THE fight to protect the Taj Mahal and its iconic white façade from India’s overwhelming pollution is proving to be a mammoth task that may require outside help if the country wants to preserve its most recognisable landmark.
“If the Indian scientists and the (conservationists) can’t do the things, they should be able to contact foreign experts or conservationists, those who can come and they will be readily happy to help,” said lawyer MC Mehta, who has been fighting to save the Taj Mahal from pollution for three decades.
India’s Supreme Court has repeatedly slammed the government for not doing enough to stop the white-marble from turning yellow and green as the 17th century mausoleum weathers filthy air in the world’s eighth-most polluted city.
One of the seven Wonders of the World, the Taj Mahal flanks a garbage-strewn river and is often enveloped by dust and smog from belching smokestacks and vehicles in the northern city of Agra.
Tiny insects from the drying Yamuna River into which the city pours its sewage crawl into the Taj Mahal, their excrement further staining the marble, an environmental lawyer told India’s Supreme Court.
The dirt problem is not a new one – several times over the past two decades or so the palace’s white marble has been coated in a mud pack in an attempt to clean it – but there are fears the problem is worsening.
Its most recent mud bath began in January. Scaling the walls on scaffolds, workers plaster the surfaces with Fuller’s earth, a mud paste that absorbs dirt, grease, and animal excrement.
Activists are also concerned that the falling water table in Agra may be weakening the wooden foundations. Other worries include roads clogged with polluting vehicles and rampant construction around the mausoleum, which was built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as a mausoleum for his wife Mumtaz Mahal.
Behind Taj’s back, plastic bags and garbage pile up by the river as smoke billows from a chimney in the distance. Outside the Taj complex, a group of people gathered near a funeral pyre.
The change in colour has not come out of the blue. Environmentalists and historians have long warned about the risk of soot and fumes from factories and tanneries dulling the ivory monument.
For many Indians, living with air pollution is a harsh reality of everyday life. Many people have resorted to wearing surgical masks in the street, and cases of respiratory problems have increased in some towns.
According to a recent report from the World Health Organisation, India has 14 out of the 15 most polluted cities in the world.
Additional reporting by Reuters.