Agra: Dis-satisfied and frustrated with the official vision document drawn up by bureaucrats and selected interest groups, without roots in the ethos of the city and Braj Sanskriti or traditions, and understanding of the complex nature of the socio-economic reality, social activists and environmentalists of the area held a series of interactive session to draw up an alternative VISION DOCUMENT.
The Taj Trapezium Zone is essentially the Sri Krishna land or Braj Mandal. Braj Sanskriti is pastoral, agriculture-based and centers around cattle conservation. According to historical records, Braj extends from Bateshwar to Kosi or Kotvan and from Hathras to Bharatpur. Braj Bhasha is spoken in the vast rural hinterland and Hindustani in the urban areas.
Pollution and its chief causes in TTZ
The high air pollution level is due to dust from the western Rajasthan desert, dry Yamuna river bed, continuous construction activity, denudation of forest land, population explosion, alarmingly increase in the number of vehicles.
Taj Mahal and its critical ecological components: air, water, and greenery have to be preserved, promoted, restored, rejuvenated.
* Uninterrupted flow of water in the Yamuna round the year along with restoration of thousands of water bodies in Braj area
* Better air quality, without pollutants, particularly SPM, calling for an effective ban not only on polluting industries but also on vehicles
* Developing Greenery all around, a revival of dense forests/mangroves. 12 forests (vans) are recorded in history: Within this 84 kos area of Braj Mandal there are about 133 vans (forests) including the 12 major forests, 12 up-vans, 12 Prati-vans, 12 Adhi-vans, 5 Sevya-vans, 12 Tapo-vans, 12 moksha-vans, 12 Kama-vans, 12 Artha-vans, 12 dharma-vans, 12 Siddhi-vans. The vans are Agravan, Mahavan, Kamyavan, Madhuvana, Taalvana, Bhandirvana, Vrindavan, Bahulavana, Kamudavan, Khadiravana, Lohvana, Bhadravana, Kaamvan, Mahavan, Kokilavan, Kotvan etc.
These rejuvenated forests will arrest the march of the desert from the west and filter dust laden westerly winds through gaps in the Aravali ranges. Satellite maps show how illegal mining activity has destroyed the ecology of the Aravali hills.
A HERITAGE entity
The whole Braj area and Agra, in particular, have to be treated as a HERITAGE ENTITY.
AGRA, the city of the Taj Mahal and several other architectural wonders which attract more than ten million visitors from all parts of the globe annually, is unfortunately dying. The decadent city is urgently in need of focused attention to streamline civic amenities and overhaul its tourism infrastructure. When the Mughals ruled, Agra was a mega-metro, more developed than London and Paris, according to many European travel writers of the 17th century. The British looked after Agra with care. However, after independence, the city has been a victim of lobbying and consistent step-motherly treatment.
The residents feel "India's tourist destination number one has suffered as a result of poor political leadership. The city’s economic growth has remained stunted as a result of the pollution war. Promises of developing pollution-free industries including the IT sector have not been kept and the shrinking of opportunities is forcing young graduates to migrate to Delhi and other parts of India. Without adequate economic activities, the city might in future be reduced to a backwater region peopled by retired senior citizens, and the lonely aged couples left to fend for themselves.
The alternative VISION DOCUMENT prepared after intense interactions with all stakeholders wants the original glory of the city restored and a qualitatively better life for the citizens of Agra. It advises political parties to focus their attention on the following points:
Why HERITAGE CITY STATUS FOR AGRA
Agra deserves to be recognized as a Heritage City. Its pristine grandeur as a historical city with valuable priceless architectural assets has to be restored. The mad race for spurious development reflected through expressways and flyovers has distorted the perspective of the planners. Agra need not be a modern city with metro networks and Ferris wheel. Rather its rich cultural heritage should be passionately preserved.
Demands have been made so often for granting heritage status to Agra, which is home to three World Heritage monuments - the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri - and several other historical structures. This will protect and conserve historical buildings, old havelis, structures, water bodies, forests and even the oriental markets in the old city.
Conservationists and local tourism organizations have supported the demand, but the union government "has not shown any interest" in pursuing the issue to its logical end for whatever reasons.
In 2007, the union tourism ministry told the Supreme Court that Agra could not be granted heritage city status because it lacked basic infrastructure, and sought time to develop amenities. But till date, the city does not have regular air connectivity, streamlined roads, adequate security arrangements for visitors and other related facilities.
Travel writers like Lucy Peck have suggested starting Heritage Walks through the interiors of the city to acquaint the foreign visitors with the live heritage, the life, and vocations of the locals.
Several international bodies including the UNESCO have supported projects to restore the old glory of the Taj city.
