us for any clearance or no objection certificate. The ADA vice chairman even claimed that the DG ASI was in agreement with his projects,” he said.

“The question does not arise,” says Siddiqui.

Siddiqui, however, admitted that the ASI was helpless in dealing with state government agencies. “We can only file FIRs against violators and encroachers and nothing more.”

The issue of cleaning of debris from the site of the Taj Corridor is still hanging fire with no department coming forward to remove the eyesore between the Taj and the Agra Fort. The apex court itself has seemingly forgotten the case, said an official.

The ASI’s helplessness became clear some months ago when it could not stop construction of a bridge within the restricted zone of 200 metres from Etmad-ud-daula.

Officials here claimed the site was beyond the restricted zone. However, on measuring the distance again the mistake was noticed but by that time work had already started in full swing. The new bridge will not only add to the traffic problems but also raise the level of pollution in the sensitive area.

The Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society president Surendra Sharma has criticised the ropeway project.

He said: “Once again they are playing with the Taj Mahal forgetting what happened in the controversial Taj Corridor issue. The Dr. S. Varadarajan Committee appointed by the apex court had clearly recommended there should be no tampering with the physical settings around the heritage monuments.”

More than 20 years ago a TV tower near Ram Bagh had to be removed after environmentalists and conservationists pointed to the “Visual Pollution” it was causing by appearing as the fifth minaret of the Taj Mahal in photographs. “In Taj’s case the effect of visual pollution cannot be ignored. You cannot introduce new features around the Taj,” pointed out environmentalist Ravi Singh.

Is there really a need for a ropeway behind the Taj?

This question has irked many locals who want the ADA to address more fundamental issues of infrastructure for tourism development. The ADA collects crores of rupees through entrance tickets to the monuments.

“The ADA is run by bureaucrats and is not under democratic control of the Municipal Corporation of Agra,” points out social activist V.P. Singh. He has alleged that most of the ticket money collected is siphoned off to fund “questionable projects”.

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