Agra: Conservationists are aghast at the decision to permit unrestricted access to the Taj Mahal for three days from Tuesday for the annual urs of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, saying this goes against their campaign to reduce the human load on the 17th century monument.
The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has decided to permit free entry of visitors during the urs June 28-30.
This year, ASI and tourism circles estimate that a record number of people would visit the monument during the urs.
"The number could cross 1.5 lakh," a hotelier estimated.
"Why they can not have some kind of a quota system to restrict the entry? The safety of both the devout and the monument has to be ensured. Of particular worry is the casual approach of the security personnel who allow everyone in without frisking," Rajeev Tiwari, a senior tourism industry leader, said.
According to Surendra Sharma, president of NGO Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society, "for a long time, we have been trying to persuade the authorities to restrict the number of visitors and switch over to online booking of entry tickets, but to no effect. The number of visitors keeps going up every day".
"If you closely monitor the health of the monument," said tourist guide Ved Gautam, "you will find unmistakable proof of fatigue and distress. Some of the ugly scars are man-made. It has an oily surface due to touching by hordes of visitors. The main staircase leading to the main platform, is almost gone, though they have now put a protective wooden cover".
"The red sandstone lined pavements bear the stress marks so boldly, calling for urgent measures to reduce the human load," Gautam added.
Last year too, the monument was flooded with tourists and the devout during the urs, causing additional stress and pressure on the monument. The ASI had come under considerable flak for overlooking security considerations.
Entry to the real graves of Shah Jahan and his empress, Mumtaz Mahal, is allowed only during the urs. People choke the chambers where the real graves are located. There is hardly enough room for free movement and this is a matter of concern, say conservationists.
Deputy Superintending Archaeologist M.C. Sharma had recently discussed the arrangements with members of the urs organising committee headed by Ibrahim Zaidi and appealed to them to refrain from bringing loudspeakers, drums and musical instruments inside.
Additional District Magistrate (City) Arun Prakash reviewed the security arrangements with Siddharth Verma, the circle officer of the Taj security office.
In 1993, the Supreme Court appointed high-powered committee headed by S Vardarajan had recommended restrictions and control on entry of visitors to the Taj.
Since then, the Taj is closed to visitors every Friday.