A World Bank team visited several sites and interacted with officials to explore how the city's heritage could be promoted and preserved. A few projects have been short-listed.
A city so rich in culture and architecture, where every street has a historical building should be recognized as a heritage city and the union ministry should draw up plans to remove encroachments around tourist sites.
The chief reason why tourism has not become "everybody's business" in Agra and not directly benefited the locals in an effective manner, is the lack of heritage consciousness.
The city is neither tourist-friendly nor do its residents feel a sense of pride in its history and culture. The builders' lobby in Agra does not favor heritage city status for the city as they fear new constructions would not be permitted.
Still, Agra is India's number one tourist center but continues to lag dismally in modernizing its urban base and developing a comfortable ambiance for promoting culture and tourism.
The city hasn't changed much if one takes into account a ghazal written in 1723 by Lakshmi Chandra, who describes in great detail the roads and the localities of Agra - from Agra Fort to Charsu Darwaza and beyond to Lashkarpur - which was then the tent ground for the Mughal army.
Agra, some historians say, was founded in 1504. Even today the city retains the original names and functions of various places also remain largely the same.
Yes, in the so-called modern Agra there is evidence of haphazard planning and irrational growth, but then those are not the heritage pieces one would like preserved.
We have to begin by demarcating the areas as Mughal Agra, the British Agra, and the Agra Development Authority's Agra. Only then can one go ahead with conserving the real heritage of the city of the Taj Mahal. And those who think people and their workplaces need to be demolished to make way for modern malls or parking slots are only hurting the spirit of conservation.
Were emperor Akbar to rise from his grave in Sikandra someday, he would have no difficulty reaching Agra Fort without asking for directions. "The road plans have not changed, the landmarks are all there.
Eminent Mughal historian R. Nath said the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is not doing enough to sincerely conserve monuments according to the manual laid down by John Marshall, who was the ASI chief during 1902-1928 and was responsible for the discovery of Harappa and Mohenjodaro, the two main cities of the Indus Valley Civilisation.
Mixed land use will be detrimental to saving the Taj and the TTZ needs to be de-urbanized with counter magnets and an immediate complete ban on the high rise within 20 Km of Taj. If you continue with mixed land use planning you will end up with more Bazaar Streets and more vehicular pollution.
All the existing land between the Agra inner ring road and the city needs to zoned permanently for farming & forest and nothing else. Another 20 kilometers on the outside needs to be also zoned as a permanent green farming and forest zone. This collectively will constitute a permanent greenbelt. The ring road needs to be forested for five hundred meters on both sides.
The leather park proposals should also be scrapped.
The city should be declared a 'Heritage City' and the inner city urban issues need to be focused on by the Government and Citizens. The Heritage City will create Green employment. The Development Authority can focus on bringing into shape the Masterplan and Zonal Parks which have already been designated.
To save the Yamuna a green buffer/ non-development beyond the HFL/ Floodplain of 1 KM in the city and five Kilometres elsewhere is the starting point to save the River.
The major cause of pollution on Taj is the lack of a permanent greenbelt line, the 20KM envisioned by the Vardharajan Report.
Obstructing public transport like shared Autos from MG Road has shifted the pollution matrix to Yamuna Kinara, creating traffic Jams there and within the city etc where the vehicle pollution easily exceeds that emitted by the closed foundries etc.
Vardharajan also focused on public transport using the existing inner city rail network.
To sum up Vardharajan said it all but his report was implemented selectively and district of Agra has reached its environmental carrying capacity.
WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE
First, recognize Agra as a heritage city. In fact, the whole Braj Mandal from Bateshwar to Kosi has to be preserved as a heritage zone.
The haphazard growth of urban clusters not compatible with the heritage should be stopped.
Encroachments around monuments have to be permanently demolished.
Pointless construction activity should immediately stop. Buildings in forest areas must be demolished.
Restriction on registration of vehicles has become necessary. Automobiles are the chief source of air pollution. Those who have garages or parking slots should be allowed to purchase four-wheelers.
High rise buildings in the vicinity of the monuments should not be allowed as these add to the urban pressure and cause ecological imbalance.
The city must have its own international airport. This issue has been hanging fire because of intense lobbying by various interest groups including the Delhi lobby of tourism and travel leaders. Air connectivity with major international destinations and important cities in India should be the first priority. Unfortunately, the present ruling dispensation has been dragging its feet on this all-important issue.
The Yamuna and its tributaries: Braj Mandal’s life-line is dying. We need water not only for drinking and consumption but also to ensure good health of the Taj Mahal. A dry river bed is a constant threat to its survival. The SPM level is constantly rising because of the dust from the dry river.
