The Supreme Court Wednesday permitted the building of an additional terminal at the airport in Agra near Taj Mahal but made it clear that it would not allow an increase in air traffic on the airfield as that will be hazardous to the environment and asked the Centre to consider luxurious trains like the "Palace on wheels" to the city.
The apex court also directed the Centre to consider an alternative airport site to meet the increase in the air traffic due to rise in tourist influx to visit the Taj Mahal and other destinations in and around Agra in Uttar Pradesh. Further, the top court said it has been informed that the Railways can provide more excellent trains like the "Palace on wheels" and such trains could have employed to transport passengers from the new airfield to the Taj Trapezium Zone (TTZ), Agra.
A bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde made it clear that it was willing to allow the construction of the additional terminal at the existing airport but was against increasing the air traffic which could "damage" the environment in an "eco-sensitive area" having some world heritage sites including Taj Mahal. The bench, also comprising Justices B R Gavai and Surya Kant, took on record the submission of senior advocates Ajit Kumar Sinha, appearing for the Airport Authority of India and environmentalist lawyer M C Mehta who opposed the project.
It also took on record the submission of Additional Solicitor General Atmaram Nadkarni that the Centre wishes to undertake a study to take into account the number of tourists who utilise the airport and the anticipatory increase in the number of such tourists over the years. The law officer also sought permission to allow such an increase in air traffic at the airport after conducting a study.
However, the bench made it clear that "it might be difficult to permit an increase in air traffic." "We, therefore, consider it appropriate to direct the Union of India to consider an alternative site in such anticipatory increase in traffic where the aircraft could operate from. "We are informed that the Railways can provide more excellent trains like the 'Palace on wheels' and such trains could be employed to transport passengers from the new airfield to the TTZ, Agra," the bench said in its order.
It said the Centre will also consider involving the Railways to solve the problems of anticipation of tourists and "bear in mind the fact that it will serve nobody's interest to have the area polluted with resultant damage to the people and the heritage monuments. The apex court asked the Centre to submit the report within a period of three months. "In the meanwhile, the interim prayer for restraining the Union of India from allowing an increase in air traffic will be considered after the Union of India files its response by January 2020," the bench said.
In the order, it noted that Sinha appearing on behalf of AAI seeks permission to build an additional terminal at the existing Agra Airport. "Prima facie, we see no reason why such permission should not be granted," it said and also took note of Mehta's submission that if the authorities propose to allow and increase the number of aircraft that take off and land from this site, then it will be hazardous to the environment.
"Prima facie, we consider this objection to be a sound objection and we do not propose to allow an increase in air traffic on this airfield," the bench said. The apex court was told that an airport is coming up in Jewar in Greater Noida, adjacent to the national capital which would be one of the few largest airports and will have the potential to cater to the increase in tourist influx.