Save the Taj: Why the world won't forgive us for letting Taj Mahal become a victim of neglect

Government apathy and short-sighted development priorities are destroying India’s most iconic monument.

 |  3-minute read |   19-07-2018
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Poet and Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore once described the Taj Mahal as a 'teardrop', glistening 'spotlessly bright on the cheek of time, forever and ever'. The only tears being shed these days are about the state of the Taj.

To quote from what MC Mehta, a long-time crusader for what is arguably the world's most beautiful building, recently told the Supreme Court: the upkeep of Taj is in a shambles. Cracks are appearing in the structure. The minarets are tilting. Stones and materials are falling off. Acute water and air pollution are changing the colour of the marble, from light yellow to brown. Illegal encroachments, industries and activities are mushrooming in the vicinity, the CCTVs do not work, all the drains around the site are clogged. And the Yamuna, which cradles the Taj, is dying, putting at risk the foundation of the mausoleum. Hordes of insects flying out of the river are soiling the monument. A poem in stone, it seems, has now turned into a hive of ailments.

"You can shut down the Taj. You can demolish it, if you like. You can also do away it." This anguished cry from the bench hearing Mehta's petition sums up the exasperation with which even the apex court regards the state of what is widely seen as one of the 'wonders of the world'.

cover690_071918122118.jpgIndia Today cover story, Save the Taj, for July 30, 2018.

Other famous monuments elsewhere in the world have faced similar conservation challenges. The Colosseum in Rome emerged only recently from a three-year restoration, its walls scrubbed clean of the soot from city traffic.

UNESCO, which monitors world heritage sites like the Taj, recommends the implementation of 'an integrated management plan to ensure that the property maintains the existing conditions, particularly in the light of significant pressures derived from visitation that will need to be adequately managed'. It's a suggestion that need serious study.

The Taj's troubles, however, go far beyond just its neglect. They are a disturbing metaphor for our sustained disregard for our environment and heritage. The Taj also represents our inability to monetise our vast, untapped tourism potential. India attracted 10 million tourists in 2017. Singapore, which has nothing on the scale of a Taj, attracted 17 million.

Our cover story in this special issue is 'Save the Taj', put together by executive editor Damayanti Datta, who takes a comprehensive look at the issues bedevilling the marble mausoleum-abysmal waste disposal, pollution, pests and overcrowding, all of them corroding this crown jewel. It's a sad tale of blunders, lethargy, neglect, criminal mismanagement, myopic vision and just plain apathy. Here is a monument so conjoined in the collective memory of the world with India. So often when you tell someone you are from India, the next thing they say is 'Taj Mahal'.

The Taj has survived the many rulers of India, natural disasters and wars for 370 years. How can we let this Wonder of the World deteriorate into one more dilapidated Indian monument? I have visited the Taj dozens of times and each time it takes my breath away. We can't be the generation that let the beauty of this great monument be destroyed.

Beginning this week, the India Today Group will launch a #SaveTheTaj campaign across all its platforms.

Each week, we will highlight one aspect of the problem. I urge you all to join our campaign and send in your ideas on how we can protect this magnificent structure.

It's a legacy we must preserve. If we don't, the world won't forgive us.

(India Today Editor-in-Chief's note for cover story, Save the Taj; July 30, 2018.)

Also read: Taj Mahal: What we stand to lose


Aroon Purie Aroon Purie @aroonpurie

The writer is chairman and editor-in-chief of the India Today Group.

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