From the top of Agra’s Buddha Park the Taj Mahal is a
changeable feast; its colours like the colours of the day. Sunrise, sunset,
moonlight, all are mirrored by the white marble. From here it looks much like
the little glass-housed replicas that sell by the lakh across the country. But
to enjoy the view, you must leave your sense of smell at home.
The adjoining colony, Kalindi Vihar, is a relatively new layout carved out of agricultural land many years earlier. Locals have little interest in the park, sometimes farmers let their cattle graze on the scanty grass. The stench from the nearby dump is constant and powerful. But it takes a monsoon to show off its full glory.
Agra’s unsegregated waste was dumped there, mound upon mound, before Kalindi Vihar existed. At some point city fathers saw an opportunity to develop the adjoining area as a new colony. So it was covered with green cloth and plastic nets and tons of mud dumped over it, and trees and grass planted on the overlay. But one of the neighbours laid claim to a large portion still being used as a dump site and got a stay order from the Allahabad High Court on its conversion to a park. Now anyone can see the non-biodegradable waste peeping out from the portion, and so the area is sparsely populated years after it was “developed”.
Agra residents say the Buddha Park is but one symbol of the blight that has befallen the city. The Taj Mahal and the Fort bring in crores of rupees for the Agra Development Authority (ADA) and other departments, but that revenue has led to blatant corruption, and has created a dysfunctional city of 15 lakh residents. The city of the Taj sees this New Wonder of the World as a curse upon it.
he beginning of the fall of Agra and its chances to develop as a modern city began with the declaration of the Taj Mahal as a World Heritage Site in 1983. A year after the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) announcement, environmentalist and attorney M. C. Mehta filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Supreme Court, mentioning the damage caused to the monument by polluting industries and vehicular traffic in the district. He asked for directions for the closure or shifting of these industries.
The Taj had by then started developing a yellowish patina and, in some places, brown and black spots. The main culprits were sulphur dioxide, which led to acid rain, and suspended particulate matter. It came to be known as the Taj Trapezium Case after the 10,400 square kilometre trapezoid zone around it consisting of Agra, neighbouring Ferozabad, parts of Mathura and some portions of Bharatpur district, Rajasthan.
The petition was accompanied by a 1978 report of the Government of India’s expert committee called “Report on Environmental Impact of Mathura Refinery”, which identified the polluters as the coal users, comprising two power plants, approximately 250 small industries, and a railway shunting yard. The report suggested that no new large industries come up in the area without detailed studies on the environmental effect on the Taj, that existing industries shift from the area and that an authority be created to monitor emissions and air quality in Agra and direct polluting industries to lower emission levels to the standards.
The Central Board for the Prevention and Control of Water Pollution, New Delhi, also published a report, “Inventory and Assessment of Pollution Emission in and Around Agra-Mathura Region (Abridged)”, with a seven-fold category with statistics on pollution for industries in Agra and outskirts. It suggested that closing down two thermal power stations and replacing coal with diesel in the railway yards could reduce sulphur dioxide emissions by 50 per cent. Other polluting industries in the report included iron foundries, ferro-alloy industries, rubber-processing, lime processing, engineering, chemical industry, brick factory and vehicles.
The National Environment Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) also gave an overview in 1990 saying pollution levels were high around the Taj and that it was damaging the monument as well as the surrounding ecosystem.
The PIL led to a series of orders from 1993 by the court. A January 1993 order called for the closure of 212 polluting industries out of the 511 in the area if they failed to install pollution control devices.
Later on, the Supreme Court, decided that the polluting
industries be shifted out of the Taj Trapezium Zone (TTZ), or natural gas
through pipelines laid later be provided to industries in and around the zone
pollution levels. The UP State Industrial Development Corporation provided plots to industries in Kosi in Kotwa district, Salimpur in Aligarh district and some in Etah district, all of which are outside the zone.
