Keeping the Taj white
In 2013-14, the amount the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) spent on cleaning the surface of the Taj Mahal was ₹4.43 lakh – less than what it might take to maintain a swimming pool or a midsize cricket ground. In 2014-15, the figure rose to ₹8.5 lakh, a value inspiring not too much more confidence that serious work was being undertaken. Then in 2015-16, it spiked seven-fold to a realistic ₹55.18 lakh. A parliamentary standing committee on environment had taken exception to the monument going yellow. It ordered the ASI to have the entire surface of the Taj cleaned up. Perhaps the mausoleum needs a budget at least as big as the 2015-16 figure; and perhaps its entire surface needs regular upkeep to stall the ravages of the toxic air, dust and grime, acid rain, insect poop and more. The ASI and its officials, however, seem to think they are doing enough. Rakesh Tiwari, who was the ASI’S director-general when Governance Now spoke to him (he has since retired), says the hue and cry over preserving the Taj is only being raised by those who cannot and will not do anything for the Taj. “Youngsters have to learn...they write each other’s names on the walls of the Taj with lipstick, they dirty the walls, they leave food wrappers here and there,” he says. “There’s no public awareness, which is what we badly need.” Similarly, the ministry of tourism in a written reply told the Lok Sabha in 2016 that in the last three years, more than ₹11 crore was spent on conservation, preservation, maintenance and development of the environment around the Taj. Union minister Mahesh Sharma, too, claimed, liked Tiwari, that everything necessary was being done to protect the Taj. But unless vehicular and industrial pollution in the region is checked, all that is being done may not be enough. For the Taj, and for the 40 protected monuments (including two other World Heritage Sites, Agra fort and Fatehpur Sikri) lying within the Taj Trapezium Zone.