It is one thing to be the home of an iconic heritage jewel the world is in thrall of and quite another to keep it in the pristine condition that it deserves. Over the seven decades of its independence, India is being constantly jolted into the realisation of this bitter reality, and the latest admonishment from the Supreme Court to the government to either attend to the deterioration of the Taj Mahal post-haste or tear it down is a testimony to the severity of the problem.

As India continues to rapidly swell in population with its cities and towns buckling under the pressure of numbers, one of the most tragic fallouts is the impoverished state of many of its heritage buildings. The Taj Mahal, built in 1648, and a Unesco World Heritage Site today, is beset by a fate not of its own making.

Despite the measures over the decades to protect it from damage and deterioration — polluting factories are banned over a 50-km radius, visitor numbers limited to 40,000 a day and special committees set up for its maintenance — the truth is that the Taj Mahal may well be fighting a losing battle.

The point India has missed all along is that preserving a heritage monument is not an isolated endeavour. It has to be in the context of its surrroundings and the elements — earth, water, air, heat and moisture. The Taj can only be fully protected when the city it is cradled in is clean and green, but the present-day reality of Agra, with its unchecked levels of pollution, rising traffic, industrial expansion and swelling population, is not exactly a message of hope.