ASI abandons plan to close Taj grave chamber to public

January 2nd, 2009 - 11:15 am ICT by IANS  

Agra, Jan 2 (IANS) The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has shelved plans to tighten security at the Taj Mahal by closing entry to the upper chamber of the cenotaph that houses the replicas of the graves of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan and his wife Mumtaz Mahal after tourism industry members here opposed the move. The Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), which is responsible for security at the 17th century monument, had suggested to the ASI that the upper chamber be closed to the public. The chamber below, with the original set of graves, was closed in 1996.

The exquisite marble mesh screens with inlaid borders enclosing the upper chamber of the cenotaph attracts a large number of visitors daily, but since there is only one entry and exit point, security concerns were raised.

However, members of the tourism industry protested against the move as they felt it would diminish tourist interest in the marble wonder. Led by Shamshuddin, president of the Agra Guides Association, and Rajeev Tiwari, president of the Agra Tourist Welfare Chamber, the industry submitted a memorandum against the CISF plan to the ASI.

D.N. Dimri, ASI superintending archaeologist, told IANS: “After the hue and cry raised by the tourism industry, the proposal has been shelved. We have, however, permitted the CISF to deploy 96 more security personnel.”

“You can have any number of alternative sources for revenue generation in the tourism sector but you can’t build heritage. If they are damaged or not adequately preserved we will be failing in our duty to hand over to posterity our precious heritage which is the job of the ASI,” he added.

Under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act 1958, the public has a right of access to all protected monuments. However, Rule 4 of the act gives the ASI the power to temporarily close any part for maintenance and repair.

Dimri said the ASI is considering a proposal to have a staggered ticket fees system, as per which those wanting to see the main dome or the graves will have to shell out more money.

“We cannot overlook the natural ageing process of monuments. If they have to be preserved, some such plans will have to be put into effect some day,” he added.

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