On May 21, Hitesh Barot, 48, a California-based legal expert back in India to help the Election Commission simplify voter registration, was killed by a crocodile after having gone for a swim in the Narmada in his ancestral village, Bhalod, in Bharuch district.
Barot, who was president of the North American, South Asian Bar Association Foundation in 2008, and who was also adjunct professor with Gujarat National Law University, has been one of 11 crocodile victims in the last six weeks in the Narmada and Vishwamitri rivers in Bharuch and Vadodara.
Experts link the recent attacks to two trends. One is that many crocodiles from upstream Narmada have possibly been swept downstream to Bharuch. The district’s range forest officer, Raghuveersinh Jadeja, feels the overflowing of the Sardar Sarovar Dam due to a heavy monsoon last year may have caused this.
The other reason holds good for both rivers — crocodiles turn aggressive in summer when they nest on the banks. “Female crocodiles in particular are extremely aggressive when they have laid eggs,” says M R Gadhvi of Vadodara’s social forestry department. The female makes the nest of vegetation and usually places it in the midst of shrubbery, where it is difficult to spot.
Neither river has had a crocodile census. The Vishwamitri-Dhadhar river system in Vadodara district is home to an estimated 300 marsh crocodiles, while the Narmada is estimated to have 75 to 100.
Vadodara herpetologist Raju Vyas stresses the need for an “urban wildlife department” to educate people about living with animals in urban areas. “Vadodara is the only city through the heart of which flows a river infested with crocodiles,” he says.
The social forest department has started an awareness drive. “Some people relieve themselves on the banks, which is when they are attacke. Some were attacked while bathing, while one crossing a foot bridge tripped into a water body,” says Vadodara district forest officer R G Prajapati. Gadhvi says people tend to ignore warnings. “In Nareshwar, the schoolboy ignored warnings from people. In Bharuch, the NRI told people warning him that he knew how to deal with crocodiles.”
Forest officials in Vadodara are putting up additional glow signs at night, while a team has been sent to Bharuch on an awareness campaign. “We have set up signs in 38 villages and plan to fence the ghats in six villages,” said range forest officer Jadeja.