The final judgment came on December 30, 1996, with the bench of Justice Kuldip Singh and Justice Faizan Uddin saying that “the Taj Mahal is a masterpiece and has international reputation”. It was also an important source of tourist revenue so its beauty could not be compromised.
The court said “the precautionary principle” and “the polluter pays principle” were essential features of sustainable development. It ruled: “Once the activity carried on is hazardous or inherently dangerous, the person carrying on such activity is liable to make good the loss caused to any other person by his activity.” The laws relevant to the TTZ case are those dealing with water, air and environmental pollution.
After the court’s April 30, 1997 order, 292 industries remained in the TTZ. Of this, 187 were closed, 53 were shifted to electricity-based functioning, 42 to CNG/LPG, while three stopped use of all kinds of fuel. Strangely, seven units were declared “not found” by government authorities. It also directed the state government to set up a single body consisting of all the concerned departments to act as a nodal agency to sort out the problems of such industries.
Separately, the court tackled the issue of air pollution, which included the setting up of a hydrocracker unit and various other devices by the Mathura Refinery, and the construction of the Agra bypass to divert traffic passing through the city.
An additional ₹99.54 crore sanctioned by the Planning Commission was to be utilised by the state for power supply projects to ensure 100 per cent uninterrupted power to the TTZ. “This is necessary to stop the operation of generating sets which are a major source of air pollution,” the court said. It ordered the construction of the Gokul Barrage, water supply work and roads around the barrage, the Agra Barrage, and a project to supply drinking water to Agra and bring life to the Yamuna next to the Taj.
The court also ordered the setting up of a green belt around the Taj as recommended by NEERI. It suggested the Planning Commission consider sanctioning separate allocations for Agra city and the creation of a separate cell under the control of the government to safeguard the Taj, the city of Agra, and other national heritage monuments in the TTZ. The Centre was directed to decide on a declaration of Agra as a heritage city within two months. It has not been done yet, and is probably the root cause of the city’s plight.
This slew of orders had the best of intentions and the worst of outcomes. It led the Uttar Pradesh government to set up a Taj Trapezium Zone (Pollution Prevention and Control) Authority with headquarters in Agra. Today this authority is known as one of the single biggest centres of corruption in the state with officials colluding to pocket huge sums of money to “maintain” and run the city, and save the Taj.
At almost 80, D. K. Joshi is a lonely man. His children do
not stay with him or visit him though they live in the same city. The reason is
his reputation among officials of the various government departments and in
Agra in general. One of the most common statements about him, sometimes said
with sarcasm and sometimes with respect, is, “If there is any person in the
city who can yell at and take even the Agra Commissioner to task, it is Joshiji.”
This reputation is partly because Joshi talks to people in the tone they enjoy. “I try to keep a jovial tone; common people don’t understand the legal intricacies. It is better understood if I hurl a few abuses and say ‘so-and-so has pocketed so many crores; they are all thieves’. They like that; and say, ‘Yeh toh sahi kaha sir aapne. Sab chor hain (You’re right sir. They’re all thieves)’.”
Joshi ran a publishing business from a factory in the Delhi Road Industrial Area in Agra till about 15 years ago when it closed due to financial losses. Some in the city attribute its closing also to the fact that he had started filing writ petitions against officials of the TTZ Authority, ADA and other departments like the UPPCB, Jal Nigam, etc. Some say that they made sure he suffered losses and imposed fines on some pretext or the other.
But Joshi still travels religiously every day to his one-room office in the factory where he and his two-member staff sift through and maintain the reams of documents and files that are increasing in numbers by the day. He compiles or writes at least one letter or RTI application every day before he is driven home in his maroon Maruti Alto. Most of the documents are rule books of various departments or reports by various agencies on Agra, like the one by NEERI (of 1996).
List of RTIs and replies to them, petitions in the Allahabad High Court and the Supreme Court and the proceedings in the cases are stored in print and as soft copies on the rickety computer whose screen needs to be shaken or slapped sometimes to “wake it up”.
