India Announces Plans to Protect Taj Mahal

THE Taj Mahal, the magnificent marble mausoleum beset by pollution and vandals, will be cleaned up and better protected, the Indian government said last week.

The government unveiled a plan that called for stricter antipollution standards, and for the first time gave specific alternatives to stop air pollution, which is discoloring the 17th-century pearl-white marble tomb.

Although the building is cleaned every year or two with a resin compound, the government admits that the glistening marble is taking on a yellow tint.

Cracks 1.8 to 3 meters long (6 to 10 feet) and up to a centimeter wide (one-eighth inch) have weakened the structure, and small pieces of marble fall out. They are quickly replaced, but marks remain.

Some experts say it is age that causes the marble's shimmer to fade, but the monument is buffeted by a variety of pollutants. Sulfur fumes from factories mingle with smoke from thousands of private power generators in the industrial belt that encompasses the monument in the city of Agra. A government-owned oil refinery 40 kilometers (25 miles) away at Mathura and exhaust fumes from 27,400 vehicles traveling the roads around the Taj Mahal each day contribute to the decay.

Federal Petroleum Minister Satish Sharma announced that an area of 10,000 square kilometers (4,014 square miles) around the Taj Mahal will be brought under a strict antipollution action plan.

All homes in the area will be required to use cooking gas instead of coal or firewood. Vehicles in the areas will be required to use lead-free gasoline, and all industries that emit smoke will have to seek clearance before they can start operation.

The plan also calls for increased police vigilance within the monument. Vandals among the 3 million people who visit the tomb every year have defaced the Taj Mahal, cutting their names into the walls with car keys.

But the government's announcement was greeted with initial skepticism. Mr. Sharma did not say what penalty will be imposed on residents if they continue to use coal and firewood instead of cooking gas.

Also, some critics also point out that it will be extremely difficult to monitor vehicles not using the lead-free gasoline.

''What sort of check is the government going to order? Stop all vehicles and check each and every one? Forget it, there will be such a massive traffic jam and resulting violence that no one will dare to do such a thing again,'' says Ajit Kumar Roy, an automobile engineer in New Delhi.

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