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Sonam Kapoor’s Pic With Anand Ahuja From Delhi Goes Instantly Viral


New Delhi: 

Sonam Kapoor was spotted at the Mumbai airport on Friday evening, shu, when it was reported that she was en-route Delhi to join her husband Anand Ahuja. Almost all of Saturday, Sonam has been throwing back to her ore-wedding photoshoot at Anand Ahuja’s residence in Delhi. Of the ones she shared, the one in which Sonam and Anand can be seen kissing, has been reviewed as a specimen of the ultimate Instagram post: “Example of Instagram aesthetics,” read a comment while other members of Sonam’s Instafam are mostly busy pointing out how “cute” the couple are in the photo. Sonam Kapoor clearly let the photo do the talking as she added a single emoji as caption. Can you decipher it?

Sonam Kapoor’s photo garnered over 2 lakh ‘likes’ in less than an hour. The numbers are increasing as we speak.

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A post shared by SonamKAhuja (@sonamkapoor) on

 

That’s not it, Sonam Kapoor’s pitara of photos has more to add to the collection:

 

 

Here’s a throwback to being a new-bride. Sonam Kapoor and Anand Ahuja had the perfect filmy big fat wedding in Mumbai in May. After that Sonam joined her in-laws at Anand Ahuja’s Delhi residence for a brief while before she took off for Cannes.

 

 

Anand Ahuja, 32, is the owner of fashion label Bhane, which has a showroom in New Delhi’s upscale Meherchand Market. While his family is believed to have acquired a bungalow for Rs. 173 crore three years ago on the elite Prithviraj Road, he is said to be residing in Golf Links. Anand is believed to have grown up in Delhi’s posh Jor Bagh neighbourhood and comes from a Delhi-based entrepreneurial family. Apart from Bhane, Anand also owns sneaker brand VegNonVeg and serves as the managing director of his grandfather’s garment manufacturing company Shahi Exports. Anand Ahuja is currently busy expanding his label Bhane with new store openings in Mumbai and Bangalore.

Meanwhile, Sonam and Anand have reportedly finalised their home in Mumbai. Sonam’s apartment in Bandra Kurla Complex has also reportedly been designed by the actress herself. Sonam and Anand often shuttle between Mumbai, Delhi and London (where Anand has a house too).

On the work front, Sonam has films like Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga and The Zoya Factor in the pipeline.



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Opposition camp a 'daldal' where BJP's lotus will bloom brightly: PM Modi 

Opposition camp a ‘daldal’ where BJP’s lotus will bloom brightly: PM Modi 


A day after winning the no-confidence motion in the Lok Sabha, Prime Minister Narendra Modi hit out at the Congress and accused it of shedding crocodile tears for the farmers.

Addressing a farmers’ rally in Shahjanhanpur, Uttar Pradesh, he said the no-confidence motion that was brought against his government didn’t come easily.

“When someone starts acting against their misdeeds and corrupt activities of the past, they naturally won’t have confidence on that government,” Modi said. “But I am confident that people’s support for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will crush their arrogance.”

ALSO READ | Modi wins, Rahul winks as Lok Sabha rejects no-confidence motion

Taking a dig at the Opposition for the no-confidence motion, he said from south to north, east to west, the country has confidence in our government. “It is these people [Opposition parties] who don’t respect and trust the mandate you have given us,” Modi said.

He said the government was repeatedly trying to ask them what is the basis of this motion, but the Opposition had no concrete answers.

“Aur jab jawab nahi de sake, toh gale pad gaye (When they could not give an appropriate answer, they started hugging me),” he said, referring to Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s unprecedented hug after his speech in the Lok Sabha on Saturday.

Watch the video of the moment when Rahul Gandhi hugged PM Modi in Lok Sabha

Referring to the Congress, without naming it, he said the people who are today questioning his party consciously kept four crore households devoid of electricity.

“Who should be held responsible if four crore families don’t have access to electricity even after 70 years of independence?” he said referring to the decades-old rule of the Congress in the country. “Who is responsible for forcing these four crore families to live a life of 18th century in 2018?

The prime minister also spoke about the policies and programmes of his government that he said have increased sanitation standards, improved health care, among others.

“While we are busy bringing electricity and sanitation to every house in the country, they [opposition parties] are busy running around with papers of no-confidence in the Lok Sabha,” he said.

ALSO READ | PM Modi re-enacts Rahul’s post-hug wink in Lok Sabha

In his speech, Modi also ensured that he conveyed his message to other parties who are standing with the Congress. Referring to the coming together of Opposition parties to bring the no-confidence motion against his government, the prime minister said this brightens the BJP’s prospects of returning to power.

“Jab dal ke saath dal milte hain do dal dal ho jaata hai. Jitne jyada dal, utna daldal. Aur jitna jyada dal dal hota hai, utna hi accha kamal khilta hai (When parties start holding hands uncharacteristically, a political quagmire is created. Greater the number of parties, bigger is the quagmire. And bigger the quagmire, brighter does the lotus bloom in it),” he said. Lotus is the symbol of BJP and the flower blooms in a quagmire (daldal).

