The Taj Mahal, one of the seven wonders of the world is fast losing its splendour and has sent shockwaves among history enthusiasts and commoners alike. Situated in Agra, the 17th Century Mughal marvel built by emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his beloved Mumtaz Mahal has withstood the ravages of time for centuries.
'The embodiment of love' gets millions of visitors from all over the world every year, who visit Agra to relish its immaculate beauty. But, not anymore, warn a team of experts who in a report have suggested that burning of fuel, biomass and garbage is turning its famous white marble dome and minarets into brownish yellow.
The report published in 2015 also blamed the unprecedented growth of the Agra city, (one of the most polluted cities in world) and especially the pollution emitted by motor vehicles as one of the main reasons behind the discolouration of Taj.
Fight to restore Taj- Milestones
Centre publishes the first report titled as 'Report on Environmental Impact of Mathura Refinery', which becomes the cornerstone for future petitions.
ASI's efforts to restore Taj
An area of 10,400 sq km around the Taj was declared "Taj Trapezium Zone (TTZ)" following a 1996 ruling by the Supreme Court. The order was the result of a PIL filed to protect several historical monuments including the Taj from the pollution caused by various industries situated in the area.
The Court made it mandatory for the industries functioning in the TTZ to switch to lesser polluting energy sources like natural gas from coal or coke.
The drive to bring the suspended particulate matter (SPM) around the mausoleum has been another important part of the restoration campaign. Particulate matter is the sum of all solid and liquid particles suspended in air many of which are hazardous.
Experts say high SPM level has been a crucial contributor in the corrosion.
According to Centre Pollution Control Board (CPCB), the particulate matter in Agra has been as high as 713 µg/m3, when it’s supposed to be no higher than 100 µg/m3 in residential areas.
ASI's efforts to reduce smoke-release in the area include:
- Introducing electric cremation in the popular public crematorium operating near the Taj
- Popularising the use of LPG among local household instead of fuelwood and biomass
- Shifting as many industries as possible from the Taj Trapezium Zone
In 1984, Supreme Court lawyer MC Mehta moved a petition in the apex court to save the Taj.
In 1996, the SC urged the Centre to protect the listed monument to come up with an action plan; it included closing down all polluting factories in Taj Trapezium Zone and rejuvenating the Yamuna river.
In 2015, a Parliamentary Standing Committee report stressed the vulnerability of air pollution to Taj Mahal.
Success stories from other countries to restore monuments to their pristine glory
The Taj shares a unique tryst with other famous monuments such as the Parthenon, in Greece and the Lincoln Memorial in the United States, which are on the brink of destruction due to acid rain and pollution.
When vehicular pollution, acid rain and industrial pollution led to black crust formation on the ancient temples of the Acropolis in Athens, a laser technology-based restoration programme was launched by the Greek authorities.
The marble sensitive technology was able to remove the black pollutant layer without discolouring the actual marbles. The technology also enabled scanning of the marble surface with an ultrasound and an infra-red imaging followed by spectroscopy (the interaction of radiated energy with matter, resulting in absorption, reflection or scattering).
Church of St. Ann and the Holy Trinity, a World Monuments Fund project in Brooklyn Heights is another important successful restoration effort worth emulating.