“The bloody (electrical) wiring too is falling apart,” he says. He is planning to sell the factory. “I can’t afford to maintain the property anymore. Paying the (two) employees every month is also becoming difficult.” The only people who visit him are journalists, for information on his latest petitions against the Nagar Nigam or other authorities, or friends and well-wishers who help him inspect various areas and collect data, the basis of his various petitions.
He consistently targets authorities, senior officials, and commercial establishments in the city. “Jo bhi yahaan ekdum se ameer hua hai, usne mere sheher se gaddari zaroor ki hai (Whoever has turned rich in quick time has done so by betraying my city),” he says.
Due to his work on issues related to Agra—especially the cleaning of the Yamuna—and his petitions filed in the Supreme Court since 1994, Joshi was appointed independent member of the Supreme Court’s Yamuna Action Plan Monitoring Committee (SCMC).
Joshi has filed hundreds of RTIs since 2005 but officials have shown an astonishing thickness of skin. He filed 11 RTI requests in 2010 and 2011; there have been no replies till date. When Joshi took up the case against the public relations officers of Jal Nigam and other departments with the State Information Commission, they were found guilty of not providing information on time and fined. The fines imposed under RTI rules are ₹250 per day to a limit of ₹25,000. Each official has paid that amount.
“Hiding the information is so important that they happily paid the maximum fine possible and yet did not provide it. Clearly they have a lot to explain to the public but fear getting caught,” says Joshi, adding that every bit of information will see skeletons tumbling from the cupboards of the departments.
The biggest problem for the city, Joshi says, is that the commissioner has the ADA tightly under his control, while he is also the chairman of the TTZ Authority and of the SCMC.
“His is one of the most important posts in the state. He sits on a gold mine and every state government places as its chief a person who works for the government and generates enormous amounts of cash for the politicians. In return, he has a free hand to run the city as he sees fit.” Even at a conservative estimate, the ADA receives several crores a month without doing much in return. The majority comes from ticket revenue generated by the Taj. “Yet what Agra has got from it is for everyone to see.”
ADA and TTZ officials make sure that meetings of the SCMC, required to be held every two months, are not held in the stipulated period or become a mere formality when they are held. In many cases, Joshi has not even been informed about them. But he has developed his own contacts among lower-rank officials who keep him informed of the dates and other proceedings in the ADA and TTZ.
Whenever they are held, Joshi has raised questions and accused officials of taking bribes and doing nothing. “In the past two decades, more than ₹5,000 crore has gone down the drain called the Yamuna. While Agra got the filth, officials reaped the riches,” he says.
Joshi is known to have confronted officials face-to-face,
asking about the commissions they take for each deal. Talking about the ADA, he
says, “It’s a whorehouse. You walk in and you will find a whore who will
satisfy you depending on the amount you have
in your pocket.”
To have Joshi removed from the SCMC, the officials filed a petition in the Supreme Court a few years ago, alleging that he used abusive language during the meetings, which some people say he indeed did. “But we all know he’s a frustrated man and feels for the city; his outbursts are a result of that. Thankfully the court did not heed the demands of the officials. At least one honest person still represents the city,” says Vivek Jain, a freelance journalist who also works for PTI Bhasha from Agra.
he TTZ Authority was set up in 1999 with the commissioner of Agra division as its chairman, the vice-chairman of the Agra Development Authority as member-convener, and six other members—the chairman of the state PCB, the deputy inspector-general of police (Agra Range), member-secretary of the Central PCB, and a representative each from the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, Ministry of Environment and Forests, and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
It took the authority almost a decade to implement the court’s directions and initiate new projects from the grants it got from the state and central governments. But the drinking water scheme for the city has been a spectacular failure. The acute shortage of drinking water, especially in summers, moved people to petition the Jal Nigam for installing submersible pump sets to draw groundwater across the TTZ. Jal Nigam officials say there are two lakh pump sets in the region, a clear sign that desperate citizens have made their own arrangements.
