Agra: The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has directed the Uttar Pradesh government to ensure that no unauthorised construction activities are permitted and no trees are cut in the Eco-sensitive zone near the Taj Mahal.
In its interim order, the NGT on Monday directed the Uttar Pradesh government to set the boundaries of the forest land and reserved forest areas in the 10,400 sq. km Taj Trapezium Zone in Agra, Mathura, and Firozabad districts.
The NGT was responding to the M.C. Mehta report on cutting of trees near the Taj Mahal and on forest land in Baburpur village’s Sikandra area.
M.C. Mehta, the commissioner appointed by the NGT, in his interim report said a preliminary survey suggested that there had been a “removal of forest area”.
The NGT said “The commissioner further submited that the area which has been affected by the deforestation is within 500 meters of the Taj Trapezium Zone, the green belt area created as directed by the Supreme Court of India, and adjacent villages which he visited.
“It is specifically mentioned in the report that builders have started raising huge constructions in these areas and even on the bank of river Yamuna.”
The NGT asked the state government to ensure that there was no cutting of trees or removal of any kind of greenery from the Taj Tapezium Zone.
NGT chairperson Justice Swatantra Kumar chided the Uttar Pradesh government for mis-managing Taj Mahal’s Eco-sensitive zone and allowing constructions in the Yamuna flood plains.
Environmentalists here welcomed the order and pressed for early action by district authorities to curb builders and colonizers who had grabbed huge chunks of Yamuna flood plains in Vrindavan, Mathura, and Agra.
The Braj Bachao Samiti in Mathura submitted a memorandum to the Mathura Vrindavan Development Authority to demolish all illegal buildings in the flood plain areas.
Even after a fortnight of monsoon rains, river Yamuna in Agra continues to remain dry, with heaps of polluted garbage providing breeding grounds for mosquitoes and bacteria. This time of the year, the river is usually in spate, recalls old timer Ganno Pandey. But “so far we see no water flowing down. Only the drains are bringing in lots of pollutants and polythenes,” Pandey adds.
The Taj Mahal and other historical monuments along Yamuna’s banks are now feeling the heat. Already green patches on the surface have appeared at the rear side of the Taj Mahal. Experts have said these are excreta of mosquitoes breeding in the polluted waters of the river.
Just before the April 18 polling in Agra, Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) President Amit Shah had categorically assured that the first task of the elected government would be cleaning of Yamuna and a barrage to hold back water behind the Taj Mahal.
Earlier, Nitin Gadkiri, the Union Minister for transport, has on umpteen occasions promised steamers would ferry tourists from Delhi to Agra. So far, one does not see any ground action. The CPCB has meanwhile decided to set up a unit in Agra to study pollution in Yamuna. The NGT in September 2018 had asked it to work on river cleaning programmes for 12 river basins.
The projects should include sewage management plan, industrial effluent management plan, solid waste and flood plain management plan and ecological flow and ground water management plan.
“Is there any scope for more studies when countless studies done already have proved Yamuna water is unfit for humans and animals. What is flowing down in Yamuna is waste, untreated water, sewer, industrial effluents, highly toxic and full of pollutants, from upstream cities including Delhi,” commented environmentalist Devashish Bhattacharya.
In Agra city alone, there are 90 drains opening into Yamuna. The municipal corporation claims it has tapped some 40. “But a close investigation proves the claim hollow. The bigger ones, Bhairon, Mantola, Balkeshwar ‘naalas’ continue to discharge huge quantities of untreated waste water without any check,” says green activist Shravan Kumar Singh.
The Yamuna river bed between Etmauddaula and the Taj Mahal has become a dumping ground for pollutants. Polythene, plastic waste, leather cuttings from shoe factories, construction material, are all thrown into the river.
Once the festival season starts, PoP idol immersion will further worsen the eco-conditions. People are being advised to avoid using PoP idols, and go for simple conventional ‘mitti ki murti’,” said Lok Swar president Rajiv Gupta.
The city is lucky to have escaped a major drinking water crisis as the Gangajal pipeline from Bulandhshahar district became operational just in time during peak summer.
“Right now, half the city’s needs are being met by the Sikandra Water Works which gets Gangajal through a 135km long pipeline. Half the water is going waste as the old Water Works at Jeoni Mandi is yet to be connected with the pipeline. We are getting 375 MLD from the Gangajal pipeline,” an official explained.
While the Gangajal pipeline may have solved the drinking water problem for the time being, the bigger question about dredging, desilting and cleaning of the river Yamuna considered vital for the historical monuments, remains unanswered.
“From 1990, politicians of all parties have been talking of a barrage on Yamuna downstream of the Taj Mahal. Twice, the foundation stones have been laid. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath himself has announced the barrage project in Agra would start soon. But so far there is only talk, more talk and assurances. Why they are dragging their feet on this important project, no explanation is coming forth,” Surendra Sharma, president of the Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society said. (IANS)