The Gujarat Forest Department is in the process of removing as many as 500 crocodiles from two ponds inside the Sardar Sarovar Dam premises on the Narmada in order to clear the path for a proposed seaplane service in a bid to promote tourism at the Statue of Unity.
However, it is unclear where the authorities plan to release the crocodiles once they have been evacuated from their original site. In the previous week, 15 crocodiles were evacuated. As per estimates, there are about 500 crocodiles in the two ponds which are situated next to each other inside the dam premises, reported The Indian Express.
Crocodylus palustris, also known as mugger crocodiles present in the Narmada come under the Wildlife Protection Act that encompasses the most endangered species.
A multi-level committee which has officials of the Civil Aviation Department, as well as Gujarat government, cleared the rocky-bed Pond 3 which is called Magar talav (crocodile pond) by locals; this was done to connect Gujarat cities to the Sardar Patel statue site. The Forest Department used fish as bait to lure the crocodiles into cages to evacuate the crocodiles with the largest of them being about 10 feet so far. It is not clear as to when the operation is going to be finished.
Deputy Conservator of Forests, Narmada, Dr K Sasi Kumar confirmed the same to Indian Express Online that they are rescuing the crocodiles from Ponds 3 and 4, which are close to the Statue of Unity site. The forest department has constituted 10 teams of officials for the crocodile evacuation operation.
The crocodiles were kept in custody for nearly a week and were let out into the reservoir of the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Dam to make sure that the reptiles are released in their natural habitat. The FOrest department official said that most other crocodiles being evacuated will also be released at the same reservoir.
A top official of Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd (SSNNL), who refused to be named, questioned the move, For many years now, the Forest Department has been releasing crocodiles into the reservoir of the dam, apart from the main canal, the Ajwa reservoir and other canals. This particular exercise involves hundreds of crocodiles. It may not be possible to release all into the reservoir in one go. They will have to be distributed in other places as well. It is most likely that a lot of these crocodiles could end up going back closer to the human habitats from where they were once rescued and brought to the Narmada.
Usually, crocodiles which are captured from human settlements during the monsoon season are let out into the Narmada dam ponds. It must be noted that Ajwa reservoir which is nearer to Vadodara, already houses hundreds of them.
Director, Community Science Centre, Vadodara, Dr Jitendra Gavali termed the evacuation of reptiles in such large numbers to make a seaplane terminal against the principles of the Wildlife Protection Act , a report by IE said.
Warning that the crocodiles may be harmed, he pointed out that firstly officials can t be sure of their exact number in the ponds.
Listing out reasons against releasing crocodiles into the dam reservoir, he said that female crocodiles may be unable to nest if the slope of the dam is more than about 40 degrees. Crocodiles need a large area on land to nest in addition to coming out of the waters during the winter season.
He added that if the Centre could spend crores of rupees to build the Statue of Unity, it should spend more money to build an artificial pond to land the seaplanes so that the area s ecological balance and natural habitat of crocodiles are not disturbed.
In October 2018, Airports Authority of India (AAI) and Department of Civil Aviation prepared a report on the feasibility of the seaplane service in the ahead of the Statue of Unity inauguration. The government had promised this service in Gujarat, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi travelled to Dharoi Dam from Sabarmati river in Ahmedabad in a seaplane in December 2017, which marked the end of his campaign for the Gujarat polls.
Finally, the Pond 3, called Panchmuli lake, was identified as ideal to construct the seaplane terminal. An SSNNL official further said, Pond 3 has a vast body, making it perfect. The Civil Aviation team also liked the site. It will take care of the operations.
A seaplane needs a water body of minimum 900-metres width and 6-feet depth for landing.
It is interesting to note that Pond 3 is the largest of the four lakes found around the Sardar Sarovar Dam and offers a picturesque view; it was once open to boating as well, however it ended in 2013, when a boat carrying 60 tourists got stuck in the waters and was surrounded by crocodiles, leading to panic. This required a couple of hours to evacuate the tourists.
The other sites which are shortlisted for development of seaplane service terminals in Gujarat are Palitana and Dharoi Dam. Officials have said the Civil Aviation Ministry was also thinking of classifying the operations under the Udan initiative that promotes regional connectivity.
An official of the Gujarat Tourism Department praised it and said that the Statue of Unity gave a big boost to tourism in Narmada and aerodrome services will be an added bonus.