NEW DELHI - India's Supreme Court has ordered a state government to remove a wood-burning crematorium from near the Taj Mahal to protect the iconic monument from pollution damage.
The judges said Monday that the government of Uttar Pradesh state could either move the crematorium away from the Taj Mahal or install an electric one in its place.
They made their order after a letter from another Supreme Court judge, who said that he'd noticed the crematorium spewing smoke and ash during a recent visit to the monument and was concerned about the effect of air pollution on the marble structure.
In their order, the two judges suggested that the state could move the wood-burning crematorium and also build an electric one at the current site. This would allow people wanting to use wood pyres to do so, while others could use the electric crematorium, they said.
Hindus traditionally cremate their dead using wood fires. The government has been trying to encourage people to use electricity-powered crematoriums.
World Heritage site
With its gleaming dome and graceful spires, the Taj Mahal is one of the world's most recognizable buildings, visited by more than 3 million tourists a year.
The monument's domes and minarets, inlaid with semi-precious stones and carvings, is considered the finest example of Mughal art in India. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.
Resting on the banks of the Yamuna River in the city of Agra, the Taj Mahal was built in the 17th century by Mogul Emperor Shah Jahan in the memory of his wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth to their 14th child.
Over the decades, the once pearly white Taj Mahal has been turning yellow due to pollution. The government has closed scores of factories located near the monument and has tried to provide uninterrupted power supply in Agra so that residents do not have to use diesel-operated generators.
Earlier this year, the state government banned the burning of cow dung fuel cakes by city residents to prevent the dense black smoke from affecting the Taj. Dried cow dung cakes are commonly used in rural areas as a cheap source of fuel for heating and cooking.
The court ordered the government of Uttar Pradesh to come up with a decision on its plans for the crematorium within 15 days.