Can the Taj Mahal take in so much crowd?

By Brij Khandelwal, IANS,

Agra : Conservationists have expressed concern over the decision to allow free entry to the Taj Mahal for three days from July 19 when the annual Urs pilgrimage of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan starts.

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“The ‘carrying capacity’ of the monument, which has exercised both the experts in the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and the Supreme Court in the past few years, is not a laughing matter,” said Surendra Sharma, president of the Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society.

Historian R. Nath has also expressed concern about the safety of the monument from increasing human load.

In the last 10 days, the Taj Mahal has seen tremendous overcrowding by Muslim pilgrims returning from a shrine in Ajmer. “Against a handful earlier, this Friday saw thousands entering the Taj Mahal free to offer ‘namaz’ and have a free tour of the monument,” a guide said.

Since the administration made no arrangements for the pilgrim-tourists, the whole area around the heritage monument was littered. “If you do not provide facilities, what do you expect?” asked an emporium owner at the eastern gate of the Taj Mahal.

“The issue of carrying capacity of the Taj Mahal or just any monument has to be sorted out in the long-term interest of these buildings. On some days, the number of visitors at the Taj crosses 20,000. This obviously stresses the monument in several ways including raising the level of noxious gases,” environmentalist Ravi Singh told IANS.

“The day is not too far when the apex court will have to impose a ban or restrict entry beyond a certain number. To ease pressure, online booking and advance booking of tickets need to be started,” he added.

According to conservationist V.P. Singh, the movement of heavy traffic including thousands of buses and trucks daily between the Agra Fort and the Taj Mahal — both World Heritage monuments — needs to be restricted or banned as has been suggested time and again.

The Taj was given a holiday from tourists every Friday to provide breathing time and for maintenance work after the apex court accepted the recommendations of the high-powered S. Varadarajan Committee, but now even on Fridays the number of visitors is increasing.

Initially, residents of nearby Taj Ganj were supposed to offer namaz at the mosque within the Taj complex every Friday. But last Friday, hundreds of people from other areas also entered the Taj for prayers, according to a guide.

Till about two decades ago, there were just a few people who visited the Taj Mahal to pray on the annual Urs of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. But now not only has the number of participants gone up but the size of the ‘chadar’ that is offered by devotees has also increased to 300 feet.

Celebrations go on for three days, thanks to the competitive fervour displayed by various Urs committees. They organise qawwalis, free distribution of sweets and a procession with the ceremonial chadar.

As a precautionary measure, the celebration committee of the Urs – with representatives from the ASI, the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), district bodies and various Muslim organisations – has decided this year that the banners will not have any identification marks, the procession with drums and bands will stop in the forecourt.

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