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Last Updated: Tuesday, 19 August, 2003, 13:21 GMT 14:21 UK
Taj Mahal - 'no flood danger'
By Malay Neerav
BBC reporter in Agra

Officials in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh say there is no danger of the country's most famous monument, the Taj Mahal, being swamped by the rising waters of the River Yamuna.

Taj Mahal astride the River Yamuna
A famous view that might have been changed forever

However, locals living near the Taj say they have never seen the river flowing as fast - or as close to the monument - as it is now.

They say the river's speed and course changed after builders working on a shopping complex at the site dumped vast amounts of sand onto the river bed.

Efforts to build a shopping and entertainment complex to serve tourists to the Taj were aborted in June, after widespread concern that the new construction would be unsightly and could ultimately endanger the site's foundations.

Damage already done?

The Supreme Court stepped in to stop the complex from being built, while federal investigators launched an inquiry into how the project had side-stepped conservationists to get the go-ahead.

But now there are fears that builders who began work near the Taj in November last year have already endangered its foundations.

Agra map

The waters of the river Yamuna, on whose banks the Taj has sat for centuries, are now barely 35 metres away from the building's periphery.

"Never before has the Yamuna flowed so close to the Taj," local journalist Brajesh Singh Patel told the BBC.

"It seems the illegal construction has caused the rise in water-levels," he said.

Officials 'vigilant'

However, state authorities say there is no need to worry.

BM Meena, an official from the town of Agra, said the river's water posed no danger to the Taj, but the authorities were nonetheless being "vigilant".

Meanwhile, efforts to pinpoint blame for the discredited project continue.

The Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh launched a fresh probe into the construction plans on Monday.

A former environment secretary for the state, RK Sharma, who was sacked soon after the scandal broke, has been asked to explain why he approved the $35m project.

The state's finance secretary has also completed an inquiry into the debacle, but its findings have not been made public.

The Taj Mahal is a World Heritage site, built in the 17th century by the emperor Shah Jahan as a monument to his wife, Mumtaz.

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