The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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UP mandarins pass Taj buck

Lucknow, June 21: The Cent- re’s directive to halt construction activity in the Taj heritage zone in Agra yesterday has caught the Mayavati-led Uttar Pradesh government on the wrong foot.

While Mayavati claims she had ordered a stop to all work as soon as she learnt of the directive, top bureaucrats seem to be passing the blame for clearing the controversial project onto each other.

The construction of the Rs 173-crore Taj Heritage Corridor by the Uttar Pradesh government had generated controversy when the Archaeological Survey of India had protested against it and the Supreme Court had admitted a public interest litigation about it in March. The petition had alleged that the construction of the corridor violated the Supreme Court’s guidelines on protecting the environment around the Taj and the Agra Fort.

That the state government had started work without the statutory approval from the Union government and other Central agencies became clear when the Centre received the Supreme Court’s notice asking it to file a rejoinder.

Union culture minister Jagmohan had informed the Mayavati government on June 15 that the permission of the Centre, the Central Water Commission and the Central Pollution Control Board had not been taken and the state government should stop work on the project. The Uttar Pradesh government, however, kept quiet.

After a meeting of the officials concerned, Jagmohan yesterday directed the state government to stop work and conduct an inquiry to find out who had authorised beginning work on the project without the statutory clearances.

Jagmohan’s reprimand created a flutter in the Uttar Pradesh bureaucracy.

At the Delhi meeting convened by Jagmohan yesterday, Agra Development Authority officials had claimed that they did not scrutinise the proposal as it had come from the office of chief secretary D.S. Bagga.

However, Bagga claimed that he had not cleared a proposal to start work on the project.

The official said the proposal for the Taj Heritage Corridor did figure in the minutes of a meeting convened by him in November 2002.

“I had sought a detailed project report so that I could send it to the Centre for mandatory clearances,” he explained.

Mayavati told journalists this morning that soon after the matter was brought to her notice, she had ordered that construction be stopped. “I directed the chief secretary to conduct an inquiry into the matter and ensure that the work be stopped forthwith,” she added.

The BSP leader claimed she had issued these directions much before Jagmohan’s letter reached her.

“I will take strict action against those who had started work on the project in violation of the Supreme Court’s guidelines,” the chief minister said.

However, an official press communiqué which was issued by the state government later in the day seemed to take a different stand.

Quoting Mayavati’s reply to Jagmohan’s letter, it said the chief minister had assured the Centre that her government would adhere to the guidelines of the apex court and carry out the Centre’s directives.

The chief minister said she had asked the chief secretary to probe the matter and give her a report “as early as possible”, the communiqué said. It added that the government had appointed principal secretary (finance) Naveen Chandra Bajpai to conduct the inquiry.

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