Tulsi for Taj nothing but a gimmick, say conservationists

By Brij Khandelwal, IANS,

Agra : Conservationists and environmentalists have questioned the official move to initiate large-scale cultivation of the tulsi plant in Agra, ostensibly to insulate the Taj Mahal from environmental pollution.

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Some allege it is nothing but a way to further commercial interests, with the company involved in the project being a tulsi exporter. The plant is widely known to have healing properties.

“Nothing wrong with planting the tulsi or any other species, greening of the landscape is always good. But to link it with the Taj Mahal and the pollution threat it faces is definitely a puerile attempt to hide the real motives,” says green activist Ravi Singh.

“The Taj can be saved only by tall trees which can filter the air,” Singh told IANS.

The Uttar Pradesh forest department, in collaboration with the Lucknow-based company Organic India, last month launched an initiative to plant hundreds of thousands of tulsi saplings, claiming it would bring down the pollution level in this city which boasts of many monuments.

The company said the tulsi plants would take care of refinery emissions. Incidentally the oil refinery closest to Agra is the one in Mathura, 50 km away.

But Subhash Jha, a development functionary here, says: “Since the company spokesperson has referred to refinery emission, it would have been better if they had first focused on Mathura and Vrindavan.”

Besides, the real sources of air pollution in Agra are the dry Yamuna river bed and the neighbouring Rajasthan desert from where tonnes of dust enter the Taj Trapezium Zone through gaps created by illegal mining in the Aravalli ranges which once stood as a natural barrier to prevent dust-laden westerly winds. Incidentally, mining in the entire mountain range was stopped from Thursday night under a court directive.

“It is the high SPM (suspended particulate matter) in the ambient air that is a major problem and needs to be addressed immediately for the safety of the Taj Mahal. For this, there should be enough water in the river Yamuna round the year, and dense plantation on the western periphery of the city,” eminent historian R. Nath told IANS.

A Supreme Court-appointed high-powered committee in consultation with the Nagpur-based National Environmental Engineering Research Institute had in the early 1990s submitted a list of trees to be planted to contain air pollution. The tulsi does not figure in that list.

The tulsi plants will be planted in forest department land all over Agra district, including the Taj Nature walk area, around 500 metres from the monument.

Senior journalist Rajeev Saxena says, “Nobody doubts the advantages of planting the tulsi shrub which has proven purifying powers, but to claim that it will be a saviour of the Taj Mahal, and use it as a ploy to rope in government agencies to further commercial interests may not be a very good idea.”

“It is highly objectionable the way groups of people and organisations keep using the Taj Mahal for all kinds of experiments and promotional gimmicks. Sometimes it is the famous Yanni show, then the wonders of the world campaign, followed by the mud pack treatment for the ageing monument,” says Surendra Sharma, president of the Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society.

“Now someone’s come up with a bright idea of planting hundreds of thousands of tulsi saplings all over. Why don’t they leave the Taj alone?”

(Brij Khandelwal can be contacted at [email protected])