ALSO READ | PM Modi is insensitive, has betrayed Andhra Pradesh again: Chandrababu Naidu

Hitting out at the new bonhomie between the Congress, Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, Modi said no matter whose hand the Congress decides to hold, the people have understood this game.

“Chahe cycle ho ya haathi, kisi ko bhi bana lo saathi. Ye desh ye khel samajh chukka hai (Be it the cycle (Samajwadi Party) or the elephant (Bahujan Samaj Party), choose whomsoever you want to shake hands with. But people of this country have now understood this game),” he said.



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NASA Says No Contact With Mars Opportunity Rover Since Dust Storm Hit


NASA is yet to make contact with its Mars Opportunity rover ever since a massive storm started on the Red Planet in June.

Based on the longevity of a 2001 global storm, NASA scientists estimate it may be September before the haze has cleared enough for Opportunity to power up and call home, the US space agency said this week.

Scientists first observed a smaller-scale dust storm on May 30. By June 20, it had gone global. 

For the Opportunity rover, that meant a sudden drop in visibility from a clear, sunny day to that of an overcast one. 

Because Opportunity runs on solar energy, scientists had to suspend science activities to preserve the rover’s batteries. 

NASA said no response has been received from the rover as of July 18.

Luckily, all that dust acts as an atmospheric insulator, keeping nighttime temperatures from dropping down to lower than what Opportunity can handle. 

But the nearly 15-year-old rover is not out of the woods yet as it could take weeks, or even months, for the dust to start settling. 

When the skies begin to clear, Opportunity’s solar panels may be covered by a fine film of dust. That could delay a recovery of the rover as it gathers energy to recharge its batteries. A gust of wind would help, but is not a requirement for a full recovery, NASA said.

While the Opportunity team waits in earnest to hear from the rover, scientists on other Mars missions have gotten a rare chance to study this storm.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), Mars Odyssey, and Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) orbiters are all tailoring their observations of the Red Planet to study this global storm and learn more about Mars’ weather patterns. 

Meanwhile, the Curiosity rover is studying the dust storm from the Martian surface, the US space agency added.



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Can’t Even Build A Pandal, Talks Of Building Country


Mamata Banerjee addresses Martyrs Day rally in Kolkata.

Kolkata: 

Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee today vowed to eject the BJP from power at the centre and prophesised that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party will get a “big blow” in the 2019 general elections and end up with less than 100 seats.

“Bengal will show the path,” the chief minister said at an annual rally in the heart of Kolkata to commemorate the 1993 firing outside Victoria House that killed 13 youth congress workers.

“Those who can’t make a pandal, want to build a country?” she said, a stinging jibe at the BJP. It was a reference to the collapse of the makeshift tent put up PM Modi’s public meeting at Midnapore this week. Nearly 90 people were reported to have been injured in the accident.

The Trinamool Congress will launch a campaign, “remove BJP, save country” on 15 August and organise a mega rally in the state on 19 January that will be attended by political leaders from different parts of the country.



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Chandan Mitra, Former BJP Lawmaker, Joins Trinamool At Mega Kolkata Rally


Chandan Mitra joined Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress at a rally in Kolkata today

Kolkata: 

Several new faces joined Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress today at her annual mega rally in Kolkata, but none bigger than two-time Rajya Sabha lawmaker and former BJP leader Chandan Mitra.

Chandan Mitra, who quit the BJP earlier this week, is believed to be unhappy at being sidelined by the Amit Shah-Narendra Modi axis of power in the BJP. In his resignation letter to the party, he had expressed unhappiness about some of its policies.

Mr Mitra had contested the 2016 West Bengal assembly election from the Hooghly seat on a BJP ticket and lost his deposit.

Mr Mitra is one of the bigger names to distance itself with the party.

Mr Mitra began his career as a journalist at the Statesman House. He is currently the editor of the Pioneer newspaper in Delhi.

Along with him, four Congress legislators in West Bengal – Samar Mukherjee, Abu Taher, Sabina Yasmin and Akhruzzman – also joined the Trinamool today at its rally to mark Martyrs’ Day – to commemorate the 1993 Kolkata firing – outside Victoria House in the heart of Kolkata.



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Losing the Taj: Fighting a monumental neglect


Taj dies if the Yamuna dies

Hydel plants, mining, domestic and industrial waste, deforestation, groundwater exhaustion, floodplain encroachment, the Yamuna is an ecologically dead river at Agra. The Taj’s foundations are buried deep below the riverbed. Research now shows the water level is receding. Will the Mughal tomb cave in if the Yamuna dies?

