IAF's Mirage-2000 lands on Yamuna Expressway as part of emergency drill

An Indian Air Force Mirage-2000 on Thursday landed on the Delhi-Agra Yamuna Expressway near Mathura as part of the IAF's plans to use national highways for emergency landings by fighter aicraft.
IAF fighter aircraft lands on Yamuna Expressway near Mathura
An Indian Air Force (IAF) Mirage-2000 today successfully landed on the Delhi-Agra Yamuna Expressway near Mathura as part of the IAF's plans to use national highways for emergency landings by fighter aicraft.
"This capability was demonstrated by IAF on May 21, 2015 by a Mirage-2000 aircraft which got airborne from one of the IAF bases in Central India," a press release from the Air Force said.
"All facilities like make shift Air Traffic Control, safety services, rescue vehicles, bird clearance parties and other requirements were set up by IAF personnel from Air Force Station Agra," it said.
The IAF had, in coordination with the District Magistrates and Superintendents of Police of Agra and Mathura tied up all the necessary arrangements for activation of the selected stretch.
"The aircraft made a practice approach on the highway, coming down to a height of 100 mtrs before landing off the next approach. The operations were conducted with active support from the government of Uttar Pradesh, Yamuna Expressway Authority, Toll authorities of JP Infratech and Civil Police," the release said.
"The IAF has plans to activate more such stretches on highways in the future," it added.
The 165 km Yamuna Expressway stretching 165 kms., which connects Delhi and Agra, is a six-lane controlled expressway.

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Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences to open office in Mumbai

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which presents the famed Oscar Awards, will open an office in Mumbai, which will be only its third across the world.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), which presents the famed Oscar Awards, will open an office in Mumbai, which will be only its third across the world.
This was announced during the visit of AMPAS President John Bailey and his wife Carol Littleton in Agra on Monday.
Bailey and his wife had earlier visited Mumbai and are due to visit Delhi on Tuesday.
Bailey met Uttar Pradesh Deputy Chief Minister Dinesh Sharma here and had an hour-long discussion with him.
After the meeting Bailey said Indian films should be dubbed in English for exhibition in the West and Hollywood films must be dubbed in Hindi.
Sharma said they also discussed how the film industry could be promoted in UP and ways to expand "knowledge exchange" with Hollywood.

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Reliance Infra to sell its entire stake in Delhi-Agra (DA) Toll Road Pvt Ltd

Reliance Infrastructure Limited, a part of the Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group, today said it had signed a definitive binding agreement with Singapore-based Cube Highways and Infrastructure III Pte Ltd for the sale of its 100% stake in Delhi-Agra (DA) Toll Road Private Limited. 
Cube Highways and Infrastructure III Pte Ltd has been set up by global infrastructure fund I Squared Capital and a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority.
The total deal enterprise value is over Rs 3,600 crore, a press release from Reliance Infra said.
In addition, NHAI claims of Rs. 1,200 crore to be filed by DA Toll Road Pvt. Ltd. will flow directly to Reliance Infrastructure, it said.
"Reliance Infrastructure will utilize the proceeds of this transaction entirely to reduce its debt. After the completion of the transaction for Delhi-Agra Toll Road, the debt of Reliance Infrastructure will reduce by 25% to only less than Rs. 5,000 crore," the release said.
According to it, the transaction is in line with Reliance Infrastructure’s strategic plan of monetizing non-core business and focus on major growth areas like engineering & construction (E&C) business. 
The transaction is subject to all requisite permissions and approvals, the release said.
Reliance Infrastructure’s special purpose vehicle (SPV) DA Toll Road Private Limited operates the showpiece 180-km long six-lane road that connects the national capital Delhi with Agra on National Highway (NH) 2. The profitable project has witnessed impressive revenue growth of 25% in FY18. The tolling operation for the heavily-trafficked project started in October 2012 and has a concession period till 2038.

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Two free guided tours in Agra this week as part of India Heritage Walk Festival

Tomb of I'timad-Ud-Daulah in Agra
Tomb of I'timad-Ud-Daulah in Agra
When Mughal empress Nur Jahan, the wife of Emperor Jahangir, built a tomb for her Persian father I'timad-Ud-Daulah in Agra between 1622 and 1628, it turned out to be  an imposing architectural masterpiece,  an artistic symbol of filial devotion and a statement of her royal power.  
A free guided walk on February 9, conducted as part of the second edition of India Heritage Walk Festival (IHWF), will offer a chance to the participants to uncover how the position of a mausoleum in Mughal India metamorphosed into its peculiar stylistic character, providing immortality not only to the deceased and to the patron, but also to that particular time.
Agra is among 37 cities hosting the month-long, multi-city IHWF 2019, organised jointly by Sahapedia, the online resource on Indian arts and culture, and UNESCO, to encourage citizens to explore the tangible and intangible heritage of their cities and towns. 
Shivani Gupta, who pursued Masters in Fine Arts from Maharaja Sayajirao University, Vadodara (Gujarat) and is currently a research assistant at IIT Kanpur working on the subject of hunting miniatures in Indian painting, will lead the walk to explore what makes this medieval wonder so pioneering and distinctive, introducing visitors to elements of Mughal architecture.
Another guided walk in Agra, slated for February 10, will explore the bylanes of the city where one can be absorbed by the aroma of the different spices, various food stalls and diverse cuisines.
Whether it is the century-old spice shops at Rawatpada or the delectable mutton stew at Pakiza Meat Shop, it is a wonder how different spices and flavours blend into the living history of the city, and how modern alterations to the original dishes have created new flavours that retain the cultural significance of the dish.
Anal Jha, a flautist, poet and designer who has worked with several fashion accessories brands across the globe, will lead this culinary tour across the old city, taking the attendees through a journey of myriad palates, ranging from Mughlai non-vegetarian cuisine to braj ke bhalle, and discuss how the different spices/preparations used by generations have influenced the food and living culture of the city.  Agra Heritage Walks is the event partner for this  heritage trail.
The IHWF, which received the prestigious PATA Gold Award 2018 for its maiden edition organised last year, is a one-of-its-kind month-long festival covering 37 cities, with nearly 100 heritage walks and outreach events. The month-long festival is being supported by NMDC, a state-run mineral producer and explorer. 
The events’ bookings are facilitated by Odigos, an app that makes travel and discovery easier in India. 
Vaibhav Chauhan, Festival Director (IHWF) and Secretary, Sahapedia, said: “We want to democratise access to local history and culture. One might be living in the same neighbourhood for years, but there is a big chance that an important landmark, tucked away in a back alley, has been missed and forgotten. The IHWF is that opportunity to discover the hidden gems linked to the history of a place, town or city.”
Junhi Han, Head and Programme Specialist for Culture, UNESCO New Delhi office, said, “The IHWF programme addresses knowledge of local architectural heritage, sustainable tourism, with a special focus on gender-related issues and accessibility in cultural heritage facilitating more inclusive and better outreach. The festival is expected to involve, engage and sensitize more people, in particular the youth, about their cultural heritage.”
Details about the walks, registration and other programmes of IHWF 2019 are available here.

