Agra, Sep 2 (IANS) Heavy showers have come as a big boost to afforestation efforts in the Taj city.
The Taj Mahal is now adequately insulated against air pollution by a thick green cover.
Behind the Taj, the Mehtab Bagh area is densely green. The Taj Nature Park wilderness is equally lush.
Work on landscaping and recycling waste drain water is progressing well, officials say.
Saplings planted in June in half-a-dozen stretches in the district have grown.
"The most spectacular will be the long stretch along the Yamuna river in the city till Haathi Ghat near the fort where thousands of saplings are now five to six feet tall," says District Forest Officer N.K. Janoo.
"The greening effort covered 320 hectares. A record 3.20 lakh saplings were planted," Janoo told IANS.
"In August, during the rains, the saplings started growing and the whole stretch along the Yamuna Kinara road to the Taj is under green cover. More showers will act as a tonic," he added.
He said the greening work on the controversial Taj Heritage Corridor will begin soon with landscaping and laying of pathways.
"The Taj Corridor will be a shining green jewel between two world heritage sites, the Agra Fort and the Taj Mahal. Funds for this work have been cleared," Janoo said.
Ten years ago, the green cover in Agra district had fallen to just 7.38 percent. A recent report of the Forest Survey of India says this has risen to 8.25 percent.
Janoo said: "Our estimates suggest the green cover in the city area has gone up to 17 percent."
Several NGOs have also planted saplings in a big way.
At St. Peter's College, a vast Neem Vaatika has come up on a wasteland. Harvijay Bahia, a shoe exporter and sportsperson, has planted saplings in blocks and provided managerial backup to ensure the project doesn't die.
"We have greened up several patches in the Central Hindi Institute, in St. Peter's College and in Kar Kunj colony. The Mantola nullah side, which was lying barren, is now a green patch," Bahia said.
The Taj Nature Park Project, 500 metres from the Taj, is now a green buffer. Waste water from drains has been treated and used to irrigate the green cover in the ravines of the Yamuna.
This has helped bring down the suspended particulate matter (SPM) in the eco-sensitive zone around the Taj Mahal. At Mehtab Bagh, a three-km green cushion has insulated the Taj from air pollution.
However, the newly-inaugurated Yamuna Expressway will bring in more vehicles, raising temperatures. The compensatory forests along the project are yet to see light of day.