The Supreme Court on January 30 allowed felling of 17 trees in the Taj Trapezium Zone (TTZ) in Agra for construction of an overbridge over railway tracks for smooth traffic, if mandatory compensatory afforestation is undertaken. The apex court has been hearing a PIL of environmentalist M C Mehta filed in 1984 on preservation of Taj Mahal and its surroundings and has been monitoring activities to ensure that no damage is done to the monument and flora and fauna in the TTZ.
TTZ is an area of about 10,400 sq km spread over the districts of Agra, Firozabad, Mathura, Hathras and Etah in Uttar Pradesh and Bharatpur district of Rajasthan.
A bench comprising Chief Justice S A Bobde and Justices B R Gavai and Surya Kant allowed felling of trees and asked the authorities to comply with directions of the apex court-mandated CEC (Central Empowered Committee).
The directions include that the authorities will have to undertake mandatory 10 times more compensatory afforestation for felling trees to construct the overbridge on railway tracks.
The felling of trees for the project shall be limited to the bare minimum number which is absolutely unavoidable, the bench said, adding that the saplings will have to be nurtured properly.
The bench also took note of an another plea seeking a direction to the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) to start online sale of tickets for night viewing of the Taj Mahal.
It granted four weeks' time for the ASI to respond to the plea which said that presently the night-viewing of Taj is allowed by tickets sold through counters.
Dealing with another plea alleging overflowing drains in Agra, especially in TTZ, the bench granted six weeks time to Mehta and NEERI (National Environmental Engineering Research Institute) to inspect the city and file a report suggesting measures to deal with the problems.
The plea has said that there are several open drains and sewer lines in the TTZ and Agra in particular and the waste water from these drains overflows and spreads on the streets.
"We, therefore, consider it appropriate to direct that Mehta, petitioner-in-person who is present before us, and NEERI would inspect the area of TTZ and Agra City and submit a detailed report to this court. Mr Mehta and NEERI would, if the assertions are correct, highlight the remedial action and steps, both short term and long term, which the commissioner of TTZ or the Agra Municipal Corporation should take," the bench had ordered.
Earlier, the top court had permitted Northern Railways to axe over 400 trees in the TTZ for construction of an additional rail track between Delhi and Agra if mandatory compensatory afforestation is undertaken.
The top court has been monitoring developments in the area to protect the monument, built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in the memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal in 1631. The mausoleum is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.