“Not just the farmers and the desperate people in various localities, the major offenders are the bottled water plants in the region. There are at least 10 I know of personally. Many others run secretly, paying bribes to officials on a regular basis,” says a recently-retired official of Jal Nigam on condition of anonymity.
Supreme Court orders stated that the footwear units and tanneries in Agra were to be closed or shifted out since they were a major cause of pollution. But a walk to the Taj in the early morning shows a different picture.
Waste leather, rubber and other material is openly burnt at Gobar Chowki, barely one kilometre from the monument. Black smoke fills the sky. Ragpickers sift through overflowing garbage bins, looking for bits of leather. Iqram is one such ragpicker, and says he is a cobbler. “I use these bits to make slippers or shoes which sell for anything between ₹50 and ₹ 100,” he explains.
Officials say on condition of anonymity that about 200 small tanneries still run in Agra but that they pay a certain amount, which changes as per the whims and fancies of the senior officials, to keep running.
The stretch along the by-pass, known as the Delhi Road, that the Supreme Court had ordered to reduce pollution from vehicular traffic, was developed as a small industries hub. These units obtained permission from the Authority. The owner of a factory in the belt (name and nature of industry not revealed on request) explains how the system works. “On paper, my factory does not even exist. It remains deserted,” he says, with a smirk. . “I pay a bribe to officials from every department, from police to UPPCB to ADA.”
There is a clear understanding that in case of an inspection or any other reason cited by officials, conveyed over the phone, work at the site will be wound up within a few hours. “My staff is trained to do so. There have been only two so-called inspections in the past five or six years.”
Smoke from the factory’s chimney is visible from quite a distance but remains invisible to state PCB officers. “Those who could shift out of the TTZ did so out of choice, to avoid being targeted by officials. But people like us have used contacts and money to stay on.”
he TTZ Authority unveiled elaborate plans for development after approvals from NEERI and proposed eight new projects worth `900 crores for 2012-2017, requesting funds from the governments of Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, and the Centre. Seven are in Uttar Pradesh and one in Bharatpur, Rajasthan. Similar projects were sanctioned almost a decade earlier but showed little result. Many cases were also filed against some, which gave TTZ officials an excuse to stall and complain that their “hands are tied”.
After approval from the state expenditure finance committee, the proposals were sent to the Centre, which sanctioned half the total cost. Among these projects, the major one is a ₹606 crore barrage on the Yamuna in Agra, the Agra Barrage, about eight kilometres downstream of the Taj. It’s supposed to provide drinking water for Agra, but a site visit shows that the pipelines laid in the past two years are gathering rust and dust. “Huge funds were diverted for this (project) and pipelines were laid too but there is no water to supply,” says the Jal Nigam official quoted earlier.
The reason is that work on the Agra Barrage has not begun. Signboards in the city point the “Way to Agra Barrage” but it remains invisible to the eye. Now the boards are host to political party stickers and local business flyers. Ads for “Designer Saris” and local favourites like “Panchi Petha” cover the boards while the barrage seems to have quietly flowed down the Yamuna.
Another project worth ₹2.44 crore was for maintenance of the Gokul Barrage, further downstream, to supply water to Mathura, Vrindavan and parts of Agra. There is some evidence of maintenance but hardly any water flows to these cities. Now the state government and the Mathura administration, hand-in-glove with TTZ officials, have passed a plan for Ganga water from quite a distance to Mathura. The project is underway.
Yet another project worth ₹77.63 crore is intended for afforesting Agra, Mathura and Ferozabad. But according to official figures, green cover in Agra is barely nine per cent, one-fourth of the national mark. The concreting of road-dividers has led to saplings dying in huge numbers. No remedial action has been taken. Unwilling to speak on record despite repeated requests, ADA officials only say plans have just taken off and will take some time to show results. “We will develop green belts on the lines of the ones you find in Delhi,” says an official.
