The much-talked about seaplane project around the Statue of Unity is finally seeing some movement, with work having begun to fence a natural pond near the Sardar Sarovar Dam that is infested with crocodiles, after which the pond will be evacuated and the reptiles released in the dam’s reservoir.
From Tuesday, traffic movement on the scenic roads on the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Dam premises was restricted after the district collector issued a notification temporarily closing the exit road along the three natural ponds until September 22.
The administration has begun the work of isolating and fencing pond 3, also known as dyke 3, to keep crocodiles at bay before the work of building the seaplane terminal starts.
Four interlinked ponds in the area are infested with crocodiles, which have been released over the years by the forest department after rescue from human settlements. Once the fencing to isolate pond 3 is complete, the forest department will restart its work of evacuating the pond of an estimated 500 crocodiles, which had been stopped in January after environmentalists raised objections.
Narmada District Collector IK Patel, who is also the CEO of Statue of Unity, told The Indian Express, “The fencing work of the pond will ensure that the crocodiles do not enter pond 3 from the other ponds around. Once we fortify the pond boundaries, the forest department will restart the work of shifting the crocodiles to the main reservoir of Sardar Sarovar dam.”
He said the notification diverting traffic was in place to enable the fencing. “The construction on the seaplane terminal will begin later,” he said.
A multi-level committee comprising of officials from the aviation department as well as private jet operators visited the site in July last year and zeroed in on pond 3 for the seaplane terminal. The rock-filled pond is officially named Panchmuli Lake and popularly called ‘Magar Talav’ as it is infested with crocodiles.
The site was finalised a few weeks later, as its dimensions suit the requirements of landing a seaplane, which requires a minimum width of 900 metres in a water body with a depth of at least six feet. This is not the first time that Panchmuli lake has been chosen for tourist activity. The lake was a boating spot until 2013 when a stranded boat with about 60 tourists was surrounded by crocodiles, causing much panic among authorities.
The Narmada Dam premises has four scenic lakes in total between Sardar Sarovar and the Main Canal head regulator, namely Vadgam Lake (pond 1), Baharfalia Lake (pond 2), Panchmuli Lake (pond 3) and Khalvani Lake (pond 4). The contoured main canal of the dam takes off from pond 4.
In January this year, the forest department had begun evacuating the pond of crocodiles, using fish as bait to capture them in cages set up around the pond. In the span of a week in January, the department captured seven of the nearly 500 crocodiles and released them into the Sardar Sarovar reservoir. The operation was, however, put off after objections by environmental activists.