Taj Mahal in danger again, this time from garbage dump

August 22nd, 2008 - 11:55 am ICT by IANS  

Agra, Aug 22 (IANS) Years after being threatened by the effluent gases of the Mathura oil refinery, the white marble of the Taj Mahal faces another threat - a proposed garbage dump nearby will release methane and other gases that can have the same effect of yellowing the marble.Environmentalists and social activists in Agra are alarmed by the proposal to site the city’s new landfill at Kuberpur.

“The landfill site is dangerously close to the Taj Mahal and the Yamuna river, and is in the sensitive Taj Trapezium. Environmental impact assessments are yet to be made and the details of the project still to be worked out,” environmentalist Ravi Singh told IANS.

India’s Supreme Court monitors all developments in the trapezium to ensure no pollution affects the 17th century mausoleum of Mughal emperor Shahjahan and his wife Mumtaz Mahal.

But such pollution is exactly what environmentalists fear from the proposed landfill.

President of Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society Surendra Sharma said: “The production of methane gas, release of dioxins and the huge volume of solid waste will cause damage to the environment around the Taj Mahal.”

There are widely varying estimates of the amount of garbage produced by the 1.6 million people of Agra every day - an official project report in 2000 put it at 350 tonnes, another report from the government’s Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission estimated 650 tonnes, and the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute 2,000 tonnes.

Be the figure what it may, it is the proposed location of the landfill that is causing concern.

Environmental engineer Dinkar Saxena said: “Established norms and procedures are being given the goby because government agencies are in a great hurry to rush through the project.”

“So many projects in the past have either been shifted or closed down because of the adverse impact on Agra’s environment. In the same way, every facet of this problem has to be thoroughly studied,” said social activist Mukesh Jain.

Apart from being close to the Taj Mahal, the proposed landfill site in Kuberpur slopes towards the Yamuna. “This means all the liquid wastes would automatically flow into the river which is just 200 metres away through the dense green cover that supports rich fauna,” pointed out Shailesh, a green activist.

“Seeping and leeching will be two major problems in the area which will impact the ecology of the river,” said Netra Pal Singh, a member of several NGOs.

The authorities claim to be aware of the issues.

“All aspects of the pollution problem are being addressed and the project will go ahead only when all sections of the people are satisfied,” Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board regional official Rajeev Upadhyaya told IANS.

But their experience with previous landfills does not inspire confidence among the residents. A few months ago the Rambal Nagla landfill in the Kalindi Vihar neighbourhood was closed after reports that noxious gases were affecting people in nearby areas.

That was when the Agra Municipal Corporation started looking for another landfill.

“According to the plan, at the Kuberpur site all garbage will be converted into green fuel,” said local resident Rajeev Saxena.

“But is it safe from environmental angles? So far the authorities concerned have not come out clean on this issue.”

There is another reason why some local residents don’t want the landfill be located in Kuberpur. “The new Yamuna Expressway from Greater Noida (near New Delhi) will end at Kuberpur which is going to become a new urban hub. A major landfill site should not therefore come up there,” said Megh Singh Yadav, of the Agra Human Rights Forum.

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

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