TED Case Studies
Number 668, 2002
by Sean Farrell
The Taj Mahal: Pollution and Tourism General Information
Legal Cluster
Bio-Geographic Cluster
Trade Cluster
Environment Cluster
Other Clusters

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1. The Issue: Environmental pollution spurred by industry and automobiles has long been observed to be progressively destroying the Taj Mahal's white marble surface. Petitions of Indian environmentalists have led to a series of court challenges in the Indian Supreme Court and lower courts. The conflict has often pitted business and labor interests against environmentalists and preservationists as well as India's need to protect its cultural heritage versus its need to provide jobs for its citizens.

2. Description: Mark Twain once remarked the world is divided between two types of people: those who have seen the Taj Mahal and those who have not. The Taj is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the world and the image most associated with India. The Mughal emperor Shah Jahan erected the Taj Mahal at Agra as a mausoleum in memory of his beloved wife, Arjumarid Bano Begum; (popularly known as Mumtaz Mahal "favored of the court"), who died in A.D. 1630. Begun in 1632 AD, it took 20,000 men working every day over 22 years to complete. It is heralded by many as the greatest work of Mughal architecture.

India has experienced exponential industrial growth in recent years. Increasingly, people have left villages for urban centers in order to try and find work. The result of this industrialization has often been overcrowded cities and dense pollution. Agra is no exception. It has been identified as a "pollution intensive zone" by the World Health Organization (WHO). It is estimated that the area around the Taj contains five times the amount of suspended particles (such as sulfur dioxide) that the Taj Mahal could handle without sustaining everlasting damage. India has been involved in a "greening" campaign particularly in regards to its national monuments.

More recently, India has begun to try and attract more tourists: this has created a dilemma how to market its best Tourist attraction without causing significant damage to it in the process.



3. Related Cases:

  Egypt Monuments and Tourism

Costa Rica Tourism

Urban Tourism in Salvabor, Brazil

Amazon and Ecotourism

The Elgin Marbles

Venice Tourism Pollution

Tourism in Bali

Tourism in Jamaica


4. Author and Date: Sean Farrell May 2002


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II. Legal Clusters

5. Discourse and Status: Disagreement and in Progress

6. Forum and Scope: India's Supreme Court, Sovereign Country

7. Decision Breadth: India, United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). 107 countries have world heritage sites.

8. Legal Standing: Treaty: World Heritage Convention. Constitution of India.

India is a signatory to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's (UNESCO) World Heritage Convention adopted in 1972. The main goal of the World Heritage Convention is to identify and protect monuments of great cultural and natural heritage throughout the world. In signing the Convention, a country pledges to conserve the World Heritage sites located in its own territory and protect its national heritage. The application for a site to be accepted as the World must come from the country itself. The application process includes submission of a plan detailing how the site is managed and the measures assuring its continued protection. In some cases, UNESCO identifies conditions to a country before accepting a site as a world heritage monument.

For example, at the time Delphi was nominated by Greece, a plan was in the works to build an aluminum plant nearby. The Greek government was asked to find an alternative location for the plant, did so, and Delphi was accepted onto the World Heritage List. In other cases, such as the Giza Pyramids, UNESCO asks the country for remediation of potential threats. In 1995, the Pyramids were threatened by a highway project near Cairo which would have seriously damaged the monument. Negotiations with the Egyptian government resulted in a number of alternative solutions which replaced the disputed project. Ultimately, the treaty is not binding by the force of an ultra-national body but rather left to the discretion of the country. The Agra area currently has three world heritage sites: the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri.

The Constitution of India gives the Supreme Court extensive powers. In the Constitution, the Courts were envisioned as a watchdog, independent of the executive. They were entrusted with the task of ensuring that all institutions function in accordance with the Constitution under the rule of law. The Supreme Court was assigned the power not only to set aside Executive acts of Government, but also to strike down laws made by Parliament and the State Legislatures. Throughout its history, the Court has further expanded its own powers by creative interpretations of the Constitution, in particular Article 21 which guarantees the right to life.

