A park between Yamuna and Taj is eyesore to conservationists

By Brij Khandelwal, IANS,

Agra : Years ago, the Yamuna waters would lap gently against the base of the Taj Mahal. But an artificial park developed between the river and the Taj can endanger the 17th century monument as its foundation requires moisture, say worried conservationists.

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The artificial park developed some years ago got inundated in the recent floods, but is now being restored again, raising eyebrows among historians and conservationists. However, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) feels they are getting unnecessarily alarmed.

The park was never a part of the original design or landscape of the monument. It was raised some years ago by K.K. Mohammed, the then ASI boss in Agra, without seeking clearance from any authority or specialised agency.

The Taj and the Yamuna river were integrally linked in the original design.

Past records, photos and documents show the river flowing close by, even touching the rear wall of the structure. Most conservationists agree that the river should touch the foundation on which the Taj Mahal stands.

“In the original design there was no park. The royal family members used to come to the Taj Mahal in boats and enter the monument from the rear gates. This new addition will definitely stress the monument in unexpected ways,” said R.C. Sharma, former head of the history department at St John’s College.

“Against a body of historical facts, documentation and ASI manuals, how can anyone with some common sense suggest developing an artificial park, knowing fully well the requirement of moisture for the foundation of the Taj Mahal, which rests on wells and timber planks?” Sharma told IANS.

However, when IANS asked ASI chief in Agra Indudhar Dwivedi to confirm, he retorted, “it’s a stupid question to ask,” and banged the phone.

The ASI office in Agra said the park was developed to beautify the area which had turned into a dumping yard of garbage and litter. But Mughal historian R. Nath feels it can endanger the 17th century monument.

“The park has all the potential to endanger the monument. The Yamuna river has been pushed a good distance away, at least 50 metres, which is not desirable,” Nath, who has now shifted to Ajmer from Agra, said over phone.

Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society president Surendra Sharma said: “In the original Taj plan, as is clear from old photographs and the 45 odd maps and designs of the Taj Mahal prepared in 1942, the river is seen touching the rear wall. In fact, two gates leading to the staircases were used by the Mughals to climb up the Taj from boats.”

“Instead of clearing the debris and bringing the river back to its original route, what they have done is a huge cover-up that violates a directive of the Supreme Court that there should be no tampering with the physical settings in and around the Taj Mahal,” Surendra Sharma said.

Retired ASI staffers admit that long back there used to be a bathing ghat and special entry points for royal family members. In the course of time, the patch became a big dumping ground for garbage, and the ASI, therefore, chose to develop the park.

Historical evidence reminds that Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan selected this particular location for building the Taj Mahal because of the huge water body in the background. But now a big barrier has been created between the river and the Taj.

“They are playing with the Taj Mahal. It is not conservation,” Nath said.

But the ASI officials feel an unnecessary alarm is being raised.

“We have no basis to suggest that the river should flow touching the foundation of the edifice,” an official argued.

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