The special issue of India Today dedicated to saving the Taj has had a positive effect on the local administration in Agra, which has been spurred into action, bringing out old Supreme Court orders prescribing protection guidelines for the 400-year-old monument.
As highlighted in the special issue, the Supreme Court orders of 2011 and 2015 have instructed the Agra administration to search for an alternative arrangement to cremate dead bodies instead of doing so at the over 500 years old crematorium in Taj Ganj, which is barely 50 meters away from the Taj and due to the high volume of bodies cremated every day, a major concern for environmentalists worried about the Taj Mahal’s safety.
On Tuesday, the local administration called a meeting of the city’s prominent citizens and social activists to discuss the shifting of the Taj Ganj crematorium to some other place which is suitable away from the Taj Mahal and does not endanger the monument’s marble surface. District Magistrate N G Ravi Kumar suggested moving the Taj Ganj crematorium to Poiya Ghat in Dayalbagh which is across the city and over 5 km away from the Taj Mahal.
This suggestion enraged the religious leaders and a number of them likened this to moving the ‘Sangam’ in Allahabad elsewhere in order to protect the Ganga. They claimed that the Taj Ganj crematorium has been there since even before the Taj Mahal was constructed and has an ancient temple of ‘Kaal Bhairav’ nearby that is considered to be the protector of the crematorium. They claimed that the crematorium’s location was connected to the Hindu faith and this was precisely the reason why people traveled from far off corners of the city to Taj Ganj for cremating their dead instead of going to their local crematorium.
Sensing the anger of the citizens, DM N G Ravikumar deferred the orders about shifting the crematorium and instructed his subordinates to ensure that more green cremation systems are installed at the crematorium, besides improving the facilities at the other major crematoriums in the city so that more and more people use them. He also ordered the addition of two more furnaces in the electric crematorium which is located about 500 meters away from the Taj.
He also formed a committee under the consulting architect of Agra Development Authority to prepare a special report on the city’s crematoriums immediately so that the necessary requirements for the upgradation of these crematoriums may be assessed.
Commenting on the District Magistrate’s earlier decision, Hindustani Biradari Vice-Chairman Vishal Sharma said that there needs to be a complete ban on all human activities within 100 meters from the Taj Mahal and that included the crematorium which uses a lot of wood for each cremation. The burning of wood generated a lot of pollutants including carbon and tar, all of which travel on the air currents and get deposited on the surface of the Taj Mahal. He said that there was a green cremation system installed at the Taj Ganj crematorium but it catered to only four bodies at a time while there were dozens of bodies being cremated in Taj Ganj every day. Till the time the crematorium was not shifted elsewhere, the citizens should either use the green cremation system or opt for the electric crematorium. Also, vehicular traffic on the road towards the Taj Ganj crematorium should be banned with immediate effect as the pollution generated by these vehicles was also a major cause of the yellowing of Taj Mahal’s marble.
However, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and other Hindu outfits are still enraged at the debate over the crematorium and have said that they can tolerate the Taj Mahal being shifted elsewhere but not the crematorium. Sunil Parashar, Vice President of State unit of VHP said that the Taj Mahal has given nothing but grief to the city. First, a Shiva temple was displaced to build the Taj Mahal in its place and now the sentiments of Hindus were again being attacked in the name of displacing the ancient crematorium that was there even before the Taj Mahal was built.
He said that if the government is against religious activities near the Taj Mahal, then it should also ban the Namaz that is conducted inside the Taj Mahal. He warned that the Hindus will not tolerate any more atrocities against them and will react violently, even to the extent of giving their lives in the protection of their religion.
Bhartiya Muslim Vikas Parishad chairman Sami Aghai ridiculed Parashar’s statement and said that if Hindu sentiments are connected to the crematorium, then Muslim sentiments are also connected to the mosque inside the Taj Mahal. Then why are Hindus so against the Muslims offering Namaz in the Taj?
With the Hindu and Muslim organizations jumping in the midst of all this debate over protecting the Taj Mahal from pollution, the issue appears to have taken a communal turn and if the matter remains unresolved, the Taj Mahal could become a major point of contention between the Hindus and Muslims of Agra very soon.