There are total 90 drains that discharge sewage into the Yamuna through its 122-kilometre journey in Agra district. (Photographs by Bandeep Singh and Yasir Iqbal)

Green stains are fly specks

With the rising algae and detritus, the population of midges in the Yamuna has

exploded. Their green faeces can be washed off, but the alarm has been sounded on the severe environmental degradation.

A maddening rush of tourists

The Taj is reeling under footfalls. Fragile areas like the main mausoleum, the platform at the centre of the char bagh, the one extending from the main entrance towards the mausoleum, are all under severe pressure. Mass human presence creates unhealthy humidity. Sweat, oil, dirt from contact gets absorbed into the marble. The longer it remains, the harder it is to remove.

About 70,000 tourists visit the Taj on holidays and weekends. (Photographs by Bandeep Singh and Yasir Iqbal)

Not just vandalism and graffiti

The volume of visitors places enormous pressure on the conservators who have to battle for space to carry out their work.

Erosion is scarring the Taj

Flaking plaster and stained marble, missing stones and inlay work, minarets and domes crumbling in a storm, these are all indications of a prolonged structural erosion, possibly from the rusting of concealed iron lugs and dowels used to join together stone slabs in the Taj.

A major menace is the erosion of marble by the sand-laden winds from the deserts of Rajasthan, and illegal, unbridled sand mining, creating deep pits in the riverbed. (Photographs by Bandeep Singh and Yasir Iqbal)

Blasted by sand and mining

A major menace is the erosion of marble by the sand-laden winds from the deserts of Rajasthan, and illegal, unbridled sand mining, creating deep pits in the riverbed.

Pollution from the burning ghats

There are eight ghats on the riverbanks in a 10-12 km radius around the Taj Mahal. All are used for bathing, religious rituals, idol immersion and cremation. Apart from the organic waste and plastic, even carcasses are regularly found floating on the Yamuna.

2.5 PM is the total particulate matter in the Agra air is responsible for discolouration of the Taj. (Photographs by Bandeep Singh and Yasir Iqbal)

Thick black smoke billows out

Despite a Supreme Court order in 2015 to protect the monument from pollution damage, the UP government has failed to remove the wood-burning crematorium closest to the Taj.

Carbon and dust turning the Taj dark

New research shows atmospheric carbon is wreaking havoc on the Taj, discolouring the marble. Agra is the eighth most polluted city in the world, with particulate matter levels more than twice the national average and eight times the WHO standard.

A windspeed of 100 kmph during dust storms bring sand grains which has ruined Taj’s surface. (Photos by: Bandeep Singh and Yasir Iqbal)

Acid rain may not be the culprit

In the 1980s, SO2 emissions were identified as the main factor degrading the stonework of the Taj. Current data does not support the claim that acid rain or sulphates and nitrates are responsible for the damage.

Infographic by Nilanjan Das. (Click to enlarge)

Infographics by Nilanjan Das. (Click to enlarge)

Infographics by: Nilanjan Das. (Click to enlarge)

The distance from the Taj to Mokshadham, the wood-burning crematorium that spews ash and smoke through the day, is just 500 metres. (Photographs by: Bandeep Singh and Yasir Iqbal)

He’s a crowd-puller, in death as in life. For 30 long years, the fifth Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, stood at his jharokha every morning, resplendent in his court attire, acknowledging the crowd below. Nearly 352 years after his death, a crowd still scrambles for his darshan. Standing in front of the soaring mausoleum he built for his beloved empress, they jostle, shove, smile, pout, make silly faces, for that ultimate #TajMahal selfie. No matter the haze of pollution, the iron scaffolding, the stains or cracks that mar the marble edifice. Who knows if their lives will be the same when they are done? Who knows how long the Taj Mahal will survive?

You can shut down the Taj. You can demolish it, if you like. You can also do away with it. That stinging comment from the Supreme Court on July 11 has ignited a debate of unusual interest over preserving India’s best-loved and most-visited monument. Daily hearings will start from July 31. As the bench says, The Taj Mahal must be protected. On July 16, Union ministers have gone into a huddle, along with the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, to meet the threats facing the Taj. This is a moment of truth. The time has come to open up conversations, says A.G. Krishna Menon, architect and conservationist. The problems Taj faces are very complex, he explains, but perhaps the Sistine Chapel in Rome, the Pyramids in Egypt or the Acropolis in Athens have already faced these. Let’s explore and learn from the world, so that we can leave the monument to the next generation as we found it.

As the medieval edifice meets modernity, new signs of danger are mounting. A raft of new research suggests that the source and type of problems, as well as their solutions, have changed dramatically over the years. For the last 35 years, India Today has reported on the fight to save Indias only wonder of the world, ever since the country’s longest and perhaps the most difficult legal struggle to rescue heritage from pollution started in the Supreme Court. History rarely offers second chances. And we again take this opportunity to stand up, face facts, speak out and, hopefully, change course. Its a moment of solidarity, not looking for blame but for solutions; of setting aside the politics and embracing the hour. Our democracy shows the collective strength of engagement, to find innovative ways and create positive changes. So can we save the Taj?