This right to life has been interpreted by the Court to include the right to a healthy environment. Citing their status as world heritage monuments and the health of the citizens around the monuments, the Court mandated environmental measures in order to protect the Taj Mahal and other nearby world heritage monuments: Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri. One of these measures include what has come to be known as the Taj Trapezium Zone (TTZ), a 10,400 sq. km area around the monument were industrial business is limited. The first court challenge was made in 1984 before the Supreme Court of India. In 1996 that the Supreme Court ruled that the industries in the area were actively contributing to air pollution and ordered major industrial units to install pollution control devices. The court also ordered 292 coal-based industries to switch to natural gas or else to relocate outside the protected zone by April 30, 1997.


Factories that opted for relocation were obliged to re-employ workers under similar conditions and to provide a one-year bonus. The court also order that if a worker's plant were to close down, they would be entitled to six years' worth of wages in compensation. The cost of bringing the industries up to standard for the business owners were prohibitive. Hundreds of coal-burning factories have closed or converted to cleaner fuels, however many industries still skirt the Court's order. Thus there have been subsequent court challenges in order to bring about compliance with the court's previous mandates. Additionally, conventional cars and automobiles are banned within a 500-meter radius of the monument.

A further complication is that the state of Uttar Pradesh, where Agra and the Taj are located, have near daily electricity blackouts. This has had a negative effect on the functioning of the sensitive pollution monitoring system of the Taj. In April 2002, the Supreme Court ordered the Agra Heritage Fund to set up a solar power plant to meet the energy needs of the Taj Mahal and the surrounding area.


III. Geographic Clusters

9. Geographic Locations

a. Geographic Domain: Asia

b. Geographic Site: South Asia

c. Geographic Impact: North India





Image from NASA

10. Sub-National Factors: No

11. Type of Habitat: Urban


IV. Trade Clusters

12. Type of Measure: Tax

13. Direct v. Indirect Impacts: The price for Admission to the Taj Mahal is based on a two tier system: there is one set price for Indians and another set price for Non-Indians. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has introduced measures it claims are aimed at protecting the monument from over exposure to tourists as well as raise revenues for the State. In 2000, ASI raised prices for foreigners from 15 rupees to 960 rupees. (Exchange is approximately $1 US to 48 rupees). Prices for Indians remained a modest 4 rupees. ASI claims the measures are aimed at controlling the number of tourists and thus environmental harm caused to the monument by tourists. The extra money will go towards maintaining the Taj as well as the other monuments under ASI's protection. The admittance fee is charged before one enters the Taj Mahal complex.

If in the future, tourism was covered under as a services agreement under WTO rules, it is possible that other countries could charge that India's two tiered pricing system is a barrier to trade. The matter could come up in a dispute between two other countries and none the less effect India. However India would be able to argue that it is implementing measures for environmental protection.

The Guardian reported ("Monumental Expense" August 18, 2001) that at one stage, "guides outside the Taj Mahal reported up to 100 foreign students a day turning back in disappointment when they discovered the cost". Many backpackers able to get by on the low cost on living in India had not budgeted for the increased cost of the Taj. Three tourists, from Sweden, France and South Korea, in January 2001 were arrested after climbing over the Taj Mahal's perimeter wall.

14. Relation of Trade Measure to Environmental Impact

a. Directly Related to Product: Yes. Eco-tourism.

In June 2001, the government of India announced that it had reached a deal with the Tata group, who own the India Hotel Co. better known as the Taj hotel group. Under the deal, Tata would take over the management of the actual Taj Mahal and develop a number of state-of-the-art tourist facilities in the area. The plan met with significant disapproval from conservationists upset at the commercialization of the monument, the idea of surrounding the monument with computerized ticketing, cyber cafes and shopping malls.


The Taj hotel group has converted a number of heritage buildings into resort hotels, including the Lake Palace in Udaipur. The move was controversial as no public hearing or input was solicited in the decision. Tata has agreed to pay for maintenance a commitment of somewhere between $383,000 and $750,000. It is estimated that the Taj Mahal currently takes in about $2 million at the gate each month. Tata also receives a tax exemption for its spending on preservation and scores a public relations coup for its brand: the Taj Mahal hotel chain.


