Since sobriety is synonymous with judicial conduct, it had to be a truly outrageous situation that provoked the Supreme Court of India into losing its cool and taking both the Central and UP governments to severe task for their apathy towards the conservation of the Taj Mahal. Though the court and the government have had their differences in the past, it would not be easy recall a precedent of the extreme anguish displayed by Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta that ought to cause the authorities considerable shame.
For unless there is validity to the oft-denied sub text that the monument is out of favour because of its Islamic connections, none can imagine a reason for what their Lordships slammed as “apathy” and “lethargy” towards one of the most admired structures on the planet that has exerted its magnetic appeal on celebrities from across the world. Not for nothing did Atal Bihari Vajpayee opt to try and make peace with Pakistan in the shade of the marble magnificence of Shahjehan’s monument to love. Obviously the symbolism to which the first NDA prime minister accorded so much value has not registered with NDA-II. Or does its bid to write history afresh include blacking out the Agra summit?
Teaching history lessons are not within the writ of the apex court, yet the observations of the bench will go down in history as one of the most articulate and impassioned pleas for heritage conservation of all times. “You can shut down the Taj, you can demolish it if you like, and you can do away with it if you have already decided,” the court thundered. “Uttar Pradesh government is not bothered. No action plan or vision document has come yet. Either you demolish it or you restore it”, said the court, clearly irked by the lack of concern for the UNESCO-hailed World Heritage Site. The court also drew a parallel with the Eiffel Tower and wondered how the tourism potential of the monument could be so easily ignored.
The court has been monitoring thed ecay of the monument that has lost its pristine “whiteness” as a result of unchecked pollution. At a previous hearing it had said international expertise could be harnessed for the restoration endeavour.
When counsel for the authorities said a vision document was being prepared the court shot back, “will the vision document come when the Taj is demolished?
India has always taken immense pride in its judicial system and the cherished traditions it preserves. It is constantly pointed out that even Ajmal Kasab, the terrorist taken alive during the Mumbai massacre, was given a fair trial.
A pity that the same cannot be said in respect of the Taj Mahal, and the other riches of the trapezium.