Upkeep in a Shambles

At the centre of the debate is environmentalist and lawyer M.C. Mehta, the man whose public interest litigation in the 1980s resulted in stringent orders against the Mathura oil refineries for significantly reducing ambient air quality around the Taj (M C Mehta vs Union of India,1996). Since then, the Supreme Court has directed action to clean the Taj, declaring 10,400 square kilometres of area the Taj Trapezium Zone (TTZ), closing down or relocating polluting units. In a fresh application, Mehta has alleged that the upkeep of Taj is in a shambles: the colour of the marble is turning brown, cracks are appearing, minarets are showing signs of tilting, materials are falling off, chandeliers are crashing, CCTVs don’t work, drains around the area are clogged, illegal encroachments, industries and activities are mushrooming in the vicinity, while a dying Yamuna is putting the foundation of the Taj at risk and also promoting invading insects. Pollution is still the biggest problem, says Mehta, but its source and nature are very different now.

In the last one year, the story has been gathering momentum in court room four of the Supreme Court. Justices Madan B. Lokur and Deepak Gupta have sounded an alert on the changing colour, voiced their annoyance at the absence of a vision document, demanded constant dialogue with genuine experts and cautioned against adversarial grandstanding. In August 2017, they raised a careful but definitive finger at the political and bureaucratic machinery, at the Centre and Uttar Pradesh: This is a world famous monument and you want to destroy it? In November 2017, they brought public attention to the fragility and irreversibility of its marbled magnificence: You cant get the Taj again if it is destroyed. In May this year, they subjected the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to sharp and relentless questioning: According to you, you are looking after the Taj very well and nothing has to be done? You are not ready to accept that there is a problem?

Fumes of Death

‘Agra. The Fort and Taj’, photographed 1850s-1870s by Francis Frith. (ACQUIRED FROM F. FRITH AND COMPANY, 1954)

It was another judge of the Supreme Court who raised yet another red flag. In September 2015, when Justice Kurian Joseph visited the Taj Mahal with his family, something caught his eye: fumes of acrid black smoke coming toward the monument. It emerged from a crematorium, Mokshadham, nestled between the Taj and the Agra Fort. In a letter to the Chief Justice of India, Justice Joseph sought the intervention of the apex court: should the crematorium be shifted or should chimneys with wet scrubbers be installed to ensure zero carbon emission? But efforts to shift the cremation site have not worked (they hadn’t worked even when the Dr S. Varadarajan Committee on atmospheric environmental quality and preservation of the Taj Mahal suggested its removal in 1994). One of the four official burning ghats in Agra, it is the most popular, with up to 100 bodies burnt every day, each requiring about 300 kg of wood, informs a member of the Kshetra Bajaj Committee, a voluntary organisation that provides funeral material. The new technology is in the process of getting installed, for the last four years now.

A River Runs Dry

For 200 kilometres from Delhi, the river flirts with the road. At Etmadpur in Agra they criss-cross. And the romance fizzles out: the ancient river is eerily empty, a landscape of sand and silt. The five-year-old smart expressway moves on, to be closer to the action: India’s only wonder of the world: the Taj Mahal, and the giddy crush of humanity that descends on it every day. The river shrugs and keeps quiet. It knows what it knows, the Taj dies if it dies. So ignore the river at your peril.

Infographic by Nilanjan Das. (Click to enlarge)

A dry, polluted Yamuna was never in Shah Jahan’s sch­eme of things. Sparkling blue and plentiful at its origin near the Yamunotri glaciers, it is virtually a sewer by the time it reaches Agra, says geologist Anil Kumar Misra, professor at Sikkim University in Gangtok. At the Hathni Kund barrage in Haryana, the Yamuna is robbed of 99 per cent of its water. Between Panipat and Agra, a series of drains, dark with untreated wastewater, open into the river. At Delhi, Yamuna gets the most polluted, with 17 sewage drains dumping 3,296 MLD (millions of litres per day) of sewage into the river. The City of Taj doesn’t spare the river: through its 122-kilometre journey in Agra district, about 90 drains discharge sewage into it, only 29 drains have wire meshing.

That’s not all: clusters of illegal settlements, called colonies, have mushroomed along the most eco-sensitive zones on its banks, with houses, apartments, commercial buildings, farmhouses and industrial units taking over thousands of acres of its floodplains. The view of the Yamuna from the Taj is a disturbing sight: on a normal day, at any point in time, one can see truckloads of stinking garbage being dumped into the turbid, slimy, black river, with mounds of plastic bags, strips of leather, mouldy flowers and vegetation, even carcasses and cadavers floating in it.