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Modi launches Gangajal project to provide better water supply in Agra

Giving a major push to efforts to develop and enhance the tourism infrastructure, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched a series of development projects yesterday worth Rs 2900 crore for Agra city and adjoining areas.
The Prime Minister dedicated to the nation the Gangajal project, which will provide the city with better and more assured water supply, at an estimated cost of Rs 2880 crore. 
The project aims to bring 140 cusecs of Ganga water to Agra. This will help meet the drinking water demands in the city.
Mr Modi laid the foundation stone of the Integrated Command and Control Centre for Agra Smart City. CCTVs will be installed throughout the city for monitoring and surveillance for the purpose of safety and security. 
This will help to develop Agra as a modern world-class smart city, befitting its stature as a premium tourist destination, at a total cost of Rs 285 crore.
Addressing a rally at Kothi Meena Bazaar, Mr Modi said, ”With the projects like Gangajal project, and facilities like CCTV cameras, we are taking steps towards making Agra a Smart City.” The Prime Minister added that these facilities will also attract tourists.
Under Ayushman Bharat Yojana, he laid the foundation stone of the upgrading of SN Medical College in Agra. It will result in the creation of a 100-bed maternity wing in the women’s hospital, at an estimated cost of Rs 200 crore and add to the health and maternity care for the weaker sections of the society. 
The Prime Minister lauded Ayushman Bharat Yojana and said more than 7 lakh people have availed the benefits under the scheme within a span of 100 days.
On the 10% reservation for the general category poor, Mr Modi said this was a step in the right direction. He made it clear that the Government will be adding more number of seats in the educational institutions to ensure that the other category students will not be affected. 
“We have taken a major step to provide education facilities at the higher educational, technical and professional institutions in addition to the reservation for the poor from general category. 
“We have also increased the number of seats in the higher education institutions by 10%. We would not have a system which takes away the right of anyone,” he added.
“I have been trying to live up to the full potential of the mandate you have given me four and a half years ago against corruption. This is the reason why some people have begun to gather against this chowkidar,” Mr Modi said.
Emphasizing the priorities of his Government, he reiterated that Panchdhara - five facets of development hold the key to the progress of the nation. These include education for children, irrigation for the farmer, livelihood to youth, medicines for elderly, grievance redressal for everyone.
He laid the foundation stone of sewerage network project for the western part of Agra. under AMRUT scheme. The project will lead to an improved sanitation facility in more than 50000 houses.

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Mother, three children found dead near Agra

A woman and her three children were found dead, hanging from an iron mesh in the ceiling at their home on Sunday afternoon, 35 kms from here.
Police said the husband, Pramod, and father-in-law, Jangjeet, were missing from their home in Nagla Gadariya in Fatehabad block here. 
The bodies of the victims were discovered by the mother-in-law and the sister-in-law, after they returned home from the fields. 
Finding the bodies, they shouted for help.
Neighbours, who suspect it to be a case of suicide, immediately informed the police.
The victims have been identified as Mamta (30), Junu (5), Ranjit (3) and six-month-old Ajit.
The bodies have been sent for post mortem. 
Police officials said a search is on to trace the husband and his father.

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Five dead in road mishap in Uttar Pradesh

At least five people died when the car they were travelling in collided head-on with a truck on the Agra-Aligarh road in Uttar Pradesh, police said on Friday.
The accident occurred on Thursday night near Khandauli.
According to the police, three people died on the spot, while the fourth victim died on the way to the hospital and the fifth after an hour of being admitted to the emergency ward of the SN Medical College, Agra. 
The Scorpio vehicle with the victims was heading to Agra, while the truck was en route to Hathras.
The victims were from a village in Aligarh district. 

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Two killed in accident on Agra-Lucknow Expressway

Two persons were killed on the Agra-Lucknow Expressway on Saturday when a tourist bus rammed into nearby vehicles, including a police gypsy, at a toll plaza. The bus driver has been arrested, police said.
The bus was travelling from Muzaffarpur in Bihar to Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh. 
Police said the driver of the bus lost control while moving in the queue of the toll plaza and hit other nearby vehicles, including a flower cart. 
It first hit a florist and then rammed into the railing and jumped into another lane to hit the police Gypsy van. 
The deceased have been identified as toll employee Amarkant Pachauri and florist Sonu. Some security guards at the toll plaza were injured in the mishap.
The Gypsy belongs to the escort of Shrikant Sharma, Power Minister, Uttar Pradesh. One policeman, who was inside the vehicle, was also injured.

