One of my close friends visited Taj Mahal in Agra rather frequently and that happens when you live in Delhi and host lot of family and friends. He shared some observations with me and here I am putting them in front of you. Like all world heritage monuments in India, Taj Mahal also has a differential ticketing for Indian and Foreign nationals, though difference is much biggest here owning to the Agra Development Authority fee of Rs 500/- for foreigners. The difference here is that unlike other monuments across the country, here the high value ticket holders also get a privileged access to the monument. They get to take a shorter path to the monument and hence save time both while buying the ticket and visiting the monument.
An RTI application was filed with the Archeological Survey of India to know why at Taj Mahal people buying the INR 750/- ticket are entitled for a privileged access. Their Agra Circle answered it and answer only stated that this process is followed as per the directions of higher authorities keeping in mind the security of the public. They also confirmed that no other monument in India makes any distinction between holders of Indian and Foreigner tickets.
They provided the following route map depicting the path taken by two types of ticket holders, red depicting the higher value path and green the ordinary, which is obviously a very long path compared to the red one.
The questions this leads to:
1. Is the distinction being made between Indian and Foreign nationals? If so, it is highly unfair in my opinion – as it implies foreign visitors are given priority to see the heritage of the country over its own citizens.
2. Is the distinction between the holders of tickets of two different values? Here also I do not agree with the arrangement in principle but I understand this is done at many places in India to manage the crowd by making people pay for the time they save by not standing in queues. If this is the case then the ASI needs to call it VIP / Privileged entry and Ordinary Entry and even Indians who want to save time should also be able to buy this ticket and enjoy the privilege. As of today the ticket window and the ASI website say Indian and Foreigners and it somewhere implicitly implies that only foreigners can buy the higher value ticket and hence only they can enjoy the privileged access.
3. I did not understand the security angle, and I assume they mean security of each visitor irrespective of nationality and ticket price paid is equally important. Given the area on the map, in case of a security breach it seems everyone will be a same level of risk unless there is a separate evacuation plan.
4. Why is this kind of an arrangement done only at Taj Mahal? I am sure Red Fort and Qutub Minar in Delhi also get similar number of footfalls, but they have the same access for everyone just like 30 odd other world heritage sites in India.
Please share your opinion on this issue and if there is a strong opinion on this differentiation, we would share that with ASI as a feedback.