Projects to save Agra monuments back on track

March 22nd, 2011 - 11:34 am ICT by IANS  

Agra, March 22 (IANS) The growing threat from pollution to India’s prized monuments, including the Taj Mahal, has prompted the authorities to speed up action before it is too late.

The Uttar Pradesh government agencies and the Taj Trapezium Zone (TTZ) authority that the pollution control board set up in 1999 have begun reviewing projects that were held up due to litigation or a resource crunch to save the monuments from environmental threats.

The project aims to insulate the world heritage monuments, including Fatehpur Sikri, Agra Fort and the Taj Mahal.

A set of eight schemes to control pollution and save these monuments has been submitted for clearance from the state government before being presented to the Planning Commission to include them in the 12th Five Year Plan (2012-2017).

The National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) report for 2010 has been positive on some of the measures the government had taken in the the eco-sensitive Taj Trapezium Zone, which extends over 10,040 sq km covering the districts of Agra, Firozabad, Mathura in Uttar Pradesh and Bharatpur in Rajasthan.

According to officials, the government agencies now want to speed up work on the pending projects.

“These projects have been held up since 2003 for want of funds. The whole eco-sensitive zone needs them urgently. Now that the NEERI has given its report, one hopes these projects would receive top priority treatment,” B.B. Awasthi, regional officer of the Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board, told IANS.

There has been widespread concern over potential harm to the Taj Mahal’s foundation from the dry and polluted river Yamuna.

Even though the Archaeological Survey of India keeps denying, recent reports by independent observers have highlighted the large-scale deterioration in the overall upkeep of the world heritage monument, said Surendra Sharma, president of the Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society.

An official told IANS: “Of the eight projects, seven are to be executed in the Agra division and one in Bharatpur district of Rajasthan. All the projects have been cleared by the state pollution control board and the NEERI.”

A major scheme is a barrage in the Yamuna downstream of the Taj Mahal to store water for the city and to help contain the high amount of suspended particulate matter (SPM) in the ambient air.

The proposed Rs.600-crore barrage, eight kilometres downstream of the Taj Mahal, and a project to extend the catchment area of the Gokul Barrage in Mathura district are expected to bring down the SPM level and also augment the water supply to the twin cities, according to the official.

A Rs.1,200-crore water supply pipeline project from a canal of the Ganges river with Japanese assistance is already under way.

Extending the green cover has been one of the chief concerns of various environmental agencies, including the high power experts committee constituted by the Supreme Court, headed by S. Varadarajan.

A Rs.77-crore plan for extensive planting of saplings to act as a buffer to block the dust- laden winds from the west has been submitted.

“In the past two years there have been massive concretisation and uprooting of trees to clear the way for the new expressways and the inner ring road in Agra. The green cover has been reduced, particularly on the Agra-Firozabad road. This balance has to be restored early if an ecological catastrophe is to be avoided,” said green activist Shravan Singh.

One of the projects that has been hanging fire for long has been the decentralisation of the bus depots and development of the existing inter-state bus terminus.

The district authorities have not been able to shift the 100-odd transport companies from the Yamuna Kinara road to a new Transport Nagar.

The TTZ authority has now finalised a Rs.60- crore plan to develop new transport hubs, which is awaiting government nod.

A bio-diversity conservation project has also been drawn up for Bharatpur district. This will be an added attraction along with the famous Ghana bird sanctuary, which has been facing an acute water shortage for past several years.

According to Raman, a member of the Supreme Court monitoring committee, while these projects are welcome, “there is a need for the involvement of and discussion by the stakeholders on its feasibility and utility.

A large number of farmers and activists, however, say that “the pressure to take up these projects could also have come from the builders’ lobby, which has a big stake in the region.”

Green Activist Ravi Singh says the new expressway and the Agra inner ring road project are the most obvious immediate motivations.

(Brij Khandelwal can be contacted at brij.k@ians.in)

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