The Supreme Court on Wednesday condemned the apathy shown by authorities to the cause of protecting the Taj Mahal, saying the preservation of the monument may be a “hopeless cause.”

The Green Bench of Justices Madan B. Lokur and Deepak Gupta was miffed to find out that the authority in charge of the Taj Trapezium Zone was still entertaining applications from industrialists to expand their factories into the protected zone despite a long-standing moratorium from the Supreme Court.

The Bench told petitioner-activist M.C. Mehta that if “they (authorities) trouble us we will trouble them back.” The court directed the chairman of the authority to appear before it on the next date, June 31.

Justice Lokur compared the Taj to the Eiffel Tower of Paris, saying the 16th century marble mausoleum built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan for his departed wife, Mumtaz Mahal, was far more beautiful.

The court said while Eiffel sees 80 million visitors, Taj has five million, and yet it is crumbling.

In May, the ASI said unwashed socks worn by visitors and rampant algae seem to turn the Taj Mahal from its natural white to yellow, brown and green.

Archeological Survey of India, charged with the maintenance of the historic monument, said numerous footfalls everyday has taken a toll on the Taj. It is not possible to distribute socks to all the visitors. Many go wearing their own socks. The discussion in the court ranged from the commitment or the lack of it on the part of the authorities to protect the monument to getting disposable socks from abroad.

On May 1, Mr. Mehta had handed over to the Bench photographs showing the discolouration on the pristine white of the Taj Mahal.

Mr. Mehta had told the court that the upkeep of the UNESCO World Heritage site was in shambles. River Yamuna, which used to flow nearby, has dried up. Encroachments and industries have cropped up in the neighbourhood of the white marble mausoleum. CCTVs hardly work. The government merely views the Taj as a money-making venture.

Justice Lokur had wondered whether the Taj Mahal in its present discoloured form would end being the “eighth wonder of the world.”