The Supreme Court today directed the Uttar Pradesh government to place before it a vision document on protection and preservation of the Taj Mahal and asked why there was a "sudden flurry of activities" in the Taj Trapezium Zone (TTZ).
The TTZ is an area of about 10,400 sq kms spread over the districts of Agra, Firozabad, Mathura, Hathras and Etah in UP and Bharatpur in Rajasthan.
A bench of justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta questioned Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the UP government, on why leather industries and hotels were coming up in the TTZ when such activities were stopped earlier.
"There is a sudden flurry of activities in the TTZ. Is there any particular reason for that? Leather industries and hotels are coming up there. Why? It should remain stopped. Why this activity is there in the TTZ?" it asked.
Mehta submitted that he would seek instructions on the issue and get back to the court.
The bench also asked the state government to file within four-week a vision document on protection and preservation of the 17th century mausoleum.
The court had in December last year said that a detailed and comprehensive vision document and plan with a futuristic perspective which could protect and preserve the iconic monument, its environs and the TTZ for at least a few hundred years, should be prepared.
During the hearing today, the state government filed an application seeking the court's permission to cut 234 trees in Agra for laying pipelines for water supply in the city.
The counsel told the bench that 122 km of pipelines out of the 130 km, had already been laid and for remaining eight km, the authorities need to cut 234 trees and the TTZ had granted permission for it.
To this, the bench asked, "Where is the land for planting trees? What about the mortality rate of trees already planted there? You answer this."
It observed, "The mortality rate (of trees) is 80 per cent and there is no land for planting trees."
The court asked the state government to apprise it within four weeks on where land to plant trees was available in the area and also give details about the number of trees planted there.
Environmentalist M C Mehta, who has filed a plea seeking protection of the Taj from the ill-effects of polluting gases and deforestation in and around the area, told the bench that he had attended a meeting of the authorities concerned last month to discuss the issue related to protection of the monument.
"In my view, no satisfactory discussion took place," he said, adding that he had not yet received the minutes of the meeting.
To this, the ASG said that the minutes of the meeting have been prepared and as per the court's direction, members of civil societies had also attended the discussion.
Meanwhile, advocates representing the leather and glass industries referred to separate applications filed by them but the bench said it would hear these matters after four weeks.
The apex court would also take up during the next hearing another application seeking permission to cut trees for widening of road near Govardhana Hill in Mathura.
The TTZ had earlier told the court that a "no construction zone" was declared in a-500 metre radius area of the Taj and the state government had envisaged a comprehensive plan to ensure balance between environment and development.
The top court has been monitoring developments in the area to protect the monument, built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in the memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal in 1631. The mausoleum is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.