Officials in charge of the Taj Mahal are in “shock” after they were served notices for property tax and water bills totalling 20 million rupees ($240,000).
The 17th century world heritage monument in Agra in northern Uttar Pradesh is deemed by many as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
It was built on the order of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his wife Mumtaz, and has been a major attraction over the course of its 370-year history, attracting millions of tourists every year.
Famous faces, including President Sheikh Mohamed, Queen Elizabeth, Princess Diana and former US president Donald Trump, have visited the 'Monument of Love'.
Authorities slapped the Archaeological Survey of India, which manages the monument, with two notices for outstanding property tax and water bills, and asked for the dues to be paid within two weeks.
The notices have surprised officials who argue that the taxes are not applicable on the Taj Mahal as it is a national monument.
“We received notices of dues for the months of July and October. It seems like an error as the monuments are protected from house or property tax because they are a nation’s property,” Raj Kumar Patel, superintendent archaeologist at the ASI, told The National.
“We are also not liable to pay taxes for water as there is no commercial use of it. Water is used to maintain greenery within the premises for the public and there is no question of dues."
Any monuments that are of national importance, archaeological or artistic importance, interest or value are declared protected monuments in the country under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act of 1958, and are exempted from taxes.
“Both state (Uttar Pradesh) and central laws have this provision. This is the first time when such demands have been made in its history,” Mr Patel said.
The authorities have also asked the ASI to clear dues worth 50 million rupees ($600,000) for Agra Fort — a Unesco world heritage site built by the Mughal emperor Akbar.
The sprawling fort was the main residence of Mughal Dynasty rulers until 1638, when the capital was moved from Agra to Delhi.
The fort is 2.5km away from the Taj Mahal.
“The Fort falls under the ambit of cantonment board. But both the monuments can’t be charged with any taxes,” Mr Patel said.
He said the notices are a mistake and he has replied to the government saying that the monuments are exempted from being taxed as per government legislations.
Municipal authorities, however, have said that a private company was hired to ascertain the taxes and that they are investigating the incident.
“All premises, including government buildings and religious sites, have been issued notices based on dues pending on them. Rebate is provided following due process of law…notices issued to ASI, required action will be taken on the basis of response received from them,” said Nikhil T Funde, a municipal commissioner.