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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 July, 2003, 11:23 GMT 12:23 UK
Taj Mahal row official suspended
Taj Mahal
Conservationists said the project could harm the soil under the Taj
A top official in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh has been suspended for his role in a project to build a shopping complex close to the Taj Mahal.

"The state government has decided to suspend Environment Secretary RK Sharma for releasing 370m rupees ($7.7m) for the Taj Corridor Project," state government spokesman Rohit Nandan told the Associated Press news agency.

The project sparked a public outcry and drew criticism from India's Culture Minister Jagmohan, who ordered it to be halted.

The shopping, restaurant and cinema complex would have marred India's greatest architectural splendour, conservationists said.

Inquiry call

The leading opposition party in Uttar Pradesh (UP), the Samajvadi party, has dismissed the suspension of the environment secretary as a cosmetic exercise.

"Sacking one bureaucrat is not enough," the Samajvadi leader in the UP legislative council, Ahmad Hasan, told the BBC.

Directing his ire at UP Chief Minister Mayawati, Mr Hasan said: "Ms Mayawati must resign over this fiasco."

Congress has also been seeking a judicial inquiry into the affair.

Ms Mayawati has claimed she had no knowledge of the construction, less than 500 metres from the Taj Mahal in the city of Agra.

The project, worth $36m, was being built on the bed of the River Yamuna and opponents warned it might disturb the soil structure, damaging the Taj Mahal.

Construction began in November last year.

The state government said it needed to relocate shops that had been removed from the Taj Mahal premises under a Supreme Court order.

It also argued that tourists would be able to visit the Taj Mahal without travelling through the crowded and polluted streets of Agra city.

The Taj Mahal is a mausoleum built by Shah Jahan in the 17th Century for his wife Mumtaj Mahal, who died in childbirth.

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