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Woman dies in Agra after being attacked by monkeys

A 59-year-old woman died in the outskirts of Agra city after she was attacked by a group of monkeys, police said on Thursday.
The attack took place on Wednesday night when the victim, Bhooran Devi, had stepped out of her house in Kagaraul village. 
According to the police, the attack left her bleeding profusely and she was pronounced dead at a hospital.
The incident comes after a child born 12 days ago died on Monday after a monkey snatched it from his mother's lap also in the city's Kachhara area.
Last week, another child from the area was brutally attacked by monkeys. The victim is in the ICU of a hospital.
Agra has been plagued by monkey menace for the past 10 years. 
At Sikandra and Fatehpur Sikri, the number of monkeys has gone beyond safe limits.
The victims' kins on Thursday demanded compensation from the district authorities.
On Wednesday evening, local voluntary agencies had organised a conference where a plan was formulated to control the monkey nuisance in the Taj city.
Agra, Mathura and Vrindavan were worst affected by monkeys who frequently attack tourists and pilgrims.

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IAF carries out mid-air refuelling of LCA Tejas for first time

The Indian Air Force (IAF) successfully carried out the first ever mid-air refuelling of the indigenously-built fighter light combat aircraft (LCA), Tejas MK 1, with an IL-78 MKI tanker of the 78 Squadron on Tuesday.
The tanker was launched from its base in Agra while the fighter was launched from Gwalior. 
"The specially modified Tejas aircraft carried out a series of  test  profiles including a ‘Dry Contact' with the tanker. A second Tejas aircraft flying in formation was used to observe the exercise closely," a press release from the Ministry of Defence said.
"All flight parameters of Tejas aircraft were transmitted live to a ground control unit set up at Gwalior airbase, wherein ADA scientists constantly monitored the technical parameters of the mission. The Tejas aircraft was piloted by test pilot Gp Capt Joshi and the IL-78 MKI was flown by Gp Capt R Arvind, Commanding Officer of the tanker squadron. Prior to the test flight, extensive ground trials were conducted in all possible conditions under the supervision of ADA scientists.
"The success of these trials is a major leap for the indigenous fighter, thus enhancing its mission capability by increasing its range and payload. The ability to carry out Air-to-Air Refueling is one of the critical requirements for the LCA to achieve Final Operational Clearance," the release added.

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French Air Force's Rafale aircraft stage through Gwalior, Agra on way back home from Australia

Rafale fighter jets and transport aircraft of the French Air Force (FAF) staged through Air Force Stations at Gwalior and Agra from September 1-4 on their way back to France from Exercise Pitch Black 2018 at Darwin in Australia, in which the Indian Air Force (IAF) had also participated.
In all, sixteen countries from around the world had participated in the exercise in Australia.
"During the staging period, FAF and IAF carried out basic joint training, which included fighter sorties by pilots in their respective aircraft with observers onboard each other’s transport aircraft supporting the missions," a press release from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said.
"This interaction with FAF provided a unique opportunity for exchange of experience and sharing of best practices during cooperative deployment," it added.

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Joint Secretary, Environment, Agra Commissioner are responsible for TTZ, SC told

The Centre on Monday told the Supreme Court that the Joint Secretary of the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change and the Commissioner of the Agra Division are responsible for maintenance of the Taj Trapezium Zone (TTZ).
The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) told a bench of Justice Madan B. Lokur and Justice Deepak Gupta that its Director General will be responsible for the maintenance of the 17th century Mughal monument.
On July 26, the apex court had made it clear that somebody has to take responsibility for protection of the Taj Mahal and asked the Centre to inform it as to which departments of the Central and Uttar Pradesh governments would be responsible for the maintenance and protection of the TTZ.
TTZ is an area of about 10,400 sq km spread over the districts of Agra, Firozabad, Mathura, Hathras and Etah in Uttar Pradesh and Bharatpur district of Rajasthan.
The court has been hearing a plea filed by environmentalist M.C. Mehta seeking protection of the Taj from the ill-effects of polluting gases and deforestation in and around the area.
During the hearing, the apex court agreed with Mehta's suggestion that TTZ committee should be "revamped", and asked him to give suggestions in writing by August 30 to Attorney General K.K. Venugopal, appearing for the Centre.
Recently, the Uttar Pradesh government, submitted its first draft report of its 'Vision Document' on protection and preservation of the Taj Mahal before the court, suggesting that the entire Taj Mahal precinct should be declared a no-plastic zone and all polluting industries in the region closed.
It also suggested use of bottled water inside the monument should be prohibited and more tourism hubs should be created.
The court had earlier slammed Uttar Pradesh government for not being able to come up with a report to protect Taj Mahal that was built by Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal.
For not being able to protect the iconic Taj Mahal, which is turning yellow, the bench had even asked the Centre and Uttar Pradesh governments to "shut it down" or "demolish or restore" the Mughal structure.

