‘Agra should be declared a heritage city for tourists’

Taj Mahal. (File Photo: IANS)

AGRA – Even as the UP government and Agra district officials struggle to stitch together a “patch work quilt” called a Vision Document for the eco-sensitive Taj Trapezium Zone (TTZ), to submit before the Supreme Court on Thursday, after a stern warning by the justices “demolish or restore” Taj Mahal, environmentalists and social activists in Agra on Wednesday released an alternative Peoples Vision Document for Agra and Mathura.

Shravan Kumar Singh and Surendra Sharma of the Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society told IANS “the official document is a collection of old ideas and recommendations, with a new flavour, drawn up by a team from New Delhi’sSchool of Planning and Architecture”.

But the official ‘vision’ lacks a soul and basic understanding of the ethos, the Braj culture and the composite Mughal perspective. “We have therefore after series of interactive sessions with all stake holders prepared an alternative vision document which has been sent to the apex court and other authorities,” he added.

The Taj Trapezium Zone, (10,400 sq km) is essentially the Sri Krishna land or Braj Mandal. Braj sanskriti is pastoral, agriculture based and centres around cattle conservation. On the western side, the Rajasthan desert touches the borders, on the southern side, the Deccan plateau ends, on the eastern side the Indo-Gangetic (Doaab region) and the northern periphery is influenced by the Himalayan range. Agra is thus placed in a very unique geographical terrain, influenced by the Aravali ranges and the desert, Sharma explained.

River activist Dr Devashish Bhattacharya said: “The high air pollution level is due to dust from the western Rajasthan desert, the dry Yamuna river bed, continuous construction activity, denudation of forest land, population explosion, alarming increase in the number of vehicles. Therefore, we have suggested that the
Taj Mahal and its critical ecological components: air, water and greenery, have to be preserved, promoted, restored, rejuvenated.”

The alternative Vision document suggests there should be uninterrupted flow of water in Yamuna round the year along with restoration of thousands of water bodies in the Braj area. “Better air quality, without pollutants, particularly SPM, calling for effective ban not only on polluting industries but also on vehicles, plus of course the green buffers to insulate TTZ from dry dust laden winds from the desert. It is extremely important and urgent to arrest the march of the desert from the west and to filter dust laden westerly winds through gaps in the Aravali ranges. Satellite maps show how illegal mining activity has destroyed the ecology of the Aravali hills.”

Also there is urgent need for developing Greenery all around, revival of dense forests/mangroves. Twelve forests (vans) are recorded in history: Within this 84 kos area of Braj Mandal there are about 133 vans (forests) including the 12 major forests, 12 up-vans, 12 prati-vans, 12 adhi-vans, 5 sevya-vans, 12 tapo-vans, 12 moksha-vans, 12 kama-vans, 12 artha-vans, 12 dharma-vans, 12 siddhi-vans. Most have now vanished falling prey to urban pressures.

The central thrust of the vision document is on securing recognition for Agra as a heritage city.

The chief reason why tourism has not become “everybody’s business” in Agra and not directly benefited the locals in an effective manner is the lack of heritage consciousness, said activist Ranjan Sharma.

A progressive farmer and environmentalist Ravi Singh said in the so-called modern Agra there is evidence of haphazard planning and irrational growth, but then those are not the heritage pieces one would like preserved.

We have to begin by demarcating the areas as Mughal Agra, the British Agra and the Agra Development Authority’s Agra. Only then can one go ahead with conserving the real heritage of the city of the Taj Mahal.

Ravi Singh said mixed land use will be detrimental to saving the Taj. The TTZ needs to be de-urbanised with counter magnets and an immediate complete ban on high rise structures in the vicinity of the monuments, as was suggested by Dr S Vardarajan committee.

Dr Anand Rai, ex-NASA scientist and social activist said “Restriction on registration of vehicles has become necessary. Automobiles are the chief source of air pollution. Only those who have garages or parking slots should be allowed to purchase four wheelers. High rise buildings in the vicinity of the monuments should not be allowed as these add to the urban pressure and cause ecological imbalance.”

Cultural activist Jyoti Vishal Jha said: “To promote local culture the document demands open air theatres and auditoriums, to promote local art, culture, music and folk dances. Kathak, Haveli Sangeet, Sufi sangeet, nautanki and various other genres need conservational efforts, including research. Local cuisine also needs promotional efforts.

The alternative Vision document blames “multiple authorities” for the mess and lack of direction. It has been one of the long standing demands of the TTZ that for speedy and scientific development, the central government should work out some institutional arrangement to ensure there were no conflicting perspectives and action plans. The document recommends that the central government take up TTZ’s development in its own hands, because it is India’s most sensitive eco zone.



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