India’s iconic Taj Mahal has been threatened in recent weeks by insect poo – environmentalists say that bugs from the polluted Yamuna river nearby are invading the monument, leaving greenish-black patches of waste on its pristine white marble walls. Over the years, the 17th Century monument has been threatened by pollution, unabashed construction, a crematorium and even bombs.
India’s Supreme Court has criticised the government for what it calls a “failure” to protect the Taj Mahal. The court said both the federal and state government had shown “lethargy” in taking steps to tackle the monument’s deteriorating condition.
The court’s comments came in response to a petition citing concerns about the impact of pollution on the 17th Century monument. The Taj Mahal is one of the world’s leading tourist attractions. It draws as many as 70,000 people every day.
In May this year, the court had already instructed the government to seek foreign help to fix the “worrying change in color” of the marble structure. The court had said then, that the famous tomb, built from white marble and other materials, had turned yellow and was now turning brown and green.
An invasion of the insect called Chironomus Calligraphus (Geoldichironomus) is turning the Taj Mahal green, says environmental activist DK Joshi. Joshi has filed a petition in the National Green Tribunal – a special tribunal set up by the government to deal with environmental disputes – saying that the “explosive breeding” of the pests in the polluted Yamuna river is marring the beauty of the monument.
“Fifty-two drains are pouring waste directly into the river and just behind the monument, Yamuna has become so stagnant that fish that earlier kept insect populations in check are dying. This allows pests to proliferate in the river,” Mr Joshi told the BBC by phone from the northern city of Agra where the Taj is located.
The stains the bugs leave on the marble are washable and workers from the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) have been trying to scrub the walls clean, but Mr Joshi says frequent scrubbing can take the sheen off the marble. He says the problem has a simple solution – just clean up the Yamuna.
Built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as a mausoleum for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died in childbirth, Taj Mahal is often described as one of the wonders of the world. It is also India’s biggest tourist attraction, visited by heads of states, celebrities and millions of Indian and foreign tourists every year. But pollution from the industries in Agra and a nearby oil refinery have seen the white marble yellowing over the years.
To restore the monument’s beauty, the ASI has been applying “mud packs” on its walls to draw out the pollutants.
Pollution, construction and insect dung are said to be among the causes. The government told the court that a special committee had been set up to suggest measures to prevent pollution in and around the monument.
It has already shut down thousands of factories near the monument, but activists say the white marble is still losing lustre. Sewage in the Yamuna River, which runs alongside the monument, also attracts insects which excrete waste on to its walls, staining them.