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What if UNESCO withdraws Taj's world heritage site title, asks SC

Slamming both the Central and Uttar Pradesh governments for the neglect of Taj Mahal, the Supreme Court on Thursday wondered what would happen if UNESCO dropped the 17th century Mughal monument from its list of world heritage sites.
"It is a world heritage site. What will happen if UNESCO says that we withdraw the world heritage title," asked the bench of Justice Madan B. Lokur and Justice Deepak Gupta.
Asking if the authorities concerned have filed the management plan for the protection and preservation of the heritage site, Justice Lokur said: "It is very very difficult to understand what is happening. Something is said on affidavit, something is said orally and something otherwise. It is unacceptable."
Coupled with this, the court also wanted to know which was the authority responsible for the protection and preservation of Taj as it found that the three affidavits filed before it were by the Uttar Pradesh Tourism Department, second by the Union Environment and Forest Ministry and third by some other authority.
"Somebody has to take the responsibility. Who has to take the responsibility for Taj - either Centre or Uttar Pradesh government with an identifiable authority?" the bench said.
As senior counsel A. D. N.Rao told the court that the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) was responsible for the Taj, the court expressed surprise that it has been kept out of the consultation process for preparing the draft vision document for the protection and preservation of the Taj.
Ordering that a copy of the draft vision document be made available to the ASI and asking it to share it with INTACH, Agha Khan Foundation, ICOMS and other similar entities who have expertise in protecting and restoring the historic monuments, the court also directed the UP government to give a copy of the vision document to petitioner M. C. Mehta for his comments.
Sharing the court's concern on the possibility of UNESCO dropping Taj from the list of world heritage sites, Attorney General K. K. Venugopal told the court that the task involving the preservation and protection of Taj and other adjoining monuments including Agra Fort, Fatehpur Sikri and Sikandra fort is massive and has to be carried by way of short term, medium and long term plan.
He told the court that short term plan itself would take two years to complete.
At the outset of the hearing, Justice Lokur took exception to Uttar Pradesh government filing the draft vision document asking if the state government expected the Court to "correct it."
The court was told that the Taj Trapezium Authority was responsible for executing the larger plans for the protection of the heritage monument.  Justice Lokur said had it been doing its job, things would not have come to such a pass.
The court directed it be told "categorically and unequivocally" who is responsible for the TTZ.
"Whether it is Union of India, then which Ministry, if it is Uttar Pradesh government, then which Ministry," said Justice Lokur, adding that "we are in a situation where the left hand does not know what the right is doing."
TTZ is an area of about 10,400 sq km spread over the districts of Agra, Firozabad, Mathura, Hathras and Etah in Uttar Pradesh and Bharatpur district of Rajasthan.
As the Attorney General referred to the draft vision document involving multi-pronged approach to preserve and protect the heritage monument, Justice Lokur confronted him with an affidavit by the Uttar Pradesh government which said that there were 1,167 polluting industries in the area.
Venugopal then sought to clarify that all of them were being operated on clean fuel and UP government's standing counsel Aishwarya Bhati said it was just the nomenclature to describe them which is in use for long.
This drew the court's ire.
"They are polluting industries, your affidavit says but you are saying that they are not polluting but by nomenclature they have been described so," said Justice Lokur.
"There is something wrong with your English or there is something wrong with ours," he added.
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Four killed in LPG cylinder blast in Agra district of UP

Four killed in LPG cylinder explosion in Agra's Iradat Nagar
At least four persons have been killed and 12 injured after an LPG cylinder exploded at a village in Uttar Pradesh's Agra district, police said on Tuesday.
The incident took place in Daadhki village in Iradatnagar around midnight, apparently due to leakage in the gas cylinder.
The deceased have been identified as Kamal Singh, 45, Girraj Singh, 61, Mahaveer, 40, and Om Prakash, 27. 
Of the injured, the condition of three is critical, a police officer told IANS, adding the injured have been admitted to S.N. Medical College in Agra. 
The explosion took place at the house of Himmat Singh. His daughter Meera was cooking when she noticed the gas leakage, and the pipe to the cylinder catching fire.
She raised an alarm, hearing which many people came to the rescue but before they could do anything, the cylinder exploded. 
Due to the impact of the explosion, the two-storey house of Singh was flattened. 
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Doyen of Hindi poetry Gopal Das 'Neeraj' passes away

Gopal Das 'Neeraj'
Gopal Das 'Neeraj'
Doyen of Hindi poetry and legendary lyricist Gopal Das 'Neeraj' passed away at the All-India Medical Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS) in New Delhi on Thursday. He was 94.
He had been suffering from many old age-related ailments for the past few years and was shifted from Agra to the pulmonary department of AIIMS on Wednesday after he developed respiratory complications, a family member said.
Shashank Prabhakar, son of Neeraj, told reporters in the national capital that the body of the late poet would be first taken to Agra for people to pay their last respects and after that it would be taken to Aligarh where the last rites would be performed.
Neeraj was born in Etawah district of Uttar Pradesh on January 4, 1924 and had endeared himself to generations with his soulful poems and lyrics. Many of his books and compositions won acclaim from his followers world over. 
His main compositions include Prangeet, Vibhawari, Antardhwani and Sangharsh, among others. He was honoured with the coveted Padma Shri in 1991 and the Padma Bhushan in 2007. The Uttar Pradesh government had bestowed on him the Yash Bharti award in 1994.
For his lyrics in Bollywood films, he won three back to back Filmfare awards in the 70s -- for "Kal ka pahiya ghoome re bhaiyya..." from the film "Chanda Aur Bijli" in 1970, "Bas yahi apradh main har baar karta hoon, aadmi hoon aadmi se par karta hoon..." from film "Pehchaan" in 1971 and "Ai bhai, zara dekh ke chalo..." from film "Mera Naam Joker" in 1972.
Expressing his condolences, UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said the death of legendary poet is an irreparable loss. He also announced institution of an annual award in the memory of late poet, to be given away to five young poets. The award would carry a cash prize of Rs one lakh and a citation.
UP Governor Ram Naik also mourned his death, while Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Akhilesh Yadav has described the demise of Neeraj as an irreparable loss. Uttar Pradesh Bharatiya Janata Party president Mahendra Nath Pandey also mourned the demise of Neeraj. 
The state government has announced that the last rites of the poet would be held with full state honours.
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Restore Taj Mahal or demolish it, SC tells government

