The ‘Taj Mahal’ is a monument of international reputation. It not only signifies the advancement of the architecture of that period but also the engineering behind the marvellous ivory-white marble monument. However, the beauty of Taj was under the threat owing to the rise in air pollution. In the year 1985, the Central Pollution Control Board reported that the emission of sulphur dioxide from various refineries, brick-kilns and vehicles, along with unceasing acid rains were the prime factors in the deterioration of the monument. The report on the Mathura Refinery which was prepared way back in the late 1970s also highlighted the adverse effects of the pollution in the area.
The zone surrounding the monument up to an estimated area of 10,400 sq.km. is said to be the Taj Trapezium Zone (TTZ). In the year 1993, the Honorable Supreme Court of India gave a series of orders to the Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board to investigate further into the matter. The board prepared the list of prime pollutants of the region. In the year 1994, the findings revealed that there were approximately 500 industries causing pollution in the Taj Trapezium Zone. It further suggested the relocation of the polluting industries. The industries located outside the TTZ which were causing pollution were recommended to be relocated as well.
In the year 1996, the division bench made their final judgment regarding the protection of the TTZ from the pollution. There were suggestions to replace the use of coke and coal with natural gas in the industries and otherwise be relocated. Around 300 industries were relocated on the aforementioned ground. In March of 2018, there was a stay put on all the construction activities in the Taj Trapezium Zone.
Two weeks ago, the centre had asked for the respond of environmentalist M C Mehta. This was regarding the permission to be granted by the Centre to the civil enclave being built near the Agra Airport which also forms a part of the said zone. The Ministry of Environment and Forests had too expressed their willingness to grant the permission of the said construction project. The permission was granted by the Ministry because no wildlife sanctuaries were being affected by the construction of the project mentioned earlier.
The new order by the three-judge bench, which was headed by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde, allow the basic amenities and non-polluting activities but with the prior permission from the committee appointed by the court at the centre to deal with the said matter. This shall also enable the state government as well as the other authorities under any statute to provide the necessary public facilities such as the treatment of bio-medical waste along with the proper drainage systems to be constructed. The bench has said that, while drafting the order, they were of the collective opinion that the need for any obstruction for granting necessary clearance of the same is not required. To these amenities, the citizens of the Taj Trapezium Zone have equal right as utilized by the rest of the country. And ironically, the halt over the construction of the said basic amenities services has itself given birth to pollutants and wastes, posing an even bigger threat to the environment.
The bench also said that the establishment of small, micro and macro-sized units are themselves eco-friendly and non-polluting rather than causing pollution. They have the statutory clearance from authorities such as NEERI and Central Empowered Committee established within the zone. Because the state has already complied with the orders of 1996 and then of 2018, there need not be any restriction on the clearance of projects that are the basic amenities for the state.
The Supreme Court has lifted the interim order of March 2018 regarding the clearance of construction of projects that amount as the basic amenities. These projects won’t require any statutory authority formed under the state for the small, micro and macro industries. However, there shall be a prohibition regarding the clearance to the shifting of the heavy industries. This will further depend upon the apex court to decide after the submission of the Vision Report by the state government.