By Brij Khandelwal
Agra : With Mayawati back as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, will she complete her dream project – the ambitious but controversial Taj Corridor that was to house a shopping mall close to the magnificent Taj Mahal?
Today, the 'corridor' is a huge heap of mud and rubbish that is being used as a graveyard to bury dead children and for depositing animal carcasses – a source of pollution for the Yamuna that flows behind the Taj.
The Rs.1.75 million Taj Corridor project was to come up between two heritage monuments, the Taj and Agra Fort, along the river Yamuna, on a platform raised from scooped silt of the river.
According to the company assigned the task, there was a plan to construct an amusement park, malls, commercial shops, and walkways through dense wilderness to allow tourists take a leisurely stroll in moonlit nights.
The corridor was to begin right from Khan-e-Alam, close to the Taj Mahal, and end two kilometres towards the city behind Agra Fort. It was to be extended later to allow tourists to reach Etmauddaula and Ram Bagh on the other side of the river.
For three months, hundreds of tractors, earthmovers and machines worked round the clock to dig out silt and deposit it on the riverbank to create a new platform, which was laid with Rajasthani stones.
But after a hue and cry from conservationists that the corridor would endanger the monument and allegations of large-scale corruption in the project, the central government suspended it in 2003.
The Supreme Court is seized of the matter and a ban on new construction at the site remains in force even as the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is probing the case. Mayawati is a key accused in the alleged corruption scandal.
A supporter of Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in Agra believes that the chief minister will accord top priority to complete the project to prove her point that Agra badly needs a corridor for tourism promotion.
But those in the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) doubt if the Supreme Court would allow anyone to even come close to reopening the chapter, least of all start construction at the site again.
"The case is already under the scanner of the apex court," said a source in ASI. Interestingly, there have been no serious objections to the corridor from ASI, which oversees all ancient monuments in India.
The Supreme Court has directed a trial court in Lucknow to take up the case.
There is intense speculation, however, that the central government could go soft on Mayawati vis-Ã -vis the corruption charges hurled against her in return for her support to the ruling coalition's presidential candidate.
The picture is further confused by the Supreme Court's last order, which did not direct the concerned authorities to dismantle the corridor project but called for greening it.
Some people in Agra still feel the project was a victim of politics.
"The previous NDA (National Democratic Alliance) government used it as an excuse to settle scores with Mayawati in 2003," alleged Dalit activist Netra Pal Singh.
Some say the project could genuinely boost tourism, as it was envisaged to be located between the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort, both heritage monuments.
"It might even help save the dying river Yamuna once people start coming to the lush green lawns of the corridor. A rethinking with an open mind is called for," said environmental activist Rajan Kishore.