The Supreme Court on Wednesday came down heavily on the Centre and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) for not being able to protect the iconic Taj Mahal, issuing a warning it will "shut it down" and the authorities should "demolish or restore" the Mughal structure.
The apex court was unhappy as the Uttar Pradesh government failed to come out with a vision document to protect the Taj Mahal.
A bench of Justice Madan B. Lokur and Justice Deepak was upset with the authorities for not taking any step to preserve the Taj Mahal and said it is "sheer lethargy" on the part of the authorities.
"There is absolutely no willingness to protect the Taj Mahal. Taj Mahal has to be protected. Either we will shut it down or you demolish or restore it," the bench observed.
The court said the Taj Mahal is more beautiful than the Eiffel Tower and could have solved the country's foreign exchange problem.
"Eighty million go to watch Eiffel Tower which looks like a TV Tower. Our Taj is more beautiful. If you had looked after it your foreign exchange problem would have been solved. 
"Do you realise the loss caused to the country due to your apathy?," observed the bench.
The Uttar Pradesh government had earlier told the bench that it would place before the court a draft of vision document on protection and preservation of the Taj Mahal that was built by Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal.
Saying it would hear the case next on July 31 on a day-to-day basis, the bench told the Centre to furnish full details of the steps taken and action it intends to take for protecting the Taj Mahal.
The court also sought personal appearance of the chairman of Taj Trapezium Zone (TTZ) -- a 10,400 sq km area spread over the districts of Agra, Firozabad, Mathura, Hathras and Etah in Uttar Pradesh and Bharatpur in Rajasthan -- to explain violation of its orders prohibiting expansion of industrial units in the zone.
The Uttar Pradesh government had said it was also trying to take care of the environment around the structure so that the historic monument could be there for another 400 years and not just for a generation.
The court has been hearing a plea filed by environmentalist M.C. Mehta seeking protection of the Taj from the ill-effects of polluting gases and deforestation in and around the area.
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SC bans outsiders from offering namaz in Taj mosque

The Supreme Court on Monday refused to allow outsiders to offer 'namaz' at a mosque in the Taj Mahal premises, saying the historic monument, which is one of the seven wonders of the world, "must be protected".
A bench headed by Justice A.K. Sikri and Justice Ashok Bhushan said there was no need to perform prayers at the Taj Mahal only as it dismissed a plea filed against Agra authorities's order debarring outsiders from offering prayers on Fridays at the mosque inside the Taj Mahal complex.
"Why should people go to the Taj Mahal for prayers, there are other mosques also where they can offer their prayers," asked the bench after petitioner Syed Ibrahim Hussain Zaidi, president of Taj Mahal Masjid Management Committee, contended that several tourists visit the city throughout the year and the order to restrain them from offering their prayers at the complex was "illegal".
The district administration, to ensure foolproof security to the world heritage site, on January 24, ordered that only those with valid identity cards would be allowed entry to the monument complex to offer prayers on Fridays - when the Taj Mahal remains closed for tourists.
The order, which held that entry of outsiders could adversely affect the security of the monument, came following complaints that outsiders, including Bangladeshis and non-Indians, enter the Taj Mahal complex on Fridays on the pretext of offering prayers.
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Monkey armies cause havoc in Agra, Vrindavan; officials helpless


The exploding simian population in Agra and neighbouring religious shrines of Braj Mandal has caused widespread alarm as a large number of unsuspecting pilgrims have fallen victim to the aggressive monkeys out on a rampage.

Two foreign tourists were attacked in the Taj Mahal area on Tuesday by a pack of monkeys, causing some panic. The CISF personnel present there provided them medical care.

In Vrindavan and Mathura -- which along with Agra form what the devout call the "Krishna's Leela Bhoomi" -- pilgrims are frequently attacked by the simians. Many have been wounded and some had to be hospitalised. Several people have lost their spectacles and purses.

Last year, a sadhu (monk) died after falling from a terrace following an attack by the monkeys. A housewife drying clothes on the rooftop sustained severe head injuries after she fell to the ground in an attempt to save herself from the monkeys.

Civic authorities seem helpless in tackling the menace. "We have written so many times to the municipal corporation, but there has been no action from their side," Superintending Archaeologist in Agra, Bhuvan Vikram, told IANS.

When former President Pranab Mukherjee visited Vrindavan in November 2016, langurs had to be hired to shoo away the monkeys, recalled Jagan Nath Poddar, convener of Friends of Vrindavan. For days, the locals watched in amusement as the langurs tried to chase away the monkeys.

According to the locals, there is a certain herd mentality even among the monkeys. "Earlier, they would be satisfied with a biscuit or a piece of bread, but lately they have acquired a taste for juices. They are always looking for packaged juices," says Rakesh who, with his sister Janki, helps visitors to Kosi Ghat find their lost items -- for a consideration. Things like spectacles and purses are thrown away by the simians in the bushes from where the siblings retrieve them.

In Kosi, there have been several protests. In Mathura and Vrindavan too, many of those who had been injured had complained against the monkeys which seem to be outnumbering the visitors and pilgrims. "Due to religious beliefs, no one wants to harm the monkeys, though the vegetable sellers in the area keep catapults ready with stones which the monkeys fear the most," said Kunj Bihari, a Vrindavan resident.

