UP CM visits Taj, vows to conserve Agra's 'rich history'
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath on Thursday wielded a broom to clean an area outside the Taj Mahal and then visited the imposing monument which some of his party colleagues had dubbed a "blot" on Indian culture.
Like any other tourist but accompanied by security personnel, he walked to the main mausoleum to look at the tombs of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan and his wife Mumtaz Jehan, in whose memory the 17th century marble monument was built.
Some tourists, including a foreigner, sought a selfie with the Chief Minister, who readily obliged.
After his arrival, Adityanath first launched a cleanliness drive on the western gate of the Taj, India's most popular tourist draw.
He was accompanied by Deputy Chief Minister Dinesh Sharma, Tourism Minister Rita Bahuguna Joshi and cabinet Minister S.P. Singh Baghel.
In the Taj, Adityanath went to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) office and saw a slide show about the historical and cultural details of the monuments in Agra and the steps taken to conserve them.
He also went to the Yamuna side of the monument and spoke to officials about the river, its cleanliness and the proposed beautification of the area.
The Chief Minister laid the foundation stone for a World Bank-aided pro-poor tourism development project at the Taj Mahal, under which the Shah Jahan park would be rejuvenated and a walking track is to be developed between Agra Fort and Taj Mahal.
Earlier, he announced construction of a rubber check dam over the Yamuna and laid foundation stones of projects worth Rs 22 crore at Kachpura area.
Adityanath said his government was committed to conserve the rich cultural and historical identity of Agra.
He said it did not matter how and who built the Taj Mahal, which is an architectural marvel that came up from blood and sweat of the local people. All efforts would be made to boost tourism related activities to increase the number of tourists to Agra and their stay in the city, he added.
He also announced a special skill development programme so that youths benefit from the tourism industry.
According to him, under the Gangajal project, the flow of drains into the Yamuna river would be checked and a sewage treatment plant (STP) would be built.
When Adityanath reached the Taj in the morning, BJP activists shouted slogans hailing him and also 'Jai Shri Ram'.
His visit comes against the backdrop of statements by BJP leaders that the Taj, one of the wonders of the world, was a blot on Indian culture and history.
The statements triggered a backlash from many quarters, forcing the Bharatiya Janata Party to distance itself from the comments.
Later, the Chief Minister announced he would visit the Taj and that the monument had been built by the sweat and blood of Indian labourers.
Journalists who went to cover Adityanath's visit had to go through a lot of trouble as their cars and OB vans were stopped far from the venue of engagements.
Some journalists rang up senior government officials to protest but to no avail. The chaos, journalists said, prevailed for more than an hour.
Adityanath's day-long visit has brought back some cheer in tourism circles as his focus centred on tourism promotion and cleaning and rejuvenation of Yamuna.
Apart from announcing a slew of developmental projects, he also said that to promote air connectivity, funds have been sanctioned for construction of an air terminal at the existing Kheria airport. Work on it will begin in December.
He also said the previous government had not done much for tourism promotion, but his government was firmly committed to developing the required infrastructure. Religious tourism will also receive high priority treatment in Mathura and Vrindavan. - IANS