Taj Mahal: promise off medical facilities forgotten (Letter from Agra)

June 5th, 2008 - 10:25 am ICT by IANS  

By Brij Khandelwal
Agra, June 5 (IANS) Neither the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) nor the Agra Development Authority (ADA), which collectively mint tons of money from visitors to the Taj Mahal and other historical monuments here, seem concerned about the interests of tourists. “When a woman tourist from Indore fell in the Taj Mahal last Saturday, there was no stretcher available to carry her to a vehicle outside,” said a tourist guide. She toppled over from a low railing at the monument and died.

Last year the authorities had pompously announced that a fully equipped ambulance would be stationed in the forecourt of the Taj Mahal with a doctor. But till date no arrangement has been made.

Last week a tourist from southern India fell down and developed fractures but security personnel wasted a lot of time arranging for his transport.

This summer half a dozen tourists have fainted because of the heat but no help has come forth from official quarters. Usually the temperature hovers around a searing 45 degrees in the city at this time.

“The Taj managers have no proper arrangement for water, they cannot provide shoe covers and there are no umbrellas. To transport people in distress there should be a battery-operated vehicle inside the campus so that precious time can be saved,” says Heritage Conservation Society president Surendra Sharma.

The ADA’s main earnings are from the Taj Mahal, which got around 2.5 million visitors last year. Toll collected from tourists should normally be spent on providing facilities to them. But ADA officials have never shown any interest in positively responding to tourist friendly projects.

“The money from tourists is being siphoned off to other projects, commercial land development,” says Rakesh Chauhan, president of the Agra Hotels and Restaurants Association.

Senior Uttar Pradesh Tourism officials say they are not aware of what the ADA was spending the money on.

Long ago, it was the Agra Municipal Corporation that did all the development work and cleared housing plans. But after the ADA came into existence, the elected representatives have ceased to have any role.

“It’s a handful of bureaucrats who decide which way Agra should develop and how. The local population has no say unfortunately,” says social activist Netra Pal Singh. The mayor and her 90-odd corporators hardly have any role in deciding the future development plans for the city, he adds.

The ASI’s role is that of a conservator, a housekeeper, while security concerns are taken care of by the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF).

“What then is the role of the ADA and why is it collecting Rs.500 per ticket from foreign tourists and Rs.10 per Indian or South Asian visitor?” asks Rajan Kishore, a social activist.

The latest information is that the ADA has finalised a proposal to up its toll tax on Indian visitors from Rs.10 to Rs.50.

The situation at other monuments is worse. Besides the Taj, this city is home to historical structures like the Etma-ud-daula and Sikandra, besides Fatehpur Sikri nearby.

ASI officials say it is the duty of the ADA to look after tourists, most of whom never feel comfortable coming to Agra.

“Talking of irritants for tourists, the government agencies have so far failed to address issues of cheating, crimes against tourists, harassment by unofficial guides, overcharging by taxi and auto rickshaw drivers who not only misbehave but also act many a time as agents of criminals giving vital information about the tourists,” according to an office-bearer of the Agra Hotels and Restaurants Association.

(Brij Khandelwal can be contacted at brijkhandelwal@hotmail.com)

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