Green Slime on the Taj Mahal? Court Blames Slow, Botched Cleanup

The exterior of the Taj Mahal in northern India has been deteriorating for years. Officials overseeing a restoration project blame insect slime and pollution.

NEW DELHI — India’s Supreme Court on Wednesday faulted the country’s archaeological conservation body for failing to protect the Taj Mahal from discoloration, dirty feet and green slime emitted by millions of mosquito-like insects.

Since 2015, the body, the Archaeological Survey of India, has overseen a restoration project at the Taj Mahal, with workers scaling scaffolding to remove grime from the 17th-century tomb, which was built by the Muslim emperor Shah Jahan for his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal.

But last week, the Supreme Court called in officials of the organization to respond to criticism that work was taking too long. Over the years, as millions of tourists have flocked to the Taj Mahal in northern India, the monument’s appearance has deteriorated, its pearly white facade growing dull and the dirt from barefoot visitors blackening the grounds.

During Wednesday’s hearing, a lawyer for the Archaeological Survey of India, A.D.N. Rao, said that algae was a big source of the discoloration, despite a report from the survey attributing the problem to millions of insects that excrete a green substance on the Taj Mahal’s walls during mating flights. Experts have previously said the algae in the nearby polluted Yamuna River had led to an increase in the number of insects.

“How has the algae reached the top parts of the Taj Mahal?” asked Justice Madan B. Lokur.

“It flew there,” the lawyer said.

“Can algae fly?” the court responded, according to news reports.

Later, when asked by the court why the Archaeological Survey of India does not provide clean socks to tourists to curb the dirt problem, the lawyer replied, “We provide socks only to the V.I.P.’s.”

“The problem is that the A.S.I. is not willing to accept that there is a problem,” Justice Lokur said.

M.C. Mehta, an environmental lawyer who was at the hearing and confirmed the exchanges, said he filed a case with the Supreme Court in 1984 to expedite the cleanup. But for the past 34 years, little has been done to restore the monument, he said.

“My question is, ‘What are you doing about it?’” Mr. Mehta said. “You are the custodian of monuments. You are an expert professional body. It is your job and you have to do it. Why are you so slow in taking action?”

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