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The white marble complex is undoubtedly India’s most-recognizable monument, inevitably featuring in the itinerary of most tourists and visiting heads of state (with the exception of U.S. President Barack Obama.)
It is understandable, then, that when the Daily Mail, the British tabloid, reported last week that the Taj Mahal risked collapsing, panic ensued.
But is there really reason to worry?
The alarm bells were first raised by Ramshankar Katheria, Agra MP for the opposition
Bharatiya Janata Party. If he is to be believed, the monument built by Emperor Shah Jahan
for his wife Mumtaz could collapse within three to five years. It’s not just the future of the
monument that is at stake but that of India as a whole, Mr. Katheria told India Real Time in a
recent interview. “India’s pride is in grave danger,” he said.
Mr. Katheria says the wooden foundations of the Mughal-era mausoleum, buried deep within the river Yamuna, are decaying due to the river’s receding water level. “The foundation is such that the water flow strengthens its hold to shoulder the monument,” he explained. “Not only are wooden planks loosening but ( they) are also rotting due to lack of moisture in their surface,” he added.
He is the pioneer of the “Taj Bachao Sang,” or “Save the Taj Together” campaign, an initiative launched last year to protect the memorial. The campaign’s team, which includes historians and archeologists, also allege that cracks have emerged on the monument’s surface and that several minarets are showing signs of tilting.
“Our conclusions are based on a systematic year-long research,” said the MP.
This is an issue Mr. Katheria has discussed with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Pratibha Patil. “Promises were made during these meetings but not
followed by tangible results from their end,” he said. “Our only request is that a strict enquiry is issued into the matter. Is that too much to ask for?”
Spokesmen for the Prime Minister were not immediately reachable for comment.
WORD FROM OTHER EXPERTS.....
Other experts, however, disagree with Mr. Katheria’s assessment. The Archaeological Survey of India, the state-run agency in charge of preserving the monument, slammed these claims. “These are shameless publicity stunts deployed to attract media attention,” a senior ASI official based in Agra told India Real Time. He said this was a “pointless alarm” and the issue of the foundations was being “over exaggerated.” The official said that, following media reports, an ASI team of engineers and archaeologists went to examine the site and that “no major threat was detected.” He said the ASI “is undertaking all necessary measures to safeguard the Taj Mahal.”
A spokesman for Mr. Katheria said that his Taj Mahal campaign is in the broader national interest and that there is “no political agenda” behind it. He declined to comment on whether Mr. Katheria plans to run for upcoming elections in his home state of Uttar Pradesh, slated for 2012.
Ruknuddin Mirza, a conservation archeologist at the Indian National Trust For Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), also questioned Mr. Katheria’s alarmism. “Though it is of utmost importance to investigate these allegations, time and again ASI has substantiated their worth in preserving cultural heritage” he said.
This is not the first time the Taj Mahal has fallen prey to controversy. In the early 1980s, activistMahesh Chander Mehta said pollution was damaging the white marble structure. It took around a decade before authorities backed his claims, with the Supreme Court ordering factories in and around Agra to be shut down.