The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation has spent crores on acquiring and housing eight Humboldt penguins, but the Byculla zoo remains in a sorry state, with an extensive makeover planned in 2007 yet to take off.
The revamp of the 53-acre Veermata Jijabai Bhosale Udyan (Byculla zoo’s official name) has faced several of obstacles. The pet project of Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, it was planned nine years ago. However, even the first phase of the project is yet to begin, four years after a revised master plan was approved by the Central Zoo Authority (CZA) in New Delhi. Ironically, the Shiv Sena-led BMC is now hurriedly building a penguin enclosure as it wants to showcase its ‘achievement’ ahead of civic polls early next year. Citizen activists said it was no surprise that the Shiv Sena brought in the penguins even before their enclosure was ready.
The BMC’s original revamp plan was not approved by the CZA. The approval came only after the CZA scaled back the project and recommended certain revisions. A two-member committee appointed by the CZA to study the master plan had said that revamp could harm the zoo’s ecosystem. The original plan envisioned new enclosures for all the animals (current and yet-to-be-acquired), an auditorium, 3D cinema and night safaris, among other things.
Nayana Kathpalia, trustee of NAGAR, a citizen’s group, and an activist fighting for open spaces in Mumbai, said, “The zoo revamp will do a great disservice to the botanical garden and eat into a major green space. It was also not a good idea for the BMC to bring in the penguins and house them in an artificial environment.”
It was while revising the project that the BMC planned to procure the eight penguins. However, tenders were issued only last year, and the penguins finally arrived on Tuesday. Anand Siva, an animal activist, said, “The enclosures have been lying unfinished. The last time I visited the quarantine area I found it was incomplete too – the smell of paint could be suffocating for the penguins. I don’t understand the hurry in bringing in the penguins. There could only be one reason for this: pleasing the Thackeray family on Uddhav Thackeray’s birthday.”
Activists have also said the revamp would eat into the zoo’s botanical gardens. While the BMC has retained the auditorium, the plan to rebuild all enclosures has been scrapped. Only 18 enclosures will be rebuilt, while the rest will be repaired, said civic officials. Despite this, the estimated cost of the project has increased from Rs 150 crore to about Rs 200 crore.
A civic official said, “Work on the zoo revamp will begin by the end of the year, when the construction of about 10 enclosures will start. All the clearances are in place and now and there won’t be any more delays.”