If you go to an area marked for green belt activity, there is no sign of a tree. But there are plenty of hoardings, illegal hutments and shops. In some places, home builders have encroached upon the sites. In Balkeshwar, for example, the green belt area was encroached upon close to 10 years ago by local property dealers who were hand-in-glove with ADA officials.
Pushkar Jain, a resident, says, “The famous Balkeshwar temple (about 150 metres from the bank of the Yamuna) was once the edge of the green belt that separated Yamuna from the residential area.” Today houses stand inside the Yamuna’s flood plain and there is no sign of trees or proof that trees once stood here.
Property dealers sold plots ranging in size from 500 to 2,000 square feet to buyers over the years, and officials looked away or connived with them. All the paperwork is illegal but “provisional NOCs” (no-objection certificates) are issued from the ADA for development of the area.
Gaje Singh, a property dealer who has shifted to a more “risk-free” business, says, “Once the encroachment is done, officials help us mark plots neatly and paperwork for the same is readied. The area of Balkeshwar that was encroached, for example, was termed as an ‘extension’ on ADA land in the same locality.”
In short, the green belt remains intact on paper while the encroached area becomes part of the adjacent locality, with detailed plot numbers and addresses. In many cases, residents name the streets themselves, and plot numbers too are decided by mutual consent.
After the paperwork is ready, the ADA gives a “provisional NOC” for construction in the area. This means that the buildings may be demolished if the ADA later “discovers” that it falls in the green belt, and that the NOC is subject to conditions laid out in documents hidden in ADA files. “But the provisional NOC is enough to allow plots to be cut out on the said land, and for registration papers to be issued.”
When activists raise objections or in cases where authorities like the Green Tribunal raise questions, the officials arrive and mark the areas in the green belt. In some cases they issue notices to house owners to vacate the land. “Lal patti bana di jaati hai, bas (Just the red lines are drawn).” These red lines, painted on the roads and walls of houses, indicate the area that is illegally built, but action never follows.
“Not even the chief minister can demolish the houses. A Supreme Court judge will have to issue an order and get these demolished in front of his eyes,” Gaje Singh chuckles, adding, “UP mein aise hi chalta hai (This is how things run in UP).”
Then there is the ₹81.51 crore System Improvement Plan for Agra’s urban areas, involving the electrification of areas in a radius of five kilometres around the Taj. This was intended to decongest Taj Ganj, where the Taj is situated. But in a clear violation of court orders, there are power-cuts of up to eight hours in summer; hundreds of diesel generators are used in areas adjacent to even the Taj, causing heavy pollution during the day when visitors throng to the monument.
he plant looks like it belongs to another era, a vestige of a dysfunctional past. It is a ramshackle shed with one rusting machine that looks like a relic. A few pigeons waddle about the beams of the shed. This is the biomedical waste disposal plant, run by a company called Datta Enterprises, and as its board mentions, “authorised by the Uttar Pradesh State Pollution Control Board”. The entire facility has an abandoned feel to it, even though it exists in official records as the only plant of its kind in Agra treating medical waste.
Situated on the outskirts of the city along the Delhi Road, the plant has barely four people present. Supervisor Ramakant Bhardwaj tells Charan Singh, the zonal health officer before he retired last year and who has accompanied me here, that trucks of the company bring in 3,200 kilograms of biomedical waste every day. A look at the waste, stored in red and yellow bags, says otherwise.
A worker who is sleeping, is woken up and asked to start the machine. Some tin cans fall off and one portion of the plant starts leaking water, indicating that it has not been run for many days. The area where waste is stored is full of flies and human remains are scattered around, rats feeding on them. The worker walks in the area barefoot. Plastic bottles and similar waste, segregated from other waste to be sold to recyclers, are stored in a small tank at the back of the plant. On being asked questions, Bhardwaj calls his employer. We are asked to leave the premises immediately, since we “did not obtain prior permission”.
One of the recent issues Joshi has focused on is disposal of biomedical waste in Agra. His inquiries show that hardly any hospital, nursing home, pathology lab, blood bank, or clinic follows the basic rules of waste disposal. Used syringes, glucose bottles and other plastic material which, as per the Bio-Medical Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 1998, of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, should be crushed and destroyed, are sold to ragpickers who sell plastic to recycling companies.
