Agra : Tourists coming to Agra these days are not just taking away with them memories of one of the most breathtaking monuments but also the foul smell that has enveloped the city since the onset of winter and subsequent fog.
Experts say lack of moisture in the air and a thick layer of fog have worsened the already dismal environmental conditions in the city, home to the Taj Mahal — the 17th century mausoleum built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan that attracted five million visitors last year.
“All that we will remember is the foul smell of Agra,” said a foreign tourist, George, while bidding adieu to the city.
“Health and hygiene don’t seem to be the priority for local authorities,” his friend Joy added.
Despite several cleanliness drives and pumping hundreds of millions of rupees into the Yamuna Action Plans, the city of Taj remains virtually deluged in heaps of garbage.
The Old City continues to stink and emit a strange odour, which many visitors say is nauseating.
“During winter, the pollution from vehicles, plus the gases released by choked sewer lines, the dusty ambience due to lack of moisture and the thick envelope of fog, all gel together and create a dangerous mix for those suffering from respiratory disorders,” medical professional Suraj Kumar said.
The municipal health department blames the illegal dairies in congested colonies for the stink.
However, Naresh Paras, an NGO functionary, gave many reasons for the peculiar stink.
“There could be several reasons for the odour. The cattle sheds, stray animals, the numerous illegal tanneries processing animal hides, choked drains, overflowing sewer lines and of course the cultural habit of defecating by the roadside.”
Last year, on persistent public demand, the Agra Municipal Corporation opened eight public toilets on MG Road but the facility is still to be made available to the people.
“People avoid using Sulabh Shauchalaya as no one wants to pay for something that could be done for free. If you look at open drains and railway lines early morning, you’ll see rows of people talking on mobiles or chatting while relieving themselves,” comments activist Rajan Kishore.
The Agra Municipal Corporation, despite funds made available under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNRUM), is still to fully operate the waste processing unit in Kuberpur, across the Yamuna.
Each day, the city generates over 1,000 tonnes of garbage of which only half is lifted and transported to the Kuberpur plant.
“The result is that heaps of garbage dumped at street corners continue to attract mosquitoes and spread all kinds of diseases,” says activist Sudhir Gupta.
Health activists feel Agra, which is dotted with historical monuments visited by millions of tourists every year, needs at least one public toilet every kilometre.
Ved Gautam, a guide, said many tourists complain that even the toilets maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) at the Taj Mahal stink and remain choked.
Surendra Sharma, president of the Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society, said: “The municipal corporation and other government bodies have shown no interest in maintaining the existing toilets and cite resource crunch as a major reason for not opening more.
He says one of the chief causes of river pollution in Agra is defecation along the riverbank or street drains that open into the Yamuna.
The Agra Nagar Nigam has launched a scheme to convert all dry toilets into flush washrooms for which Rs.2,000 has to be paid per family. But over the years, despite the construction of thousands of permanent toilets, people haven’t changed their habits.
“When there’s no water to drink or cook meals, how do you think people would clean toilets,” wondered Shravan Kumar.