The first stage of Tata's commitment has been focussed on urgent restoration including conservation of the damaged stones and restructuring the existing museum. The project will also look at the development of recently discovered Mughal Garden. Mehtab Garden, the moonlit pleasure park, will be resurrected as will fountains which adorned the are in the seventeenth century.

The restaurants and shopping mall will form part of the $3.3 million second phase which will include ATMs, modern restrooms and waiting areas. Conservationists fear that boosting tourism would further contribute to the deterioration of the Taj. Some claim that massive crowds pose as much a danger to the monument as industrial pollution. Hands leave acid residues that corrode the marble and occasionally vandals try to chip off semiprecious stones or carve their initials on the walls.

The website http://www.taj-mahal.net allows visitors to to take a panoramic tour of the Taj Mahal complex. For an additional two dollar "donation" to the ASI one can gain access to mausoleum itself.


b. Indirectly Related to Product: Yes. Transportation.

One of the environmental measures proposed for the protection of the Taj Mahal is the reinvention and reintroduction of the cycle rickshaw. The cycle rickshaw has been around since the 1940s and has served as a low cost/ low pollution form of transportation. However the cycle rickshaw has suffered from an image problem. Rickshaw walas often are subjected to harsh work conditions for minimal financial gain. ITDP estimates on average the rickshaw wala earns $1.30 per day, $0.30 of that goes to the owner of the cycle rickshaw. This puts the cycle rickshaw wala at the global poverty line established by the World Bank ($1 a day or less).


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The rickshaw has been decried by progressive politicians as exploitative to drivers and unsafe to the roads. The vehicles were also blamed for traffic congestion. The cycle rickshaw was banned in New Delhi, the capital of India more than ten years ago and faces the prospect of similar bans in other Indian cities. Many Indians and tourists alike were uncomfortable with the idea of riding in a vehicle of questionable safety and comfort and one in which the driver has to physically struggle to walk the bicycle up hills or embankments, as is the case in Agra, at the Taj Mahal.


In 1994, the Supreme Court of India ordered that motorized vehicles be restricted in the 4 square kilometers immediately surrounding the Taj. Additionally the neighborhood around the Taj is composed of many narrow alleys and streets which make large scale automobile and bus traffic impassable. This opened up an opportunity for alternate forms of transportation which included electronic powered transportation, animal transportation; some tourists would hire out camel walas to make the short trek form the hotels to the Taj Mahal, and the cycle rickshaw.


The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), a New York based organization that stresses non-motorized environmentally sound transportation, initiated what has come to be known as The Taj Mahal Cycle Taxi Improvement Project at the request of the Municipality of Agra, the Indian Government, the U.S. Agency for International Development's Energy, Environment, and Enterprise Program, and the US Environmental Protection Agency. The project sought to redesign the rickshaw to create a safer, more comfortable ride which is easier on the driver as well.


The project sought not to import the import the bikes into Agra but rather to enable the local community to manufacture and produce the bikes with technical assistance. This policy lead to higher end production jobs in Agra. The new cycle rickshaw is the multi-speed gear system which reduces strain on the rickshaw-wallah. The weight of the vehicle is lighter evenly distribution and makes it easier to pedal and steer and the long chassis offers stability and prevents toppling. For the passenger, there are comfortable seats and backrests which absorb shocks and offer more comfortable rides. In addition, the permanent hood offers protection against sun and rain, and here is plenty of luggage space under the seats.

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According to ITDP, Agra produces between 30,000 and 50,000 cycle rickshaws per year. There are 5 major cycle rickshaw manufacturers in Agra; 20 or more people are employed by the average cycle rickshaw manufacturing firm, and, producing roughly 10 to 20 vehicles per day. Another hundred people are estimated to be involved in other rickshaw repair related jobs and subcontractors who construct the seats and other specialty components possibly provide another 100 jobs.