Every shrine has dozens and dozens of the primates who have learnt to become aggressive over the years. For the pilgrims -- especially women and children -- negotiating their way through the lanes was always a bit difficult with cows and stray dogs everywhere. Now the simian menace has made it more troubling.

Nandan Das, another resident of Vrindavan, says that "monkeys can attack humans, but we cannot kill or shoot them." Many residents said they had complained to forest department officials in the area to no avail. An official from the department, who did not want to be named, said: "We have no funds for these activities. Moreover, when you can't kill the monkeys where would you keep them?"

Residents in the area say the monkeys move around on the terrace of houses in large numbers, often uprooting flowers in the pots. Women and children often come under attack from them. From dawn, they start by jumping from one terrace to another with many of them moving towards the riverfront steps where pilgrims congregate. The return in the evening is equally menacing.

Says Mathura resident Anand Agarwal: "In Goverdhan, they hang around along the parikrama route in large numbers and around the Mansi Ganga holy pond. In Vrindavan, there's hardly a lane without the armies of simians."

Social activists Madhu Mangal says the simian problem got compounded after a ban was imposed on export of monkeys for research. "Hundreds of people are bitten by monkeys and stray dogs but the hospitals in the area rarely have adequate supplies of anti-rabies vaccines."

Acharya Sri, a resident of Vrindavan, said that till a few years ago the monkeys were caught and sent to the Terai region on a regular basis. "But then some animal rights activists protested and the practice was stopped", he said.

Naresh Kadian, an animal rights activist and president of the Animal Welfare Party says that since the primates cannot be killed, they should be captured and released in the jungles. "Birth control is the answer. The monkeys have to be sterilised," Kadian told IANS.

Mathura district officials said provisions of the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 had to be taken into account. And without a clear-cut directive from the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, they say, it was not possible to take any initiative. None was willing to come on record.

Vaibhav Agarwal says his hometown Vrindavan alone has over 20,000 monkeys and their numbers are increasing rapidly. "This problem has to be urgently addressed," he says.

But who will bell the cat...or the monkeys?


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Three die in Agra house collapse

Three persons including two women were buried under the debris of an old house that caved in during a repair work in Agra city, police said on Monday.
The incident took place in Sadar Bhatti area, close to the Collectorate.
According to the Mantola Police Station officials, house owner Haji Abid was getting the old house repaired for past couple of days. Around 4.00 p.m, the house came tumbling down and the debris fell on three pedestrians.
Neighbours, with the help from the police, extricated the bodies. A cyclist also died on the spot, along with two women of a neighbouring locality.
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Taj Heritage Corridor being resurrected in new avatar, but questions remain


The controversial Taj Heritage Corridor which brought down the Mayawati government in 2003 is being resurrected in a new avatar -- but disturbing questions remain, environmentalists say.

The Uttar Pradesh horticulture department, in collaboration with the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), has started greening the vast wasteland sandwiched between two world heritage monuments, the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort, after the local MP and the chairman of the SC/ST Commission Ram Shankar Katheria laid the foundation stone of the new Taj View Garden a few days ago.

The Supreme Court, some 10 years ago, had asked the ASI to clean up the debris from the corridor site and develop the 80 acres of reclaimed land as a green buffer to insulate the Taj Mahal from air pollution. But for want of resources, it took more than a decade for the work to start.

"We have laid a new lush green lawn and lined up ornamental plants. Come rainy season and the whole area would be a green delight and attract tourists," UP horticulture department's garden superintendent Mukesh Kumar said.

Agra Mayor Navin Jain has promised that the municipal corporation would extend the green frontiers and maintain the newly-developed park.

Once completed, the green stretch will be a new attraction for tourists.

Till recently the land was being used not only as a dumping ground for garbage but also as a place to bury bodies of children and aborted foetuses. The sprawling 80-acre platform, recovered through dredging of the river bed and refilling of the open space, was left unfinished after corruption charges were levelled against Mayawati. The charges eventually brought down her government.

The corridor was to begin from Khan-e-Alam, close to the Taj Mahal, and extend two kilometres towards the city behind the Agra Fort. It was to be extended later to allow tourists to reach Etmaddaula and Ram Bagh on the other side of the river.

For months, hundreds of tractors, earthmovers and machines worked round the clock to dig out silt and deposit it on the river bank to create a new platform, which was laid with Rajasthani stones.

The space was to be used to erect tall buildings, amusement parks, shopping malls and the like.

But, after a hue and cry from conservationists that the corridor would endanger the monument and allegations of large-scale corruption in the project, the Central government suspended the work in 2003. The alleged scandal reportedly involved government allotment of large tracts of land along the proposed corridor to a private builder for a song.

As the case against Mayawati dragged for years, the corridor remained an eyesore between two world heritage monuments. Scores of foreign tourists visit the site daily and take pictures that were not too flattering.

Environmentalists have on several occasions expressed concern at the alarming pollution level in the Yamuna after hundreds of truck-loads of waste, including carcasses of animals and bodies of children, was dumped into the river.

When tourists looked at the Taj Mahal from Agra Fort, what they saw was a disturbing sight -- heaps of stinking garbage, carcasses and graves of children dotting the structure and mounds of rubble that invite mosquitoes, dogs, snakes, crows and vultures.

"Such an ugly sight near the world's most beautiful monument can be repulsive and nauseating," environmentalist Harendra Gupta said.

Rajiv Gupta, former president of the National Chamber of Industries and Commerce, thought that "a positive beginning has now been made and soon Agra will have a new tourist attraction".

But local environmentalists point out that the so-called heritage corridor was, legally speaking, an encroachment on the Yamuna river bed. "That was the reason why work was stopped. Now instead of dismantling and removing the debris, they are seeking to legitimise an encroachment of public land," said Shravan Kumar Singh of the Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society.

