The Supreme Court today stayed its order directing demolition of a multi-level car parking being built near the iconic Taj Mahal and asked Uttar Pradesh government to submit a comprehensive policy on preservation and pollution in the Taj Trapezium Zone (TTZ).
The apex court, while asking the authorities to maintain status quo at the site, said no further construction would be carried out there. The multi-level parking was being built around one km away from the eastern gate of the monument.
"We do not know how hotels can be built there. The problem is this that all measures seem to have been taken are ad-hoc. It cannot be like this," a bench comprising Justices M B Lokur and Deepak Gupta said.
At the outset, the bench asked Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the UP government, about the policy for protection of the 17th century white marble mausoleum.
TTZ is an area of 10,400 sq km around the historic Taj Mahal aimed at protecting the ancient monument and its environs.
"You (state government) tell us what is your policy towards protection (of Taj Mahal). What is the policy you have formulated," the bench asked, adding "if you have a policy, can we look into it?" Mehta told the bench they had a comprehensive policy on the issue and contended that the government was committed to protect the Taj Mahal. "There is a policy. I will bring the comprehensive policy," he said.
The bench observed that applications were being filed before it for construction of hotels in the area and felling of trees.
Mehta told the court that initially there was a plan to build an orientation centre at a distance of around one kilometre of the Taj Mahal but later it was decided that a multi-level parking would be built there for tourists.
He said they had taken the approval of the TTZ and developmental authorities for construction of parking there.
"There is no difficulty about that, but you tell us what is the policy. If it is according to the policy, then it is okay," the bench said.
When Mehta referred to the apex court's October 24 order to demolish the parking lot, the bench said "we will maintain status quo, but no further construction will be permitted there. We will stay the order".
The state government told the bench that construction activity has already stopped there.
When Mehta said the pollution issue concerning TTZ would cover a vast area which might not be required to be gone into at this stage as the court was hearing the parking lot matter, the bench said, "it will have an impact on the Taj".
During the hearing, the bench observed that one lakh trees are to be planted in the area but there was no space for it.
Environmentalist M C Mehta, who has filed a plea seeking protection of the Taj from the ill-effects of polluting gases and deforestation in and around the area, told the bench that TTZ was an "ecologically sensitive area" and the government should have come out with a comprehensive policy on it.
Mehta told the bench that he would file the policy within two weeks, after which the court posted the matter for hearing on November 15.
The apex court, which is dealing with a petition filed by M C Mehta, has been monitoring development in the area to protect the Taj Mahal, built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in the memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal in 1631. The historic mausoleum is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The top court had earlier passed a slew of directions to protect the monument.