Taj Mahal & Pollution Warning


    In News

    • Recently, the Supreme Court directed to stop all commercial activities within a 500-metre radius of the Taj Mahal.

    More about the news

    • The Supreme Court recently directed the Agra Development Authority to stop all commercial activities within a 500-metre radius of the Taj Mahal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
      • The apex court has repeatedly called attention to the failures in protecting the Taj Mahal from various forms of pollution.
    • Concerns: 
      • Earlier the court had expressed concern over the changing colour of Taj Mahal’s marble — from white to yellowish, to brownish-green.
        • Illegal businesses are thriving near the western gate of the monument, which is a gross violation of orders issued by the court.
        • Industries, foundries, vehicles and the nearby Mathura petroleum refinery were releasing toxic gases like sulphur dioxide, which were harmful to both the monument and the people in its vicinity. 
    • Blaming ASI:
      • Blaming the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) for its inability to protect the monument, the Supreme Court said that the ASI “will have to be thrown out of the picture” if the Taj Mahal was to be saved.

    More about Taj Mahal

    • The Taj Mahal was completed in 1653 as a mausoleum for the Emperor’s favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died in childbirth. 
      • Both the Emperor and his wife are buried there. 
    • Taj Mahal is pinkish in the morning, milky white in the evening, and golden when the moon shines”, according to a legend.
    • The Taj was declared a Unesco World Heritage site in 1983, and and attracts millions of visitors from India and overseas every year.

    Timeline of Government & court orders issued to protect Taj Mahal

    • 1970s:
      • In order to protect the monument from pollution, the central government had demarcated an area of 10,400 sq km around the Taj, called the Taj Trapezium Zone (TTZ).
    • 1996: 
      • The top court found that the nearby coke/coal-consuming industries were damaging the monument and the people living in the TTZ. 
      • It also directed the 292 industries operating in the zone to switch to natural gas as an industrial fuel or relocate from their area.

    Various report citings

    • National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) Report:
      • In 2010, a report submitted by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) found that despite various government schemes to reduce pollution in the TTZ area, the iconic Taj Mahal continued to face a threat from water and air pollution.
      • Furthermore, the NEERI report found that the Yamuna water, contaminated with industrial discharge, sewage and solid waste, was also damaging the monument as well.
    • The Guardian Report:
      • While the creation of a bypass, improvements to the power supply and reduction of diesel generators had a positive impact, the study found that emissions of nitrogen oxide and particulates had reached higher levels than a decade prior.

    Reasons of discoloration of Taj Mahal

    • Polluted gases:
      • High level of noxious gases, suspended dust particles, emissions from vehicles, denudation of green cover to construct roads and houses.
      • Sulphur dioxide, NOx emissions, and primarily carbon-based particles have corroded and damaged the Taj’s beautiful white façade, leaving it with a yellow sheen.
    • Polluted Yamuna:
      • A dry and polluted Yamuna remains a constant threat to the safety of the Taj Mahal, according to the activists.
      • The National Green Tribunal has been struggling with its orders on clearing encroachments on Yamuna flood-plains
        • After years of dilly-dallying even the boundaries of the flood plains have not been clearly demarcated, the campaigners complain.
    • Insects attacks:
      • Insects from the drying Yamuna River, into which the city dumps its sewage, creep into the Taj Mahal, staining the marble with their excrement.
      • ASI research:
        • According to the Archaeological Survey of India’s research, these insects breed in the river’s contaminated debris before attacking the Taj Mahal in the evening. 
        • There used to be fish in the river that ate the insects and their larvae, but now there are no signs of any aquatic species in the river due to severe water pollution.
      • Other monuments:
        • Other monuments that stand on the banks of the river Yamuna, such as the Tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah, the Mehtab Bagh, and portions of the Agra Fort, too, have been affected by these insect attacks.

    Solutions & way ahead

    • Mud packs:
      • Mud packs have been one of the ASI’s favoured ways to remove the yellow stains that have appeared over the years on the Taj Mahal’s white marble facade. 
      • It is hoped that the treatment — traditionally employed to clean marble surfaces — will help restore the natural shine and colour of the monument.
      • How?
        • The clay is applied in the form of a thick paste that absorbs the grime, grease and bird droppings on the marble, before being washed off using distilled water. 
        • The process is slow and tortuous, but is believed to leave the marble cleaner and shinier.
    • Government Fund:
      • To help deal with Agra’s mounting plastic waste, Massive Fund proposed a project of $30 million under the Alliance to End Plastic, to eliminate more than 90 percent of plastic waste from Agra
    • The Agra Air Action Plan:
      • It is is a decisive step forward in systematically combatting air pollution. 
      • Preventive actions and local-scale compliance enforcement tools, uniquely designed as an agreement between local government and private sector, could contribute significantly to successful implementation of the plan and sustainability in the long term.
    • National Clean Air Programme: 
      • The Ministry of Environment Forests and Climate Change launched the National Clean Air Programme to meet the prescribed annual average ambient air quality standards for 102 non-attainment Indian cities by 2025, Agra city is one of them.

    Source: TH