State of Agra: From city of Taj to city of simians..

The woes of Agra are rarely discussed anywhere in the national media. Given India’s obsession with foreigners and latter coming in large numbers to visit the monument, the city of Agra should have got a much better deal. Both Agra and Bangalore are two places which have interested a lot of foreigners in the country albeit for different reasons, are in such terrible mess. If not for own people’s sake, we should have atleast done something to keep the foreigners interested.

This story on rising population of monkeys in Agra just shows how the city keeps moving from one crisis to other:

Terrifying as it sounds, the current population of monkeys in Agra, around 8,000, if allowed to grow unchecked, will cross 2.16 lakh within the next six years, with experts blaming easy availability of food, a soft corner among devotees and increased adaptability for this nightmare scenario.

An NGO, Wildlife SOS, has collaborated with the district administration and the Agra Development Authority to vaccinate and sterilise monkeys in the city. So far, 317 monkeys have undergone the procedure. The situation, however, is fast slipping out of control.

“Under the pilot project, 552 monkeys have been trapped and 317 sterilised. This has prevented the exponential growth of about 7,200 monkeys over the next 6 years. And if the same statistical calculation is applied on the basis of natural history, biological behaviour and reproduction pattern of rhesus macaques, Agra might have over 2.16 lakh of them by 2022,” said Kartick Satyanarayan, co-founder of Wildlife SOS.

Rhesus macaques breed constantly as there is no breeding season. Every female produces three babies in 18 months. “One can imagine the volume and the scale of the problem we are looking at,” Satyanarayan added.

In March this year, the administration and the NGO launched the first ever monkey sterilization project. The target of more than 500 monkeys will be reached by the end of August, said Satyanarayan. The bigger worry is the reasons behind the rapid increase in population—abundant food in the form of trash and offerings from devotees of Hanuman.

“People throw trash everywhere around Agra. Temples also generate a lot of food as trash, which in turn is dumped in the vicinity. On top of that is Agra’s poor garbage collection apparatus. These factors are not conducive for controlling animal population, particularly monkeys,” said the NGO’s co-founder.

Monkeys are a big problem in parts of North India especially Delhi and Western UP.
But monkeys are hardly the cause. They are an outcome of several issues plaguing the city. What should have been one of the jewels of the people is just being reduced to another of those really poor cities. The PM atleast got some attention to Varanasi but nothing of this sort is happening at Agra.
We are pretty poor in preserving the past and have just let the history of Agra reduced to visiting Taj. Even visit to Taj is a terrible experience for most people with louts and touts all over the place. Agra had plenty of other monuments as well but all have just decayed beyond imagination. A visit to Fatehpur Sikri for instance will shock even a non-history person. Likewise, for places like I’timād-ud-Daulah and Sikandra.
This is vastly different from how we see history of cities in other parts of the world. There is atleast some attempt to preserve it and build the city around the history. In this whole surge of trying to be global and smart cities, all we get to see is fancy malls and apartment buildings. Most families just head to these places on weekends and holidays. Even those who want to go to the historic places are dissuaded given the poor maintenance of these places.

I mean it was fine if Agra had lost its place in history completely like it has happened for other cities. But the city continues to get a lot of foreign attention due to Taj. It still has a favorable geography being close to Delhi and has a much better education system in UP compared to other cities (which too has declined over the years.)

Agra was pretty much the centre of the Mughal world not just politically but commercially as well. We should actually be having multiple scholars write about the city in the various phases of history. But instead it just keeps moving from one low to the other. It isn’t about living in the past but destroying much of the glorious past which is so crucial here.

Agra missed on the smart city funding in the first list. But authorities should realise that it is not so much about taking Agra to more of the urban mess with more concrete and glass buildings. It is actually restoring the city’s past as being one of the premium cities of the country.  It was actually the most premium city but cannot top the list anymore. But even being in one of them will do.

In all this thinking about building smart and modern cities, we forget we had a pretty glorious past when it came to urban development. We have deteriorated beyond imagination and are hopelessly looking for solutions elsewhere.

The solutions are all here but we also don’t have much ideas about them. History of our cities and how they were run and administered have all been buried and does not interest anyone. We now only read books on our cities written elsewhere. The locals hardly have any information about their own cities. So we have plenty of problems actually. A case of chicken and egg really.

Unless we get our acts together and develop our cities keeping history in mind, we are not going anywhere. There are plenty of wake-up calls but there is no action. The small crises have become fairly regular. The solutions for crisis are pretty much the same leading to another crisis.

Monkey gods can’t help but laugh at all the human mess being created…


One Response to “State of Agra: From city of Taj to city of simians..”

  1. Saurabh Agarwal Says:

    A very beautiful piece Amol.

    Though there is nothing much to add…… but still

    All that is glorious in the past as decayed or is on the verge of it. A visit to the erstwhile capital of the Mughal empire reveals that it a typical case of economic neglect and utter chaos. Though the story is not different in other cities of north India but Agra is a glaring case of missed opportunity. A city that rivals Rome, Athens, Florence in historic grandeur, nerve center of the mighty Mughal empire, geographically located in the agri rich world most fertile plains, perennial Yamuna brings Himalayan waters and a cultural melting pot. It had all the ingredients to make it a major metropolis of the world. But it stands petty in the shadow of the national capital New Delhi.

    So where did it go wrong? The answer lies in the unknown chapters of history.

    1. The decline of the city started after Shahjahan shifted the capital to Delhi. It saw numerous attacks from the nearby rulers who robbed of the wealth.

    2. The british never acknowledge superiority of indian history so recognizing Agra’s could never have been a appealing idea to them. Though the city is laced with colonial bungalows and administrative buildings but nothing was been done to add to the glory of the city. The scorching heat and narrow lanes were never the things british looked for. So the colonial period never made any worthwhile contribution to city except setting up of some missionary schools which have been doubted for their intents rather applauded for the efforts to educate indians.

    3. Post independence era is un-ending tale of opportunity missed sometimes under garb of Taj trapezium when most of the tradition industry was forced to relocate or shutdown and other times tourism and handicrafts growth remained throttled by the archaic infrastructure of the city. The voices for airport and yamuna barrage have failed to break the glass walls of political divide. Agra, with all its history, by choice remained a poor cousin to neighboring Delhi.

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