Lucknow, July 1: Even if you missed the symbolic link, you wouldn’t miss the Taj. All you need to do is grab a cycle and pedal eight kilometres.
Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav has decided to build an 8km-long cycle track through swathes of greenery on the Taj Mahal’s outskirts where Mayawati had once planned a business hub.
The Rs 175-crore Taj Corridor project, which had triggered an environmental controversy, was however struck down by the Supreme Court in 2003. Now Akhilesh, whose Samajwadi Party stormed back to power in elections earlier this year, toppling Mayawati’s BSP, has asked officials to turn part of that stretch into a cycle track through the forest corridor.
Those who are environmentally conscious would surely welcome the track, but the politically minded could point to the Samajwadi’s election symbol: the cycle.
Akhilesh, an environment engineer turned politician, has directed officials to increase the forest cover along the now abandoned corridor project, which had envisaged a raised stretch of road between the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort built with silt scooped from the Jamuna.
The chief minister had held talks this May with officials to finalise the project. Now chief secretary Javed Usmani has been directed to complete the project fast.
Usmani, who met forest and tourism officials on Friday, said in a media statement yesterday that the green cover of the stretch from Mumtaz Eco Park, about 600 metres from the Taj, would be increased for the planned cycling track.
“We have issued directions for landscaping of the Taj Nature Walk that exists along the forest stretch near the banks of the Jamuna, development of … a natural habitat and to convert the existing sparse green cover into a dense forest area,” the chief secretary said.
Of course, Usmani added, all these projects are subject to the approval of the Supreme Court’s Taj Monitoring Committee.
“We have sanctioned Rs 70 crore for the project,” Usmani said.
The track is expected to come up on the stretch originally meant for the Taj Corridor project. At present, the land is being used as a dumping ground for garbage. “The state government is keen to remove the garbage ground and the pollution in the nullahs at the eastern and the western gates (of the Taj) to make the area clean,” Usmani said.
Once completed, tourists can hire cycles and pedal through the forest stretch up to nearly 500 metres of the world’s most famous monument to love.
The state government is in no mood to flirt with the environment guidelines set by the Supreme Court. All the work will be in areas more than 500 metres away from the Taj.
Forest secretary Rajesh Kumar Singh said his department would enrich the area’s flora and fauna. He said once the initial work of levelling the land and creating more forest cover was over, the state government would invite private investment under a public-private partnership model for a beautification programme.
Among those who attended the review meeting on the project were the director, social forestry, Agra, N.K. Jaanu; DG tourism Manoj Kumar, chief conservator, Agra, P.K. Sharma, DM Agra, Ajay Chauhan, and vice-chairman, Agra Development Authority, Lal Bihari.
“Work for the new forest track is being speeded up on a corridor which remained virtually abandoned after the (Taj) corridor project was scrapped. Now that the funds have been released, the green belt and the cycle track would be completed soon,” forest official Jaanu said.