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Green Taj Corridor to attract more tourists

At last, the controversial Taj Heritage Corridor, sandwiched between the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort, will be transformed from a wasteland into the city's green lung. The Uttar Pradesh Forest Department has been told to draw up plans to green the 80-acre dump yard and graveyard along the Yamuna river on which former Chief Minister Mayawati wanted to develop a commercial hub and amusement parks.

However, because the Archaeological Survey of India did not clear the project, the Supreme Court ordered its suspension in 2003.

"Yes, the chief minister (Akhilesh Yadav) called me and told me to speed up efforts to green the neglected corridor. Funds will soon be available and work will begin," District Forest Officer NK Janoo told IANS. Yadav has a background in environmental engineering.

"We have to follow all the directions of the Supreme Court, High Court, and the Archaeological Survey of India," Janoo said.

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

At present, the land is 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 case against her has been on for long, but the Taj Corridor continues to remain an eyesore. Scores of foreign tourists daily visit the site and take pictures that are not too flattering.

Reports of the site being used as a burial ground have caused concern. Dozens of graves can be seen, with the huge stones and boulders used for identification.

"While the Taj Corridor lies buried in the debris of politics, the platform is being used to bury dead children," say office-bearers of the 125-year-old Kshetra Bajaja Committee, which manages the Taj Ganj crematorium called Mokshdham.

Environmentalists have, on several occasions, expressed concern at the alarming pollution level in the Yamuna after hundreds of trucks of waste was littered around with carcasses of animals and bodies of children.

With no official agency willing to take care of what is left behind in the corridor, locals have been using the site to their advantage.