City under Pressure

A far cry from the Agra of the Mughals, when three generations of emperors initiated an extraordinary sequence of urban development and architectural projects: forts, palaces, pavilions, gardens and serais. Even now, carved jali screens, pillared verandahs and rooftop chhatris can be seen as the underlying building idiom. Travel accounts in the 16th and 17th cen­turies described it a magnificent city. Not just contemporaries, research by former director-general of the ASI, Debala Mitra, shows how Agra was a study in urban landscaping, built on a grand scale, with massive hydraulics for irrigation, radial road networks and monumental riverfront gardens.

Today, for tourists visiting the city, Agra is an unhappy experience: from lack of public convenience and information centres, pollution and bumpy roads, crowds of harassing hawkers, peddlers, touts, guides and photographers and an absence of nightlife. Precisely the reason why Taj Mahal comes first and Agra second, shows a survey by researchers Shiv Kumar Sharma et al of the department of management, Dayalbagh Educational Institute, Agra. To transform the city in an age of experience economy, India may have something to learn from other countries: the UK, for instance, where heritage tourism has evolved as a vital part of the economy, supporting a £20.2 billion gross value added contribution to the GDP and generating 386,000 jobs.

A Plastic Paradise

Sunday, June 3. There was a buzz in the air. Aa raha hai (he is coming), said Raju the rickshawallah. A minister from Delhi, added Nand Kishor, owner of Maa Kela Devi Dhaba, shaking debris out of a broom. Will Yogiji (UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath) come too, asked Ahmed, a courier agent, waiting for his first kulhar of tea. As the day wore on, the news spread: Dr Mahesh Sharma, Union minister of state for culture and for environment, forest and climate change, was taking a vow, along with MPs, MLAs, state government officials, local administration, public represen­tatives and NGOs to make 500 metres around the Taj plastic free.

But at the Taj, water bottles, polythene bags, shoe covers and snack wrappers discarded by tourists are a common eyesore. According to ASI officials, every day, 12,000-20,000 discarded bottles are removed from the grounds. Not just that, the city generates about 180 tonnes of plastic waste per month. Research conducted by professors H.K. Thapak and P. Rajaram of the Department of Chemical Engineering at Jiwaji University, Gwalior, showed that decomposed plastic garbage produces methane gas that contributes to the yellowing of the Taj marble.

All this, despite the fact that the city has had a ban on plastic use since 2014, when district administration and municipal authorities even announced a plan for barricades at Yamuna ghats to stop locals from throwing garbage and polythene into the river. Taj Mahal is one of the most mismanaged monuments in India, says Agra Tourist Welfare Chamber Secretary Vishal Sharma. Crores are spent on its conservation, yet the tourists woes do not end.

Dance of Pests

The green stain on marble has created the biggest scare about the Taj Mahals health. To Professor Girish Maheshwari, head of the School of Entomology at Agras St Johns College, and his team, these are caused by tiny, non-biting, midges, called Chironomus. Millions of males and females emerge from the Yamuna between 6 pm and 8 pm, mate in the air, then attracted by Tajs shiny marble, settle on its walls. They survive for 2-3 days and before dying, cast off faeces the colour of green, from the partially digested chlorophyll from the algae they feed on. And this is what stains the Taj marble.

1942. A protective wartime scaffolding around the Taj during World War II.

Their sudden emergence indicates deeper changes taking place in Yamuna water, he says. The water is turning highly eutrophic, or nutrient rich, near the Taj, with higher concentration of phosphorus and underlying sediments, impacting population of small fish that feed on them. The chlorophyll and faecal matter are water soluble and can be cleaned easily, but these are invasive species and, left to breed uncontrolled, may lend the marble a permanent greenish tint.

Black Smear Mystery

The research on the pollution discolouring the Taj has taken a new direction and can be used to evaluate the potential benefits of policy interventions in and around Agra. That valuable research comes from an international team of researchers, including from IIT Kanpur, conducted between 2014 and 2017. Research has shown that poor air quality is responsible for the soiling and discolouration of the Taj, says Professor Sachi Nand Tripathi, Department of Civil Engineering and Center for Environmental Science and Engineering at IIT Kanpur. While measures have been taken to curb the impact of local air pollution around the Taj, from restricting vehicles near the complex, closing over 200 enterprises in Agra, requiring iron foundries to instal scrubbers and filters on their smokestacks, prohibiting new polluting enterprises within the buffer zone around the mausoleum and, most recently, banning cowdung cake burning as cooking fuel, the specific components of air pollution responsible had not been identified.

‘Principal Street at Agra, 1858-62’, salt print from a waxed paper negative by John Murray.

With that in mind, the researchers started probing the ambient air in and around the Taj. Their studies showed that the discolouration of the Taj was due to high concentrations of particles: black carbon (soot), brown carbon and dust deposition, primarily coming from human activity in the city, especially biomass burning, or open combustion of municipal solid waste, wood and dung cake burning, trash and crop residue burning apart from diesel emission and smoking vehicles. The rapid growth of urban population and limited infrastructure leave large volumes of trash accumulating in the streets, frequently burned openly on roadsides and in residential and commercial areas, explains Tripathi.

