Introduction: Concerns over Taj Mahal’s Deterioration
New Delhi: As the new tourist season begins in Agra, an alarming issue has once again come to the forefront – the increasing growth of insect and bacterial colonies on the iconic white marble surface of the Taj Mahal. This 17th-century masterpiece of architecture, designated as a world heritage site, continues to grapple with environmental challenges, primarily due to the decline of the Yamuna River. The issue not only affects the visual appeal of this historic monument but also raises concerns about its long-term preservation.
Insect Colonies and Pollution: A Troubling Nexus
The dry and polluted riverbed of the Yamuna has provided an ideal environment for the proliferation of mosquitoes, insects, and bacteria that settle on the surface of the Taj Mahal, especially the side facing the river. Despite periodic cleaning efforts by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) staff, the issue continues to resurface, leaving green patches and unpleasant odors in its wake. This problem has persisted for several years and showcases the challenges associated with maintaining this architectural wonder.
Environmental Challenges: The Role of the Yamuna River
The decline of the Yamuna River plays a significant role in this ongoing issue. The riverbed’s dry and polluted state creates breeding grounds for insects and bacteria, making it extremely challenging to combat the problem effectively. Even though the National Green Tribunal (NGT) had instructed local authorities to clean the breeding grounds on the Yamuna Riverbed, they have struggled to implement this directive effectively. The river’s dry and heavily polluted condition, filled with effluents, sewer waste, and toxins, has hindered cleanup efforts. It raises the crucial question: how can this issue be managed without a regular flow of fresh water in the river?
Lack of Action and Promises Unfulfilled
Agra and its residents continue to express their frustration with the government’s apathetic response to cleaning the Yamuna River, which requires immediate desilting and dredging. Promises made by political leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Minister Nitin Gadkari, to clean the Yamuna have largely gone unfulfilled. The river, once a lifeline of the region, now resembles a vast sewage canal. The need for coordinated action and accountability is paramount in addressing the growing crisis.
The Ailing Yamuna River: Environmental Consequences
The Yamuna River, particularly as it enters the Braj Mandal upstream of Vrindavan, has already been suffering from industrial effluents and waste from Delhi and Haryana industrial clusters. The situation is dire, with the Gokul Barrage in Mathura storing only polluted water, largely due to untreated discharges of waste into the river. The river’s health continues to deteriorate as drains remain untapped and discharges remain untreated before entering the Yamuna.
The Need for Desilting and Dredging
Addressing the deteriorating state of the Yamuna River requires a multifaceted approach. Beyond the immediate need for desilting and dredging on a massive scale, there is a critical need for a mechanism to ensure the regular flow of fresh water from upstream barrages. To maintain a minimum level of flow, as repeatedly stressed by the National Green Tribunal and the Supreme Court of India, regulatory bodies and state governments must take responsibility to ensure a consistent flow of fresh water downstream of barrages in Haryana.
Failed Efforts and Demands for a National Rivers Policy
The poor flow of water, particularly during the extended dry season that now lasts up to eight months a year, continues to impede the cleaning of the Yamuna River. The National Green Tribunal and the Supreme Court have emphasized maintaining a minimum flow to preserve aquatic life and facilitate cleaning. Despite these directives, state governments and regulatory bodies have failed to secure an uninterrupted flow of fresh water.
The Parliamentary Committee’s Call for Urgent Action
A parliamentary committee acknowledged the issues arising from the inadequate flow of water downstream of Wazirabad in Delhi, emphasizing that both the Central and Delhi governments must collaborate closely to clean the Yamuna. The illegal discharge of sewage and industrial effluents, the improper handling of solid waste in drains, malfunctioning common effluent treatment plants, and insufficient sewage treatment capacity all contribute to the crisis.
A Clear National Rivers Policy: The Need of the Hour
To ensure the Yamuna’s health and ecosystem, experts and campaigners for clean rivers urge the government to establish a national rivers policy. Such a policy would define the environmental flow (e-flow) quantity for the Yamuna, aligning with the model applied to the Ganges River. This approach is seen as essential to safeguarding the life and heritage associated with the river.
Conclusion: A Call for Action and Accountability
Agra’s river activists, environmentalists, and concerned citizens are demanding a well-defined national rivers policy and a time-bound action plan to revive the ailing Yamuna River. The decline of the Yamuna not only affects the city’s historical and cultural heritage but also poses a significant challenge to the tourism industry in the Agra region. As iconic Mughal monuments along the riverbanks suffer, the urgency for immediate action becomes increasingly clear. The promise of a clean and thriving Yamuna must be fulfilled, and the responsibility lies with all stakeholders to ensure the river’s resurgence.