Coming down heavily on the authorities responsible for the maintenance of India's historical monuments,the Supreme Court on Wednesday said that their "Sheer lethargy and apathy" was making the country lose tourists and foreign exchange despite having the Taj Mahal.
Comparing the Taj and the Eiffel Tower, the apex court pointed out that the Eiffel Tower of Paris was drawing eight times more tourists than the iconic mausoleum in Agra.
The apex court observed that though Eiffel Tower was "perhaps nothing compared to Taj Mahal", Paris was thronged by 80 million of visitors last year whereas only 10 million foreign tourists visited India during that period.
"There is the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Perhaps it is nothing compared to Taj Mahal. 80 million people come there (Paris). This is eight time more than what we have. You can destroy the Taj, we don't want to do it," a bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta said.
During the hearing, the bench asked Additional Solicitor General (ASG) A N S Nadkarni, appearing for the Centre, as to how many tourists come to India in a year.
When Nadkarni said 10 million tourists visited India in 2017, the bench observed, "we are happy to have only 10 million people."
"There is sheer lethargy and apathy. People (abroad) are making money, but no one is bothered (here)," the apex court said while slamming the government and the authorities for their failure to take concrete steps to protect and preserve the Taj.
When the ASG said the Union Tourism Ministry could give more details about the tourists visiting India, the bench observed, "They will not bother. Why will they bother about tourists?"
"Do you realise the loss to the country due to this sheer lethargy? Foreign exchange, infrastructure, everything is lost due to this. There is a loss to tourism. One monument can do it, but there is apathy," the bench said.
The apex court also asked the ASG, "Have you seen the Taj? Have you seen Eiffel Tower?"
To this, the ASG said, "Taj obviously is much better".
Referring to the Eiffel Tower, the bench said in India, there were concerns about security, but in other countries, they have made towers like "TV towers" from where tourists can have a "bird's eye view" of the entire city.
"We are obsessed with security. At every place (in foreign cities), you have towers to have bird's eye view of the city. But in India, you have security problems. There are no towers to look at the city," the bench said.
The bench also asked Nadkarni about the income collected from tourists visiting Taj Mahal and Agra.
When Nadkarni said he would have to check on it, the bench said, "part of the income generated from this (Taj) monument has to be considered in this income".
The bench also dealt with the submissions of environmentalist M C Mehta, who has filed the petition raising the issue of protection and preservation of the Taj Mahal, about giving Agra the status of a heritage city.
During the hearing, one of the advocates told the bench that soon there would be time restriction and time slot for tourists visiting Taj.
The court observed that the time-slot for visiting the Taj could be imposed as was done in places like United Kingdom.
The apex court has been monitoring developments in the area to protect the Taj Mahal, built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in the memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal at Agra. Its construction was completed in 1643 but work continued on other phases of the project for another 10 years. The ivory white marble mausoleum is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
(With PTI inputs)