Officially, there are 10,000 licensed cycle rickshaws in Agra employing 30,000 rickshaw walas. A single cycle rickshaw can be used by three walas in shifts. There is no official log of unregistered cycle rickshaws, however sources in Agra estimate that there are at least another 10,000 to 20,000 unregistered cycle rickshaws employing another 30,000 to 60,000 wala Thus, the total number of jobs created by the provision of cycle rickshaw service in Agra ranges from 30,000 to 90,000 people. It is estimated that 30% to 40% of rickshaw wala own and operate their own vehicles, and the remaining 60% to 70% rent them from an owner of a cycle rickshaw fleet.

ITDP estimates that in Agra the average rickshaw wala logs around 24,500 km per year. (Over 15,000 miles). It asserts "If these trips were changed into trips by highly polluting two stroke IC engine, the annual emission impact would be roughly an additional 11 metric tons of lead in Agra's atmosphere, 4000 tons of particulate, 20,000 metric tons of CO, and 150 tons of NOx". (Based on estimates of 2 stroke motorcycle engines in Chile, from Turner, Weaver, and Reale, 1993). These increases would lead to thousand of more deaths from respiratory problems each year.

Agra is in an unique situation being a tourist destination where consumers are likely to be willing to pay well over the market price for the service of a cycle rickshaw. The cycle rickshaw has some resonance as being part of the experience of India. Efforts continue to be made to ensure that the rickshaw continues as an environmentally sound and sustainable mode of transportation while keeping with the historical sense of the Taj.


c. Not Related to Product: NA

d. Related to Process:

In order to facilitate better access to the Taj Mahal, the government of the state of Uttar Pradesh is spending Rs 26 billion on an expressway from Delhi to Agra, which will cut down travel time from three hours to 80 minutes.


S.O. 350 (E). In exercise of the powers conferred by sub-sections (1) and (3) of section 3 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986(29 of 1986) (hereinafter referred to as the said Act), the Central Government hereby constitutes an authority to be known as the Taj Trapezium Zone Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (herein referred to as the Authority) consisting of the following persons for a period of two years with effect from the date of publication of this notification in the Official Gazette, namely :-


2. The authority shall, within the geographical limits of Agra Division in the Taj Trapezium Zone (see Annexure) in the State of Uttar Pradesh, have the power to -

(i) monitor progress of the implementation of various schemes for protection of the Taj Mahal and programmes for protection and improvement of the environment in the above said area;
(ii) exercise powers under section 5 of the said act;

(iii) take all necessary steps to ensure Compliance of specified emission-standards by motor vehicles and ensuring compliance of fuel quality standards;

(iv) deal with any environmental issue which may be referred to it by the Central Government or the State Government of Uttar Pradesh relating to the above said area;

3. The foregoing powers and functions of the Authority shall be subject to the overall supervision and control of the Central Government.

4. The Authority shall be authorised to exercise the powers under section 19 of the said Act.

5. The geographical limits of the Taj Trapezium Zone (see Annexure) have been defined in the shape of a trapezoid between 26 45 N & 77 15'E to 27 45 N & 77 15 E in the West of the Taj Mahal and in the East of Taj Mahal between 27 00' N & 78 30 E to 27 30' N & 78 30 E.

6. The Authority may co-opt experts for facilitating the work assigned to it.

7. The Authority shall furnish a report about its activities at least once in two months to the Central Government in the Ministry of Environment and Forests.

8. The Authority shall have its headquarters at Agra in the State of Uttar Pradesh.

15. Trade Product Identification: Tourism

16. Economic Data:
According to the Press Information Bureau of the Government of India, 2,350,0000 visited the country in the year 2000 accounting for 12753.56 crores rupees (1 crore = 10 million) contribution to the foreign exchange reserves on the country. It is estimated that the Taj Mahal itself takes in 1,400,000 tourists a year. Tourism is the third largest contributor to foreign exchange following Information Technology and Textile. Still despite its favorable exchange rate and historic monuments, India is actually a net exporter of tourism and many of the tourists are either expatriate Indians returning home to see family or backpackers on limited budgets.

