The Supreme Court on Wednesday pulled up the Agra Development Authority (ADA) for not conducting any survey on the environmental impact of business activities near the iconic Taj Mahal and termed it a "sorry state of affairs".
The top court said it has to act like a "super administrator" as the ADA has failed to do its duty and stayed the operation of notices served for closure of all business activities along the boundary wall of the centuries-old monument.
A bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Abhay S Oka asked the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) to conduct an environment impact assessment (EIA) based on the latest survey of the business activities especially in the Taj Ganj area within 500 metres from the boundary wall of the iconic monument and submit a report giving suggestion to the court as early as possible.
The top court noted that its September 26 order for removal of businesses was passed to bring in conformity with a similar order passed earlier in the case of 71 shops which were directed to be rehabilitated outside the 500-metre periphery of the monument.
It granted liberty to NEERI to approach the court in case it faces any difficulty in conducting the survey or the EIA.
The bench told the counsel for Uttar Pradesh, "It seems that your authority has not performed their task and now we have to become super administrators. We ourselves don't know what kind of activity is going on there. We were concerned with those 71 shopkeepers."
It said that the state government was directed in 1998 by the court to conduct an environment impact assessment of the business activities around the Taj Mahal but till date nothing has been done.
The top court was hearing an application of owners of the residence and business establishments, especially those in Taj Ganj area, who were served closure notices by the ADA pursuant to the September 26 order of the court.
Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the shop owners, said they have been carrying out their businesses and have residences in the area for decades and now the ADA has served them notices for closure.
"The earlier order for 71 shops was passed for encroachers but we are not encroachers. We have been there for a long. The ADA has served the notice saying that the court has ordered for closure. Where should we go? There was no scientific study conducted which says that due to these activities, there is any danger to the monument," he said.
Mr Rohatgi said these 2,000 establishments have never been in any kind of litigation for the past 40 years and have never indulged in any business activity which has been prohibited.
Amicus curiae ADN Rao said the order banning business activity within 500 metres of the Taj Mahal has been in existence since 1996 and has been reiterated time and again.
Advocate M C Dhingra, appearing for the 71 shop owners, said there will be gross violation of earlier top court orders as business activities are going on near the western gate of the monument which is illegal.
Mr Rohatgi said the order was passed for the encroachers and not residents.
The bench disposed of the application of 2,000 residents with the direction to the NEERI.
The bench also asked the Union Ministry of Tourism to have a re-look at the 2007 plan submitted by HUDCO for the reconstruction of 71 shops in 'Amrud ka Tilla' area.
The top court is monitoring development in the area after it first entertained a PIL by environmentalist M C Mehta in 1984 to protect the Taj Mahal, which has been declared as a UNESCO world heritage and was built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his wife.
It also allowed the felling of 1,032 trees for construction of four-lane road from Yamuna Expressway to Pagla Baba Mandir in Vrindavan.
The bench asked the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) to complete the compulsory afforestation by planting 10,320 saplings within six months and asked Rao to submit the report after visiting the site of afforestation.
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