Shadow over Taj

The threat of pol­lu­tion re­turns

Down to Earth - - FRONT PAGE -

Taj Ma­hal,the domed mar­ble mau­soleum on the bank of the Ya­muna river in Agra,is iconic for more than one rea­son.It rep­re­sents the best of Indo-Is­lamic ar­chi­tec­ture and serves as a sym­bol of beauty and love. What is less known is the fact that it also sym­bol­ises In­dia’s battle for clean air.

The is­sue of pol­lu­tion around the Taj has its roots in the 1973 de­ci­sion to set up a petroleum re­fin­ery at Mathura, near Agra. In 1981, based on re­ports of com­mit­tees that looked into the pol­lu­tion threat, gov­ern­ment closed two ther­mal power plants in Agra and shifted to diesel in its rail­way shunt­ing yards there. In 1983, the Min­istry of En­vi­ron­ment and Forests de­clared some 10,400 sq km of the Agra-Mathura re­gion as a pro­tected area called Taj Trapez­ium Zone,where pol­lut­ing in­dus­tries were banned.A year later,lawyer M C Mehta filed a case in the Supreme Court, ask­ing for the Mathura Oil Re­fin­ery to be shifted.

The Bench of green judge Jus­tice Kuldip Singh be­gan hear­ing the case some years later.In 1993, a re­port by the Nag­pur-based Na­tional En­vi­ron­men­tal En­gi­neer­ing Re­search In­sti­tute (neeri) on the causes of pol­lu­tion held small-scale in­dus­tries of Agra and Firoz­abad—foundries and the en­gi­neer­ing and glass units—re­spon­si­ble for pol­lu­tion that was dam­ag­ing the Taj.It rec­om­mended that th­ese in­dus­tries should be re­lo­cated out­side the Taj Trapez­ium. It also asked for a green belt around the Taj to save it from pol­lu­tion.The court or­dered this to be done.

At that time a ques­tion was raised whether the court had ad­e­quate in­for­ma­tion to make the de­ci­sion about the source of pol­lu­tion threat­en­ing the Taj. In 1994, an­other re­port was com­mis­sioned. This time to em­i­nent sci­en­tist S Varadara­jan. His find­ings con­tra­dicted neeri. Varadara­jan held that there was no pol­lu­tion-re­lated dam­age to the mon­u­ment. He said the prob­lem of poor air qual­ity did ex­ist and was be­cause of ve­hi­cles and diesel gen­er­a­tor sets.How­ever, he did not op­pose the re­lo­ca­tion of in­dus­tries, but said that they could be shifted to nearby sites and not out of the Trapez­ium.So this was or­dained.

Since then, the Supreme Court has is­sued a num­ber of di­rec­tions to pro­tect the Taj. It has asked for ev­ery­thing to be done, in­clud­ing the sup­ply of com­pressed nat­u­ral gas (cng) in the Taj Trapez­ium to re­duce par­tic­u­late mat­ter emis­sions and the pro­vi­sion of ad­e­quate wa­ter in the Ya­muna. Af­ter some ac­tion the mat­ter of pol­lu­tion around the Taj Ma­hal got erased from public mem­ory.It was some­thing that was done. Com­pleted. Till now.

In De­cem­ber 2014, a study by the In­dian In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy (iit)-Kan­pur, Uni­ver­sity of Wis­con­sin and Ge­or­gia In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy,both in the US,found that the Taj Ma­hal was still un­der the pol­lu­tion cloud.The study col­lected sam­ples of par­tic­u­late mat­ter around the Taj over a year to find rel­a­tively high con­cen­tra­tion of light-ab­sorb­ing par­ti­cles called black car­bon as well as or­ganic car­bon and dust.When the re­searchers stud­ied the sur­face of mar­ble pieces placed in the Taj com­plex they found the same par­ti­cles de­posited there.They con­cluded that black and or­ganic car­bon par­ti­cles—from ve­hi­cles and biomass burning—and dust are re­spon­si­ble for the dis­coloura­tion of the Taj Ma­hal. “We cal­cu­lated the amount of light re­flected by th­ese par­ti­cles and com­pared the mod­elled re­flectance with hu­man colour per­cep­tion to con­clude they play a sig­nif­i­cant role in caus­ing sur­face dis­coloura­tion of the mar­ble,” says Sachchida Nand Tri­pathi, one of the re­searchers and pro­fes­sor at iit-Kan­pur.

Me­dia re­ports on the find­ing prompted the stand­ing com­mit­tee of Par­lia­ment on science,

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