Mud-pack on Marble

Mix together Multani mitti, cereals, milk and lime. Apply, dry, wash and glow. The Taj has been getting that face-pack, traditionally used by Indian women, on marble walls stained by grime and dirt from air pollution,since 1994. A relentless process, where the clay is added in layers until an inch-deep, left to dry for 24 hours, then washed off with distilled water. Unfortunately, the new look does not last and the ASI has had to use it repeatedly in 2002, 2008 and 2015, to combat the corrosive effects of air pollution on marble. To octogenarian historian Ram Nath, an authority on Mughal art and architecture, the pack may have triggered further yellowing of the Taj. Multani mitti is a bleaching agent, he explains. It simply strips the marble of the original polish, vajra lep, a concoction of local ingredients used traditionally in India for centuries that acts as a permanent treatment, and opens up the pores, making the marble vulnerable to environmental degradation. Has the ASI studied the long-term effects of regular mud pack on marble? he asks.

The Vanishing Greens

It was in 2006 that the Supreme Court directed the ASI to dev­elop the Taj Heritage Corridor, over 20 hectares of a garbage-dumping site between Agra Fort and the Taj Mahal, as a green buffer, to insulate the monument from air pollution, especially sand particles. The strong winds in May-July from the dry Yamuna riverbed as well from around Bharatpur in Rajasthan, usually at 30-45 kmph but peaking up to 100 kmph in dust storms, lash against the Taj, and over time scar the surface. Planting tree barriers is an age-old protective measure. But it has taken more than a decade for the work to start, says Dr Sanjay Chaturvedi, orthopaedic surgeon and secretary of Agra Citizens Council. It was in August 2015 that the central government issued a preliminary notification to bring the heritage corridor under the ASIs purview. It has finally started in May 2018. But local environmentalists say that the heritage corridor was, legally speaking, an encroachment on the Yamuna river bed. Shravan Kumar Singh of the Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society says, The park has been built just behind the Taj and distanced the Yamuna from it.

Great Foundation Secret

The official historian of Shah Jahan, Abd al-Hamid Lahawri, wrote in detail about the building of the Taj but not about its foundation in the Padshahnama. There are no historical records available for the subsoil profile of the Taj, says Professor S.C. Handa, civil engineer and former director of IIT, Roorkee, who had earlier surveyed the Taj. Nor has there been any attempt on the part of the government to ever make a borehole at the site to be able to analyse and respond should any threat ever arise. From existing records, it seems likely that the base of the foundation was made of a series of deep wells, filled with concrete, lime, stone, rubble, capped together with a wooden box-like structure, on which the mausoleum was built, he says.

View of the Taj Mahal from the Yamuna river, 1891, by an unknown photographer.

But given the wear and tear of the structure and the fact that the level of water in the Yamuna is receding, there has been speculation whether that could make the foundation fragile, putting the Taj at risk of sliding into the mud. The foundation was buried deep into the earth, well below the river basin. If the base were to shift or decay,says Handa, a substantial section of the tomb would sink inside the earth. To Professor Nath, the Taj stands on the edge of the Yamuna. Its builders never anticipated the drying up of the river. It is an essential part of the architectural design, and if the river dies, the Taj cannot survive, he says.

Archaeologist Bhuvan Vikrama, chief of ASI, Agra, dis­agrees. The subsurface foundation of the Taj is quite stable, he says. He also mentions that according to the Survey of India and Central Buildings Research Institute, Roorkee, there has been no change in the structure in the past 60 years. But experts have been asking the ASI to conduct a geotechnical survey of the Taj since the 1980s. P.B.S. Sengar, former archaeologist with ASI, Agra, had written in Purattatva, the journal of the Indian Archaeolo­gical Society in 1995, Due to its age, the effects of environmental and geotechnical changes, besides its own massive weight over the years, some specific, visible signs are noticed which need due attention. These include leakage of water inside, cracks in the veneer stones, out of plumb minarets, loss of inlay pieces, and loss of cohesion in the mortar. Since so many different types of factors are involved, it would be prudent to make a full geotechnical and other relevant studies before undertaking any major conservation project. Otherwise, the conclusions drawn may be totally faulty. No such study has been taken up so far.

The Hordes Descend

On a normal day, some 40,000 tourists visit the Taj, but the number can rise up to as much as 70,000 on weekends and holidays. Tourists are in close proximity to the white marble walls of the main mausoleum, which gets discoloured due to continuous touching and rubbing by hand, according to an environmental engineering report by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), Nagpur, in 2015-16. And this happens especially at the tourist bottlenecks inside the Taj: first, the main gate, then the entry to the white marble floor and then the main mausoleum. The NEERI report recommends that the maximum number of tourists the Taj should accommodate at any point should not cross 10,000.