In Chipi Tola area, these items litter the roads, posing a major health and sanitation risk. What is worse, Joshi says, he has seen dogs feeding on some of the waste. “The rules say biomedical waste cannot be mixed with other waste but nobody cares,” he says.
Datta Enterprises has been awarded the contract for biomedical waste disposal over and over again despite its consistent failure to collect and dispose of the segregated waste. “For one, not every hospital segregates the biomedical waste it generates. Secondly, they prefer to sell off all they can to recyclers,” says Joshi.
Datta Enterprises is supposed to collect the waste from every facility that generates it in the city, for which it charges between `2 and `5 per bed. So most facilities in their records show fewer beds to bring down the cost. Moreover, it has also not been established yet if sale of biomedical waste to recyclers is done by the hospitals or the contractor. A visit to the plant where Datta Enterprises destroys the waste lays bare the facts.
Joshi filed an RTI application in December last year asking for details of the hospitals, nursing homes, pathology labs, X-ray centres, MRI centres, and medical clinics in the city which had not obtained NOCs from the UPPCB but were still functioning, and a list of establishments the UPPCB fined. After much delay, the reply revealed that since 2000, only 14 establishments had been sent show cause notices and nobody had been fined. Instead, all the show cause notices were cancelled within two or three months of being sent since they had complied with the standards. “It is clear that sweets were distributed to the officials and the compliance clause was accepted,” Joshi says sarcastically.
More than 500 of the list of 555 such establishments running in the city had not obtained the NOCs till then. But within 15 to 20 days of the reply being sent to Joshi, most establishments obtained NOCs, fearing Joshi would file a case against them.
he Yamuna directly affects the Taj. on whose banks the monument stands. The choking of the river over decades and non-implementation of even basic rules and regulations has led to a scenario which threatens its longevity.
In 2012, following several petitions by Joshi and other
eco-activists, the Supreme Court asked the state governments of Uttar Pradesh
and Haryana and the government of the national
capital territory of Delhi the exact amount spent on cleaning up the river in the 18 years since 1994, when the SCMC was formed. They informed the court that `4,439 crore had been spent on the clean-up since then. But the report of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) said the water still resembled that of a drain.
Why it came to that conclusion can still be seen in Agra today. There are 33 so-called sewage treatment plants (STP) and waste segregation stations along the Yamuna in Uttar Pradesh. In Agra, the one closest to the Taj, is at a place where the drain coming out of the city drops straight into the Yamuna.
The plant—which has a pump set that is supposed to suck the water from the drain, segregate the solid waste, and treat the water before it is released into the Yamuna—has two attendants at a time. They start work only when there is a visit by an official or a journalist accompanied by a photographer or cameraman.
The pump is old and dysfunctional; some water forces itself in its direction. Suraj Kumar, the cleaner on duty during the day, tries to negotiate some of the waste from the iron-rod filters and keep them aside so the Nagar Nigam employees can pick it up and carry it in their trucks to the waste disposal sites. Two trucks pass by and neither of them stops. “Not much waste is generated,” Kumar says even as plastic and other waste flows into the river at high speed.
The Uttar Pradesh government had replied in the court, “So far, the state has implemented 28 projects costing about `2,052.4 crore since the year 1994 in various cities and localities along the river Yamuna (between Hathnikund in Haryana and Agra), so that pollution caused by release of various kinds of effluents in river Yamuna may be prevented.”
The Supreme Court tried to sensitise bureaucrats in the three states to the urgency of a joint effort to save the Yamuna and said CPCB test results of river water showed that it had hardly any dissolved oxygen, vital for the survival of marine life.
The CPCB had said, “Cumulative assessment of all parameters of water quality indicates that river Yamuna is not conforming to the desired levels from Hathnikund to Agra downstream due to higher concentration of one or the other pollutants despite excessive monsoon flow in the river.”
