- Government reprimanded for not taking enough steps to protect Taj Mahal
- Court said effort to preserve the Taj Mahal has been turned into a joke
- Authority set up to check pollution near Taj was a "flop", court said
The effort to preserve the pristine white of the Taj Mahal has been turned into a joke, the Supreme Court said on Thursday, and wondered what would happen if the iconic monument lost its world heritage body tag.
"It would be a great, great embarrassment for the country," the centre's top law officer KK Venugopal conceded, promising to come back to the top court this month-end with the names of departments that would responsible for the large protection zone around the Taj Mahal.
There is a Taj Trapezium Zone authority set up in 1996 under the state government to curb pollution in the 10 thousand square km area spread across six districts,
But after the court heard the authority blame their performance to a manpower crunch, the judges threw up their hands in despair and told the authority's top boss K Ram Mohan Rao that the organisation was a "flop".
"Is it our fault? What is this 'tamasha' (drama) going on. It is nothing less than a 'tamasha'. They are saying they do not have staff. Will the Supreme Court recruit staff for them?" Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta shot back.
"You should have a comedy show channel. It is becoming a joke," the judges said when Mr Rao said he had already sent three reminders to the government for staff. The court, however, also ordered Yogi Adityanath government to explain the delay.
The judges also worried that the government's approach could cost Taj Mahal its world heritage status.
"The UNESCO's world heritage centre is in Paris. Have you been filing management plan (of Taj Mahal) before the world heritage centre of UNESCO? This is not being filed. What will happen if the UNESCO says that we will withdraw the world heritage tag of Taj Mahal," the bench asked and ordered the centre to report on this aspect too.
The court had, right at the beginning of today's hearing, given the Yogi Adityanath government a tongue lashing for submitting a draft vision document that the court had ordered earlier.
"Are we supposed to vet it for you?... What is this going on? Are we supposed to correct your draft report?" the bench rebuked the state, wondering if this is how concerned the state government was about the monument. The judges were concerned that the report could be changed later since it wasn't in its final form. When the state tried to come up with a response, the court bluntly remarked: "You are not doing us a favour. Let's be clear about it".
The court also told the Uttar Pradesh government to pass on the report to environmentalist lawyer MC Mehta. He had first petitioned the court back in the 1990s to seek the top court's intervention to protect the 17th century marble mausoleum that draws thousands of tourists from India and abroad each year.
Over the last few hearings, the top court has been expressing its anguish at the government's approach to protecting and preserving the white marble stunner.
In May this year, the court had reprimanded the Archaeological Survey of India, which is in charge of maintaining and repairing monuments, for failing to protect the monument.
"The problem is that ASI is not willing to accept that there is a problem," the bench had observed.
At a hearing about 10 days ago, the judges again expressed their anguish over the government's apathy and described the effort to preserve Taj Mahal as a "hopeless cause".
"Either we will shut down the Taj or you demolish or restore it," the court had said. The next day, union culture minister Mahesh Sharma had, however, insisted that there was no danger to Taj Mahal's structure and there was no need to worry.