The ASI has now come up with a new idea to regulate tourist traffic inside the monument: turnstile gates and online tickets. A new software is being designed to accommodate plastic tokens for turnstiles as well as online QR-code printed tickets for the website. Members of the Agra Tourist Welfare Chamber, however, say that they had suggested these measures almost 10 years ago, but bureaucratic red-tape delayed their implementation. Limiting the number of tourists is not a solution, but creates a bigger problem by generating a bad reputation for the city, says member Vishal Sharma. While the Agra Development Authority earns crores each year through a toll tax imposed on tourists visiting local monuments, the toll tax money is mostly used in development work unconnected to the Taj.

Changing Taj for Citizens

For the citizens of Agra, the Taj experience is changing. There was a time when the Tajs ticket was just 50 paise for anyone who wanted to enter the monument and spend time there, irrespective of nationality. Moonlit views were not restricted by any court orders and thousands of locals and tourists thronged to view a very Taj-specific phenomenon, the chamki, or glitter, caused by various facets and angles of the mausoleum catching the moonlight in a bedazzling array of light. Today, the Taj has become a heavily guarded fortress with tiered entry tickets, hi-tech security and its hard to see chamki, as night-time entry is banned for security reasons. We have grown up with the Taj, now live and work around it, says Sandeep Arora, hotelier and president of the Agra Tourism Development Foundation. But with constant controver­sies and restrictions, it doesn’t feel like our own any more.

Arora’s budget hotel is on what was once the main road to the Taj, leading up to the Royal Gate or the South Gate (Sidhi Darwaza). It is one of the many in the area, with rooftop restaurants and a direct view of the Taj. The market aligned to the street houses stone craftsmen, petha makers, textile and other shops selling souvenirs, refreshments and shoes, on arcaded verandahs. This year, the South Gate has been closed by the ASI, because X-ray machines, recommended by the Intelligence Bureau two years ago, could not be installed. With the flow of tourists through the gate ebbing, a pall of gloom now hangs over the area. Thousands of people earn livelihood from tourist-centric activities here, says Arora. Everybody is worried about the impact on shops and hotels.

Of the Days to Come

The Taj is under siege. But not for the first time. It went thro­ugh extensive repairs within four years of completion, in 1652. It has been looted, ransacked, almost destroyed and nearly auctioned off in the past. Nadir Shah’s soldiers, the Jats of Bharatpur, the East India Company traders, all have made off with its jewels and carpets, chandeliers and lamps, silver doors and gold railings. Militants from Punjab and Kashmir have threatened to blow it up. The story that lies hidden is how the worlds most famous monument to love, loss and longing survived every time.

What would Shah Jahan have done, had he been around? The fifth Mughal emperor had a reserved personality, records the Shahjahannama. He would probably have set about managing the crowd, first. He would have restored tourist facilities, just as he had set up caravanserais, open-air squares edged with shopping arcades to provide shelter and entertainment to travellers, while the revenue from shops would have financed the upkeep of the Taj. A perfectionist, he would have started daily meetings with archaeologists, engineers and architects, setting up a board of supervisors and a core creative unit, just as he did with the Taj. He would have sought out global experts, as he did for the Tajmasons from Iran and Central Asia, sculptors from Bukhara, calligraphers from Syria and Persia, stone-cutters from Balochistan, pietra dura craftsmen from Italy. And he would have made sure that his Taj would remain a masterpiece, to quote court historian Muhammad Amin Qazwini, of the days to come. The Taj has been with us for the last 12 generations. Can we pass it on to the next 12?

REVIVAL BLUEPRINT

l Form a stakeholders committee for the Taj, engage members and citizens so that they can influence decision-making

l Allocate more manpower and money for the upkeep of the Taj. In the past three years, Taj got only 8 per cent of what it earned in revenues just from the sale of tickets

l Shift the nearby crematoriums and diesel generators

l Punish states and UTs for dumping untreated wastewater into the river and not building sewage treatment plants

l Remove clusters of illegal settlements on the Yamuna floodplain

l Stop illegal sand mining rampant on the banks of the river

l Get the Agra municipality to stop burning garbage in the open

l Invest in night activities for tourists, to ensure a longer stay in the city

l Make it compulsory for tourists to pick up their own litter

l Check the quality of the Yamuna water regularly, so that aquatic life and birds return

l Make Agra a priority in the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana; provide LPG connections to BPL households to help them replace unclean cooking fuel

l Invest in Ro-boats, or river-cleaning robots, for a continuous automated cleaning of Yamuna

l Create a green buffer as a protective measure to minimise the harmful effects of air pollution and sand erosion

l Commission geotechnical and other relevant studies to ensure the health of the foundation

l Regulate flow of tourists inside the Taj



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Martrys day rally: BJP creating Talibanis among people, Mamata says

Martrys day rally: BJP creating Talibanis among people, Mamata says


The TMC observes the Martyrs’ Day every year on July 21. (Photo: Rupak De Chowdhuri)

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Mamata addressed a mega rally on occasion of party’s annual Martyr’s Day
  • Mamata said TMC will win all 42 seats in 2019 Lok Sabha elections from Bengal
  • Former BJP MP Chandan Mitra also joined the TMC today

In a fresh attack on the Bharatiya Janata Party (TMC), Trinamool Congress (TMC) president and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee today told her supporters that she would launch ‘Remove BJP, Save India’ campaign on August 15.

