Jan 2, 2009

India - Taj to be safer, more tourist friendly in 2009

Agra, Jan 2 (IANS) Soon, visiting the Taj Mahal may become less of a hassle for those who speak English and not the local language. They can just walk across to the nearest police station for help.

Posting English-speaking policemen near the Taj is among the many measures being taken to make the monument more tourist friendly.

The authorities have also taken many security measures such as installing closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras in the area, officials said.

According to Superintendent of Police (city) B.P. Ashok, security in the yellow zone beyond 500 metres of the Taj Mahal, is being strengthened with the Agra Development Authority placing orders for installation of CCTVs at eight different points which will record movements round the clock. The control room will be at the nearby Taj Ganj police station.

One measure aimed to help tourists feel more secure and comfortable is the decision of Senior Superintendent of Police Prem Prakash to post only those who know English at the Taj Ganj police station.

According to officials, a few days ago Prakash tested the knowledge of English of 18 policemen and found that only one policeman at the station had the required expertise.

Prakash said those who did not understand or speak English would not be helpful to many tourists. He now wants not only policemen who know English but also those who have some knowledge of at least three foreign languages.

{lsquo}{lsquo}The tourist police will henceforth wear a special scarf and sport a band of distinctive colour. The tourist police will now be keeping vigil at all monuments in Agra,{rsquo}{rsquo} Prakash said.

The Taj attracted over 25,000 Indians and 3,500 foreigners in 2007.

After the Mumbai terror attacks, official agencies are not taking any chances when it comes to tourist safety.

In the past one month, there have been at least half a dozen visits by state level officials, surprise raids and mock infiltration drills to test the state of preparedness, officials said.

The cameras, to be installed shortly, will be maintained by a private company for one year. They are also expected to provide an effective check on those dealing in re-sale of tickets or harassing tourists.

The crowd pressure, always a source of concern at the Taj Mahal's western gate, has already been slightly eased with the shifting of the ticket window to the Saheli Burj, some distance away from the main entrance gate.

Policemen on duty said they expected the crowd management and frisking of entrants to become easier with this measure.

--Indo-Asian News Service

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