At first sight, you see an imposing monument of marble that has weathered the vagaries of time for over three centuries to become one of the world’s seven wonders.
Look again, and you will notice that its premises are now covered with piles of plastic water bottles, polythene bags and discarded shoe covers left behind by the very people who have come down to admire the monument.
Officials say garbage has been piling up on the premises of the Taj Mahal ever since the last cleaning agency’s contract expired in April. “The departmental process (to appoint another agency) is on, but the condition of the place has deteriorated,” admitted Ram Ratan, senior conservation assistant for the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) at the Taj Mahal.
Though the ASI deploys two to three workers in the morning and evening to clear the area, they are unable to do a thorough job. On Monday evening, Paryatan Mitra — a voluntary organisation — pitched in by sweeping the area and taking the garbage away in cloth bags.
Even government officials admit that given the number of tourists who visit the monument every day, a more permanent solution is needed.
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Bhuvan Vikram Singh, chief archaeological superintendent of the ASI office’s Agra circle, said they have already launched the process for outsourcing the cleaning work to a new agency. “We have forwarded the proposal to the director-general’s office in Delhi, and a decision is awaited,” he said. However, Singh couldn’t say by when the appointment would be completed.

Rajiv Tiwari, state president of Paryatan Mitra, lamented the fact that even an issue as important as the conservation of an ancient monument was subject to red tape.

“Water bottles and shoe covers are littered everywhere on the Taj premises,” said Tiwari. “Though banned, polythene bags can be found wafting in the wind. Trash like this can prove hazardous to people’s health.”