Agra needs attention to streamline civic amenities, tourism infra

Agra, the city of the Taj Mahal and several other architectural wonders which attract lakhs of visitors from all parts of the globe annually, is unfortunately dying.

"The decadent city is urgently in need of focused attention to streamline civic amenities and overhaul its tourism infrastructure," according to many local social activists, gearing up for November municipal elections.

When the Mughals ruled, Agra was a mega metro, more developed than London and Paris, according to many European travel writers of the 17th century. The British looked after Agra with care. However, after independence, the city has been a victim of lobbying and consistent stepmotherly treatment.

The residents feel "India's tourist destination number one has suffered as a result of poor political leadership. The city’s economic growth has remained stunted as a result of the pollution war. Promises of developing pollution-free industries including the IT sector have not been kept and the shrinking of opportunities is forcing young graduates to migrate to Delhi and other parts of India. Without adequate economic activities, the city might in future be reduced to a backwater region peopled by retired senior citizens, and the lonely aged couples left to fend for themselves."

Some groups recently prepared a charter of demands, to be used during the election campaign.

The activists want the original glory of the city restored and a qualitatively better life for the citizens of Agra. It advises political parties to focus their attention on the following points:

* The city must have its own international airport. This issue has been hanging fire because of intense lobbying by various interest groups including the Delhi lobby of tourism and travel leaders.

* The city’s lifeline, Yamuna, is dying. We need water not only for drinking and consumption but also to ensure good health for the Taj Mahal. A dry river bed is a constant threat to its survival. The SPM level is constantly rising because of the dust from the dry river.

* Agra has one of the biggest lakes, Keitham Lake, along the Delhi highway, but because of poor maintenance, cleanliness, and lack of water supply, we are not able to take advantage of this natural scenic spot, which could be used for both tourism promotion as well as adventure sports. The Mathura Oil Refinery has been pumping away all its supply without paying any attention to its upkeep. The state government should be asked to develop the lake and ensure it remains full of water.

* The city is eternally jammed with traffic chaos obstructing vehicular movement within the city. Tourist vehicles are stranded for hours in traffic jams. A scientific road management system has to be put in place along with the widening of the roads and demolishing encroachments.

* Agra has often been described as the dirtiest city in the world. The Agra Municipal Corporation has proved unequal to the challenge of rising mounds of dirt. The city does not have a scientific waste disposal plan and the facilities for regular cleanliness are non-existent. An Action Plan to clean up the city on a war footing and maintain the tempo of cleanliness subsequently is urgently required through institutional arrangements supported by adequate funding.

* Even though the Supreme Court of India had directed the state government to ensure an uninterrupted 24x7 power supply to the Taj Trapezium Zone, spread over 10,000 sq km, the goal is yet to be achieved. Erratic power supply, frequent voltage fluctuations, and inadequate capacity have led to a situation when the use of diesel generators has become an inevitable necessity. A gas-based power plant for Agra is a long pending demand which needs to be addressed urgently. The Gas Authority of India Ltd already has an extensive pipeline network feeding the local industries. The same could be used for running a power plant for the city.

* The city lacks a proper local bus transport system. The connectivity is poor between different tourist places, tourist are fleeced and cheated by tempo and taxi operators. Decent air-conditioned buses should be available for the tourists to enable them to visit all the tourist spots. Locals should also benefit from a regular and streamlined transport system which should be pollution free, comfortable, and affordable.

* Half a dozen important tourism-related projects are in limbo. No one knows their fate. Ad hocism has seriously affected the tourism sector which has not achieved its optimum level. Even a modest project like Tourist Police has not been given final shape, despite regular complaints of cheating and misbehavior by tourists. Government agencies pay no heed to the demands from the local tourism bodies. It is, therefore, necessary that all sectors which are involved in the tourism and travel business are involved in drawing up a comprehensive promotional strategy to make the city tourist-friendly and accelerate the growth of this industry in the interest of the country.

* Sports lovers of Agra have been long demanding the holding of test matches and ODIs in Agra, but interest groups have been sabotaging action on this. Foreign teams and their fans always want to see the Taj Mahal and other monuments. The city is well connected and has a highly developed hospitality industry. The BCCI should be asked to hold matches in Agra to promote sports tourism.

* It has been one of the long-standing demands of this city that for the speedy and scientific development of the city, the Central government should work out some institutional arrangement to ensure there were no conflicting perspectives and action plans. Right now we have the Mission Management Board, the Taj Trapezium Zone coordination committee, the central and the state pollution control boards, the Nagar Nigam, and the Agra Development Authority, each with its own set of priorities and levels of accountability. The Central Government should take up Agra’s development into its own hands because the Taj Trapezium is India’s most sensitive eco-zone.