Despite the CPCB report, the Uttar Pradesh government replied in court, “There are numerous drains falling into river Yamuna between Hathnikund to the monitoring station at Taj Mahal (Agra) in Uttar Pradesh. Most of the drains carrying domestic, industrial or any other waste into the river Yamuna have been trapped and the said effluent and sewage is being treated/proposed to be treated at the 33 sewage treatment plants (STPs) and one common effluent treatment plant.”
It added that only 20 of the 33 STPs were functional then, whereas the reality is different—none of the so-called functional STPs actually function. They are just in working condition, to be run when someone “important” visits.
The Nagar Nigam of Agra dumps waste on to the riverbed in the monsoon to check the flow. During the Ganesh Visarjan this year, Nagar Nigam trucks dumped garbage to create an embankment for ponds to be dug, in which the idols of Ganesha were immersed.
One of the reasons for this is that the city’s waste disposal system is in tatters. Under the guidelines waste needs to be segregated and recycled at specially built landfill-cum-waste disposal sites. One site is at Kuberpur, where a state-of-the art unit was built by the Construction and Design Services, contracted by the Jal Nigam and paid crores of rupees to set up the unit. The plant has been dysfunctional for more than two years and waste deposited every day will soon see even its boundary gates engulfed. The site, when built, could segregate and dispose up to 350 tonnes of biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste a day. Its capacity was to be expanded to 700 tonnes per day.
“But half of its machinery has been sold as iron scrap while some still lies at the site,” says Charan Singh, pointing to the huge plateau of a site, where only trucks of the Nagar Nigam enter. While the present waste generation rate is not known, even conservative estimates put it at around 3,000 tonnes a day, says Charan Singh.
MSV International Inc, US, hired by an independent review and monitoring committee for schemes sanctioned under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), demolished even the design and technology used at the site, but the report was suppressed by authorities until Joshi managed to lay his hands on it. He has since written several letters citing its findings to the TTZ and the ADA, to no avail.
A similar report under JNNURM prepared in 2011 by the Jamshedji Tata Centre for Disaster Management, a centre under the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, ripped apart the functioning of the so-called waste collection system in Agra, but officials have paid no heed despite several letters by Joshi pointing out its findings.
As the Kuberpur site started to reach its tipping point, officials devised a plan to dump waste in the Yamuna. But another ingenious plan was devised by the builders of high-rise apartments and houses in the city, in collusion with truck drivers of the Nagar Nigam. In the posh Dayal Bagh locality, where ex-MP and Bollywood actor Raj Babbar also owns a house, they obtained NOCs to build “river-view” flats and encroached directly into the Yamuna.
For the landfill, they paid Nagar Nigam truck drivers ₹50 a truck instead of the ₹400 a truck they would have had to pay for dumping soil.
“Half of newly developing Agra stands on non-biodegradable waste and the encroachments into the Yamuna are mostly that,” says Joshi.
Many prominent construction companies, some formed by wealthy city businessmen who know the tricks of the trade, have encroached directly into the Yamuna and filled it up with the waste generated in the city, helping officials solve their problem of waste disposal. Joshi has filed several cases against such builders and they are presently in the High Court.
Some people of the city blame the Taj, a mausoleum and symbol of death, and the Yamuna, which is according to Hindu mythology the daughter of Yama, the god of death, for the fate that has befallen Agra. But Joshi is not interested. He plans to take a boat and travel along the Yamuna to record all the encroachments. His first plan to travel on a boat to conduct his inspection, sponsored by a well-wisher, was to happen on the final day of Ganesh Visarjan but was cancelled because he heard of a plan to throw him into the river; some people had warned him,
“The person who is helping me with this trip is himself a businessman from the same lobby which has been against me. I cannot trust him blindly.” He now waits for the next opportunity. And come back safe to the room at his factory where he will file the next petition to expose another “gaddaron ki toli” (troupe of traitors).