Addressing a major rally to commemorate party’s annual Martyr’s Day in Kolkata, Mamata said that the TMC will win all 42 seats in 2019 Lok Sabha elections from West Bengal. “2019 will be a big blow, Bengal will show the path,” the CM said.

She also introduced four major faces who joined the party today – Former BJP MP Chandan Mitra (BJP), former CP(M) MP Moinul Hasan, Congress’s Sabina Yasmin and Mizoram advocate-general Biswajit Deb.

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Referring to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rally tent collapse in Midnapore, Mamata said, “They [BJP] are not just breaking pandals, they are breaking the country into pieces.” “The way lynching is happening everywhere in the country, they are creating Talibanis among people. In BJP & RSS, there are good people I respect but some are playing dirty games,” Mamata said.

The TMC observes the Martyrs’ Day every year on July 21 in its bid to pay homage to 13 Youth Congress workers, allegedly killed in police firing in 1993 during the Left Front regime in West Bengal. Banerjee was a leader of the Youth Congress at that time.

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J&K police constable Saleem Shah abducted by militants from Kulgam

J&K police constable Saleem Shah abducted by militants from Kulgam


J&K police constable Saleem Shah abducted by militants from Kulgam

Mohammad Saleem Shah, who was on a leave, was abducted from his residence in Mutalhama area of Kulgam district. (Image for representation)

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Shah was undergoing a training in Kathua.
  • Security forces have launched a manhunt to trace him.
  • He was on a leave when he was abducted from his home.

A trainee police constable in Jammu and Kashmir has allegedly been abducted by militants from his home in Kulgam Friday night.

Mohammad Saleem Shah, who was on a leave, was abducted from his residence in Mutalhama area of Kulgam district in south Kashmir.

Shah was undergoing a training in Kathua.

Officials said that security forces have launched a manhunt to trace Shah.

Earlier this month, Jammu and Kashmir policeman Javaid Dar was abducted by suspected militants from Shopian district. He was found dead in Kulgam the next day on July 6.

Before that, Indian Army soldier Aurangzeb, who lived in Kashmir’s Poonch district, was abducted by militants in Pulwama in broad daylight from a civilian vehicle while he was going to his hometown on leave. His bullet-ridden body was found at Gusoo Pulwama on June 14.

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NDTV

Medallions, Flag That Neil Armstrong Took To Moon To Be Auctioned


Neil Armstrong became the first human to step on the moon on July 20, 1969.

Washington: 

Containing over 2,000 items, the collection will go on sale in a series of three auctions with the first in November 2018 and other two in May and November 2019, Efe news quoted Dallas-based Heritage Auctions.

Among the items being offered are Robbins medallions flown on the Apollo 11 mission, including an “extremely rare gold example”.

A Purdue University, Mr Armstrong’s alma mater, Centennial 1869-1969 silk flag carried by him to the Moon, pieces of a wing and propeller from the Wright Brothers Flyer which he took with him on Apollo 11, as well as a gold pin from Gemini 8, Mr Armstrong’s first spaceflight, and his Boy Scouts Cap.

Correspondence, including a NASA document “Underscoring the planning behind the landmark event”, will also be on sale.

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The auction will also contain signed memorabilia from the Apollo 11 mission.

“There will be flown items, autographed items and items of historical significance. There will be items that make you think, items that make you laugh and items that make you scratch your head,” the astronaut’s son Mark Armstrong said.

Mr Armstrong, who passed away in 2012 aged 82 years, made history as the first man to walk on the Moon on July 20, 1969.

He is also remembered for the words he uttered in that moment: “That”s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”.



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Vehicle carrying 15 students of Kendriya Vidyalaya falls off bridge, 4 critically injured

Vehicle carrying 15 students of Kendriya Vidyalaya falls off bridge, 4 critically injured


The vehicle carrying students of Kendriya Vidyalaya (NTPC) skid off a 30-feet high bridge. Image: @ANI/Twitter

HIGHLIGHTS

  • The vehicle skid off a 30-feet-high bridge.
  • Four of the 15 students are said to be critically injured.
  • The driver of the van has been arrested.

Fifteen children were injured after a minivan fell off a bridge near Sichai Colony. The incident took place in Chhattisgarh’s Korba district on Saturday morning.

The vehicle carrying students of Kendriya Vidyalaya (NTPC) skid off a 30-feet-high bridge.

Four of the 15 students are said to be critically injured. The kids have been rushed to a local hospital.

The driver of the van has been arrested. However, the cause of the accident is yet to be ascertained

Further details awaited.

(Inputs from ANI)

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