Eminent historian Prof R. Nath, who had first drawn attention to this controversial corridor back in 2002, told IANS on phone from Ajmer: "This corridor should be cleared and the Yamuna allowed to breathe free. Also, the artificial park created just behind the Taj Mahal on a mound of debris should be immediately cleared as it has distanced the river Yamuna which should flow touching the base of the monument. The powers that be should stop playing with monuments."


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UP dust storm toll climbs to 12

The death toll in a dust storm that hit Uttar Pradesh has increased to 12, a government official said on Thursday.
Over 25 people were injured in the storm that hit many parts of western Uttar Pradesh late on Wednesday night.
The victims included six from Agra, four from Etawah and two from Kanpur.
Gusty winds, followed by hail and lightning, led to the collapse of many houses as well.
An official told IANS that due to the uprooting of many trees, traffic was hit on the Gwalior-Bareilly highway and also on the Faizabad road linking the temple town to the state capital. 
Several trees have been uprooted in Lucknow and power outages were reported from many areas. 
Rain was reported in Kanpur, Kannauj and other neighbouring districts. 
Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has directed officials to ensure speedy rescue and relief of the affected and ordered prompt medical aid for the injured.
District authorities in the worst affected areas of Kanpur, Aligarh, Agra, Firozabad and Hathras have been asked to assess the damage and ensure compensation by Thursday, a government spokesman told IANS.
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Seven killed as dust storm hits many parts of UP

Massive dust storm surrounds Taj Mahal in Agra
At least seven people were killed and half a dozen others injured as a duststorm hit many parts of western Uttar Pradesh late on Wednesday, officials said.
A state government spokesman said that four people have been killed in Agra while three lost their lives in Etawah. The deceased include a woman. 
Gusty winds are blowing across western and central Uttar Pradesh and hail has also been reported from Firozabad, neighboring the Taj city, an official told IANS. The Regional Met office here has predicted more such storms in the next 24 hours.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has meanwhile directed officials of the storm hit districts of Aligarh, Agra, Mathura and Firozabad to ensure prompt relief to those effected in the rough weather. 
He has also warned officials against any laxity with regards to relief and has asked them to make immediate assessment of the losses and damage caused by the storm and ensure speedy disbursal of compensation.
Trees have been uprooted at many places and power outages have also been reported. Traffic has been hit on highways at some places.
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Adityanath visits storm-hit UP villages, provides assistance

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath on Saturday visited the storm-affected villages near here, met the injured and survivors, and also presented cheques to the bereaved families, officials said.
The Chief Minister cut short his Karnataka visit on Friday night and reached Agra to review arrangements being made to restore normalcy in the lives of people affected by the freak storm on Wednesday night.
Talking to media persons, he reacted sharply to the Twitter comment of former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, saying "they were insensitive people who had no shame".
On May 3 (Wednesday), Akhilesh took to Twitter to slam Adityanath for campaigning in Karnataka for the May 12 assembly elections in the southern state, even as Uttar Pradesh was hit by a storm. 
Adityanath made an aerial survey of affected villages in a helicopter on Saturday. Local MPs and MLAs accompanied the Chief Minister during his visit to distant villages.
The district administration has been instructed to defer collection of revenues and loans, till the conditions returned to normalcy. The state electricity board officials have been told to fix power lines and change poles immediately to avoid accidents.
He also asked the district administration to involve local NGOs to provide facilities for the injured and the family members.
At the S.N. Medical College in Agra, Adityanath met the injured children, consoled them and asked them to go to school after recovery. He also became emotional after meeting some kids of Bad village.
The principal of the medical college was asked to ensure there were no lapses and all got fair treatment. The Chief Minister then visited the district hospital to meet the injured.
He said 800 electric poles had been damaged which resulted in disruption of power supply.
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ASI's 'beauty parlour' treatment cause of Taj's browning, says historian


Welcoming the Supreme Court's concern over discolouring of the Taj Mahal, the 17th-century monument to love in Agra, historian Prof R. Nath, an authority on Mughal architecture, said: "mud-pack treatment with 'Multani Mitti' was the chief cause (of its browning) and this should be stopped forthwith".

Talking to IANS on phone from Ajmer, where he has shifted from Agra, Nath said: "I had on dozens of occasions warned that the beauty parlour treatment with Fuller's Earth would leave permanent scars and make the surface rough for deposits in the ambient air to settle down. In their wisdom, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) experts have damaged the original 'Vajra Lep', a concoction of paste using local ingredients, to provide a permanent cover."

Nath said another problem area in respect of the security and safety of the Taj Mahal is the dry river Yamuna.

"On scores of occasions, and in a number of my research papers, I had recorded that the Yamuna was an integral part of the Taj Mahal complex and the foundation resting on wells needed water round the year. The state and central governments ignored the warning I had given that the water in the river was necessary to buttress the heavy weight of the main edifice. The dome alone weighs 12,500 tonnes. My fear is someday the huge structure could just cave in," he said.

You do not need foreign experts to tell you what to do and how to conserve these valuable heritage structures, Nath said.

"The temples in Rajasthan, all marble, Dilwara, Girnar, built in the 12th century, stand out sparkling white, without any signs of fatigue. Why is only the Taj Mahal wearing out and looking pale and sick?"

The 80-year-old historian, who has written more than 300 research papers and authored dozens of books on Mughal architecture and history, is deeply pained and anguished. "I am not physically fit, otherwise I would have protested and raised an alarm. The powers that be do not seem interested in preserving history and heritage."

He accused the ASI of ignoring its own 1923 conservation manual by Sir John Marshall, which prescribes almost everything related to the conservation of protected national monuments and is not convinced of the ASI's expertise in protecting the monument.

