New Delhi: Entry of visitors into Taj Mahal may be capped with the government considering a comprehensive conservation and crowd management plan at the 17th century Mughal monument, which is a world heritage site.
Top officials of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) said a decision on limiting visits to Taj Mahal complex would be taken based on the study being carried out by National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI).
They said ASI will take certain steps to protect the famed monument, which receives a large number of visitors daily.
It is understood that among the proposals being considered include cutting the existing visiting hours.
ASI has commissioned the Nagpur-based institute to conduct the study to assess the impact of tourist activities on the monument on a long-term basis as also environmental effects on it.
"The NEERI study, for the first time, would also give us a report on optimum footfall at Taj Mahal. Once we receive the final report on it, we would analyse it and then take a call on deciding the eventual footfall for this monument," a senior ASI official.
Its Director General Rakesh Tewari said, the ASI has plans for comprehensive conservation and crowd management.
"Taj Mahal is a very significant monument and, of course, there are concerns as to the impact of so many people visiting the site as also the environmental impact on it.
"The NEERI in its draft report has suggested several permutations and combinations on crowd management and on carbon dioxide level, among other matters. Now, it is up to the government to take the final call," ASI Agra Circle Superintending Archaeologist Bhuvan Vikram said.
Following the Supreme Court's direction, the ASI had in 2012 commissioned the study to gauge the Taj Mahal's "carrying capacity". Based on the final recommendation in the report, the maximum number of tourists to be allowed to visit the monument will be worked out.
Taj Mahal is considered one of the finest specimen of Mughal architecture. In 1983, the Taj Mahal became a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was cited as "the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world's heritage."
According to Culture Ministry, 7.43 lakh foreign tourists visited the Taj in 2012. However, the number fell to 6.95 lakh in 2013 and slumped further to 6.48 lakh in 2014.
The ASI had effected a hike in the entry fee to its 32 world heritage monuments from April 1 this year.
The entry fee for domestic visitors to Taj Mahal is Rs 40 and for foreigners Rs 1,000. It includes the ASI fee as well as the road tax levied by the Agra Development Authority, Vikram said....