Denying charges that the presence of penguins and their upkeep is causing losses to Veermata Jeejamata Bhosale Zoo, popularly known as Byculla Zoo, Municipal Commissioner IS Chahal on Wednesday said the penguins have, in fact, helped increase the zoo’s revenue collection.
The zoo has been housing seven penguins for the last five years. They were brought over from Seoul, South Korea, in 2016 and were put in an enclosure for public viewing in 2017.
Chahal said, “It is clear that the total cumulative income of BMC’s Veermata Jeejamata Bhosale Zoo between April 2014 and March 2017 i.e., 3 years was Rs. 2.10 crore. However, after the arrival of penguins in March 2017, the total cumulative income of the zoo between April 2017 and March 2020 was Rs. 14.36 crore. Therefore, it is clear that the income of the zoo increased by Rs 12.26 crore.”
The clarification comes in the light of criticism from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress after the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) floated a tender worth Rs 15.26 crore last month for the upkeep of the penguins at the Byculla Zoo. Objecting to the development, the parties said the costs had been inflated while also criticising the BMC for failing to create an in-house management system for the upkeep of the penguins.
In a letter dated September 6, the BJP had asked the mayor and standing committee chairman to cancel the contract and said that the staff already available with the zoo should be roped in to take care of the penguins.
Amid demands for withdrawing the tender, Chahal said, “We are only revisiting a few components of the tender.”
With the current contract ending this month, the civic body, on August 13, had floated a tender at an estimated cost of Rs 15.26 crore for the upkeep of the seven flightless birds for the next 36 months. The current contract was awarded for Rs 11.5 crore in September 2018 for a period of three years. The Congress and the BJP have questioned the increase in the estimated cost.
In a statement released on Wednesday, BMC clarified that the administration is not withdrawing or cancelling the penguin upkeep tender. “Rs 15.26 crore is the estimated amount of tender which was floated last month. This is not the project cost. Bids are yet to be reviewed and the contract will be awarded to the bidder who has quoted the least amount. In addition, regular maintenance work is undertaken by the BMC, for example, the appointment of a medical officer for penguins. This will further bring down the cost…” the civic body stated.
Before the zoo was shut for visitors last year owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, penguins were very popular among the visitors, authorities said. The visitor count surged since March 2017, after the penguins were put on public view, they added. During weekdays, the visitor count at the zoo is between 7,000 and 10,000, while during weekdays and holidays, its surges past 15,000.
Chahal added, “It is amply clear that increase in the income of the zoo after the arrival of penguins is much more than the expenditure on their maintenance. Therefore, in light of the above facts, it is incorrect to state that MCGM (Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai) is suffering huge losses due to the penguins.”
As part of its revamp project, the Byculla zoo had bought over eight penguins on July 26, 2016 for Rs 45 crore. While one of the penguins died after two months, others were put up for public display in an enclosure in March next year.