"Cracks are bound to develop in any structure over the years, but they have to be periodically investigated and filled with material that is compatible with the structure," he said.

The Taj Mahal underwent its first repair in 1652 when there was a leak in its dome. The leak was plugged using ingredients that had waterproofing qualities like pulses, gum and gur, said Nath.

"The lime-mortar mix was used in ancient and medieval times for roofing and for filling the cracks and crevices. Aurangzeb had the Taj repaired with the same materials in several thick layers and the leakage was plugged permanently. The materials used by ASI are a poor substitute to the original," he said.

"Chances are the pores of the marble slabs would be opened because of the treatment, exposing the stones to environmental onslaughts. The builders of the Taj Mahal gave it a permanent treatment using a 'desi' concoction developed after years of painstaking research. This is called the 'vajra lep'," Nath said, adding that there was no history of "Multani mitti" being used on large marble buildings in "Greece, Italy or anywhere else in the world".

"Since it is essentially a bleaching agent, will it not make the Taj's surface rough and uneven," he questioned.

Local conservationists, too, are not convinced about the usefulness and safety of treating the Taj Mahal with a mudpack on a regular basis. Experts point out that air pollution in Agra is the main reason for the deteriorating condition of the monument and that the government should focus on that instead.

"If the (previous) treatment was so good, why do they have to give it another one so soon," asked Surendra Sharma of the Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society.

"What this means is that all our efforts to fight environmental pollution in the Taj Trapezium Zone have dismally failed. If pollution has been checked as claimed by the departments concerned, then what are the factors that are disfiguring the Taj Mahal?" Sharma asked.


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93 die in UP, Rajasthan due to storm, lightning

At least 93 people died in dust storm and lightning strikes that hit several parts of Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan overnight, officials said on Thursday.
62 killed in dust storm, lightning in Uttar PRadesh
At least 93 people died in dust storm and lightning strikes that hit several parts of Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan overnight, officials said on Thursday.
While 62 people were killed in Uttar Pradesh -- with 43 of them in the Taj city Agra alone -- another 31 died in Rajasthan's Alwar, Dholpur and Bharatpur districts, officials said. Around 150 people were also injured in the two states.
Officials told IANS that the death toll could go up as full information on the extent of the tragedy was still pouring in. 
Of the casualties, many were caused by lightning, which struck at many places after the dust storm settled down. Rains also lashed many places. 
In Uttar Pradesh, besides the 43 deaths from Agra, three people died each in Bijnore and Kanpur Dehat (rural) and one each in Bareilly, Pilibhit, Chitrakoot, Rae Bareli, Unnao, Mathura, Amroha, Kannauj, Banda, Kanpur city, Sitapur, Sambhal and Mirzapur.
Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, who is campaigning for the BJP in Karnataka, has told officials to ensure rescue and relief work in the worst hit Agra, Bijnore, Bareilly, Unnao, Saharanpur, Pilibhit, Firozabad, Chitrakoot, Muzaffarnagar and Rae Bareli districts.
In Rajasthan, a powerful dust storm hit Alwar, Dholpur and Bharatpur districts, killing 31 people and injuring another 100.
The storm, with a wind speed of 100 km per hour, uprooted trees, severed telephone, power and water supply links and brought down houses, officials said.
State Disaster Management Minister Gulabchand Kataria called an emergency meeting and confirmed that 16 persons were killed in Bharatpur, 10 in Dhaulpur and five in Alwar. 
For the first time in the state, a storm has been included under the category of natural disaster and funds to the tune of Rs 2.5 crore have been sanctioned for each district, Kataria said.
The exact level of damage in Alwar, Jhunjhunu and Bikaner was yet to be confirmed, said officials. 
Bharatpur's Additional District Magistrate O.P. Jain told IANS: "We are making all efforts to ensure that the injured are given medical aid. 
"We have prioritized restoration work so that drinking water and electricity get restored."
Dholpur Additional District Magistrate Harphool Yadav said 10 people in the district have lost their lives. "Quick response teams have been deployed since last night."
A senior official in Alwar said rescuers were still trying to reach out to people to know the exact level of damage. As phone connections have been severed, it was difficult to contact the interiors. 
Yadav said that some 200 people were stuck in village Lebdapura Basedi after their houses were gutted in a fire. 
Several electrical poles came down, disrupting power supply. The falling trees and electric poles caused the maximum accidents, leaving almost 100 people injured, Yadav said.
Both Bharatpur and Alwar were without power through the night.
Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje directed the officials on Thursday to help the injured. "Distressed after storm in Alwar, Bharatpur and Dholpur," she tweeted.
The Met department said the storm condition would continue till Saturday in Rajasthan. 
Uttar Pradesh's regional Met office also warned of a second spell of dust storm in many districts of Uttar Pradesh, following which an alert has been sounded by the government.
According to a letter from regional Met Director J.P. Gupta to the Relief Commissioner, thunderstorms accompanied by gutsy winds were very likely in Gorakhpur, Ballia, Mau, Ghazipur, Ambedkarnagar, Sant Kabeernagar, Basti, Kushinagar, Maharajganj, Siddharthnagar, Gonda, Balrampur, Sharawasti, Sitapur, Bahraich, Kheri, Shahjahanpur, Pilibhit, Rampur, Bareilly, Budayun, Aligarh, Etah, Mahamaya Nagar, Mathura, Noida, Bulandshahr, Moradabad, Meerut, Muzaffarnagar, Bijnore and Baghpat.
Massive rains were also expected in some places. 
Gupta told IANS that there was no likelihood of the storm affecting the state capital, however. 
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