17. Impact of Trade Restriction: Undocumented.

18. Industry Sector: In 1995, according to the World Tourism Organization WTO), India ranked 44th among the world's top 60 tourist destinations in terms of numbers of tourists and 52nd among the world's top 60 tourist destinations in terms of tourist spending.
India has recently liberalized its tourism market in an effort to unleash the potential currently latent in the industry. The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) states India's travel and tourism industry was expected to be worth US$27.4 billion in GDP for the year 2001 and was set for real growth of 10 percent before September 11, 2001 when travel and tourism demand dropped dramatically across the world. The industry was expected to employ 25 million people in 2001 (six percent of India's total workforce).

  Although the Taj and Agra fort are major tourist destinations, a survey by Lucknow University showed that thousand of visitors leave Agra without even a hotel stay. Agra is close enough to both Delhi and Jaipur to visit only a stopover. Thus a great deal of potential income is lost.

India saw tourism drop by almost a quarter in the wake of September 11th as did many other countries. Additionally, increasing tension in disputes with Pakistan led Indian aurthorities to consider a plan to cover the Taj Mahal with a gaint tarp to camoflauge it from Pakistani warplanes. The plan would no doubt have an adverse effect on tourism however it was not enacted. India has also taken significent measures to increase security as to deal with possible terrorist threats to the Taj Mahal.


19. Exporters and Importers:

Top Countries Number of Tourists Visiting India 1996
The United Kingdom 360, 686
The United States 228,829
Sri Lanka 107,351


Japan 99,018
France 93,325
Canada 74,031
Malaysia 53,370
Austria 49,910

World Travel and Tourism Council


V. Environment Clusters

20. Environmental Problem Type: Pollution

21. Name, Type, and Diversity of Species

Name: N/A

Type: N/A

Diversity: N/A

22. Resource Impact and Effect: Low and Scale

23. Urgency and Lifetime: Low and hundreds of years.

24. Substitutes: Eco-tourism.

VI. Other Factors


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25. Culture: Yes

The Taj Mahal complex includes a Mosque and structurally identical guest house adjacent to the Tomb. The Mosque faces towards Mecca and is used by the Muslim community for prayer five times a day. Thus even though the Taj Mahal closes to visitors on Fridays, it remains open to the Muslim faithful. Some Hindu fundamentalist political groups who attempt to deny any postive contributions of Muslims in Indian history have suggested that the Taj Mahal is actually a Rajput palace although the idea is not taken very seriously.

26. Trans-Boundary Issues: No

27. Rights: No.



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Feel free to email me with comments.


28. Relevant Literature:

  Bhatia, Chandur "Air Pollution in Agra" Institution of Engineers (India) http://www.thesalmons.org/lynn/india-pollut.html

Hook, Walter. "Taj Mahal Cycle Taxi Improvement Project: An NGO-Private Sector Partnership" http://www.workbike.org/research/tajmahal.html

The Indian Express. "Sunshine for a Whiter Taj" April 21, 2002.

Kapoor, Sanjay. "Heritage: Edifice Angst". Asiaweek; Hong Kong; Aug 24, 2001.

Ministry Of Environment And Forests Order in regards to the Taj Trapezium Zone. http://envfor.nic.in/legis/ecozone/taj-aut.html

Pope, Chris. "Take me to the Taj" Professional Engineering; Bury St. Edmunds; May 2, 2001.

Press Trust of India. "Supreme Court Directs Solar Power for Taj Mahal, Surroundings" May 2, 2002.

Rhône-Poulenc S.A. Press Release "Launch Of Taj Mahal Preservation Programme" http://www.itcilo.it/unscp/programmefocus/p2/knowledge_sharing/case_studies/taj_mahal.asp#unesco

"The Taj Trapezium: Ten Point initiative for reduction of pollution in Taj" http://petroleum.nic.in/envtaj.htm

Times of India. "UP's Tourism Efforts In Disarray." Feb 1, 2002.

Times of India. "Taj Trapezium Project Phase II Gets Green Signal" March 21, 2001.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Courier "Toxins and the Taj" Jul/Aug 2000. http://www.unesco.org/courier/2000_07/uk/signe.htm

World Bank. "Taj Mahal Environmental Improvements Project" http://www.adb.org/Documents/Profiles/LOAN/29047013.ASP