Keitham Lake: Agra has one of the biggest lakes along the Delhi highway, but because of poor maintenance, cleanliness, and lack of water supply, we are not able to take advantage of this natural scenic spot, which could be used for both tourism promotion as well as adventure sports. The Mathura Oil Refinery has been pumping away all its supply without paying any attention to its upkeep. The state government should be asked to develop the lake and ensure it remains full of water.
Agra Roads: The city is eternally jammed with traffic chaos obstructing vehicular movement within the city. Tourist vehicles are stranded for hours in traffic jams. A scientific road management system has to be put in place along with widening of the roads and demolishing encroachments.
Traffic and civic management
Some commonsensical measures like the following could be tried:
- Geometric redesigning of important crossings, continuous pavement/footpath, encouraging bicycle-riding with a marked lane on important roads, big city buses must be replaced by smaller ones.
- Cleaning river bed, a common nullah along the riverside, riverfront, water sports,
- Ropeway between Taj/Fort and Etmadudaula.
- Need for enhancing the capacity of current STPs, introducing newer tech.
- Strict laws should be enacted for water harvesting and control over misuse of groundwater.
- Zero garbage-city by strict segregation at source/recycling. No temporary dumps in the city. Look for scientific ways to eliminate the huge dump at landfill sites.
- Carpet (weaving), assembly of different electronic/households, tourism (med), IT and higher education/research hub should be promoted.
- Petha industry should be shifted and provided with subsidized uninterrupted gas supply.
Water-logging, choked drains, dirt, and squalor, overflowing sewer lines: Agra has often been described as the dirtiest city in the world. The Agra Municipal Corporation has proved unequal to the challenge of rising mounds of dirt. The city does not have a scientific waste disposal plan and the facilities for regular cleanliness are non-existent. An Action Plan to clean up the city on a war footing and maintaining the tempo of cleanliness subsequently is urgently required through institutional arrangements supported by adequate funding.
Power supply: Even though the Supreme Court of India had directed the state government to ensure uninterrupted 24x7 power supply to the Taj Trapezium Zone, spread over 10,000 sq km, the goal is yet to be achieved. Erratic power supply, frequent voltage fluctuations, and inadequate capacity have led to a situation when the use of diesel generators has become an inevitable necessity in the vast rural hinterland. A gas-based power plant for Agra is a long pending demand which needs to be addressed urgently. The Gas Authority of India Ltd already has an extensive pipeline network feeding the local industries. The same could be used for running a power plant for the city.
Local transport connectivity: The city lacks a proper local bus transport system. The connectivity being poor between different tourist places, tourists are fleeced and cheated by tempo and taxi operators. Decent air-conditioned buses should be available for the tourists to enable them to visit all the tourist spots. Locals should also benefit from a regular and streamlined transport system which should be pollution-free, comfortable and affordable.
Tourism projects: half a dozen important tourism-related projects are in a limbo. No one knows their fate. Ad-hocism has seriously affected the tourism sector which has not achieved its optimum level. Government agencies pay no heed to the demands from the local tourism bodies. It is, therefore, necessary that all sectors which are involved in tourism and travel business are involved in drawing up a comprehensive promotional strategy to make the city tourist-friendly and accelerate the growth of this industry in the interest of the country.
Test matches and ODIs in Agra: Sports lovers of Agra have been a long demanding holding of test matches and ODIs in Agra, but interest groups have been sabotaging action on this. Foreign teams and their fans always want to see the Taj Mahal and other monuments. The city is well connected and has a highly developed hospitality industry. The BCCI should be asked to hold matches in Agra to promote sports tourism.
CULTURE PROMOTION: Open-air theatres, auditoriums, to promote local art, culture, music, folk dances are needed. Kathak, Haveli Sangeet, Sufi sangeet, nautanki and various other genres need conservational efforts, including research. Local cuisine needs promotional efforts. For promoting Braj culture, a Doordarshan studio/production center is necessary. Grand memorials to Mirza Ghalib, Meer, Nazeer Akbarabadi, Soor Das, Tansen, Raskhan, and others should be built.
Multiple sets of authorities: It has been one of the long-standing demands of TTZ that for speedy and scientific development, the Central government should work out some institutional arrangement to ensure there were no conflicting perspectives and action plans. Right now we have the Mission Management Board, the Taj Trapezium Zone coordination committee, the central and the state pollution control boards, the Nagar Nigam and the Agra Development Authority, the MVDA, the Braj Teerth Development Board, each with its own set of priorities and levels of accountability. The Central Government should take up TTZ’s development in its own hands because it is India’s most sensitive ecozone.