The apathy of state government towards making the Khadakwasla reservoir in Pune free of crocodiles has taken a toll on the training programme of cadets in the National Defence Academy (NDA),Indias premier tri-service academy. In a reply to information sought under the Right To Information (RTI) Act,the NDA has admitted to The Indian Express that training indeed has been affected due to crocodiles.
Activities of watermanship have been affected,the most important being endurance swimming. The issue has been reported to the concerned state authorities and their assistance has been sought to remove crocodiles from the lake, the academy state in its reply to the RTI. But the government authorities seem to be turning a blind eye to the issue.
State forest department had released six crocodiles from the Rajiv Gandhi Zoological Park,Katraj,of Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) into the Khadakwasla waters,three on November 29,2007 and three on April 24,2009,without informing the NDA. This information was revealed in an RTI info sought by activist Bhagwan Nivdekar of Pune.
However,Khadakwasla is not crocodile habitat. The State Wildlife Board,under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act,1972,has powers to release crocs in a non-habitat area but only after a Habitat Viability Report. But no such report was prepared before the crocs were released. In January 2011,the villagers around the dam sited a crocodile for the first time and the academy stopped the watermanship training. After nearly a year,the forest department and NDA teams managed to remove a croc from the dam.
In March 2012,the NDA in a statement said,NDA will continue with its training activities with adequate safeguards as the NDA is unable to ascertain how many crocs have been released by the forest authorities…The crocodiles have found their way to the lake due to the careless attitude of forest authorities. But on October 29,2012,another crocodile was spotted at the reservoir by the Nausena Prashikshan Dal (Navy training team) of the NDA. On January 15,a villager saw a croc at Malkhed village near the reservoir and again on June 2,the training team saw a croc in Peacock Bay.
The academy on August 12 shot off a letter to the state government asking it to take steps to remove the crocs from the dam. Documents obtained under the RTI show that the academy since June 2011 has been time and again writing to various government agencies.
In a letter on June 28,2011,the then NDA commandant Lt Gen Jatinder Singh had requested state forest minister Patangrao Kadam to direct the concerned authorities to conduct a survey to verify the presence of crocodiles in the dam and take necessary action…
The letter stated that as per the a Ministry of Defence letter dated November 7,1991,the under secretary of state irrigation department was informed that the reservoir is for the exclusive use of the NDA. The academy carries out watermanship training for the cadets at the Peacock Bay. This includes endurance swimming, the letter stated.
But so far no survey has been carried out. In January,Ravindra Kadam,deputy conservator of forest,sought the help of Madras Crocodile Bank in Chennai to conduct a survey and relocate the reptiles. However,Kadam said they themselves have now decided to remove the reptiles. We believe Katraj park has the expertise to remove crocodiles. Also,it is in Pune,so communicating and co-ordinating will be easy. We would be starting the operation for removing crocodiles in October. Crocodile traps would be laid, Kadam said.