“Oh! Shit. Mom cannot we have a clean home?” baby croc asks her mother. Mother herself is in bit of a trouble. One of its feet got entangled in a fishing-net. She has been strong enough to get free but part of net is now permanently wrapped around the left front foot. Mother is depressed. People are stealing their food also. She is helpless since, all the lakes in the area are more or less similarly polluted and affected. She broods over the good old days, her grandfather used to talk about. Those days, Shivpuri was a sleepy small town and people use to be able to manage their shit at their own end and not pass on to animals’ home.
The croc family, whose conversation I overheard belongs to Sakhya Sagar – a large lake in the middle of a wildlife reserve, Madhav National Park adjacent to Shivpuri. The reserve has been a royal shooting preserve of the, than, Gwalior State. At one end of this lake is around 100 year old Sailing Club. This may have busted with royal parties in good old days. Now this is a grand old Forest Rest House with two suits.
Madhav is teaming with herbivore, reptile, carnivore, and of course, avi-fauna. One can see large herds of spotted deer and nilgai. Wild boars can also be spotted. Crocodiles are common in lakes. We often come across huge monitor lizards in the forest. Leopards operate in the area but are sighted infrequently. Tiger used to be common here but unfortunately now there is no resident tiger population. Once in a while some dispersing tiger finds temporary home here. Forest is dry deciduous in nature. Thus, the visibility is good in the forest.
I am lucky to be staying at the Club. The whole place is for me, thanks to a forester friend. I sit enjoying lavish breakfast on a huge veranda, the size of a tennis court but more squarish, and extending into the lake. In fact, this has been erected on pillars in the lake.
This is so wonderful. What a sight – mix of natural and cultural history. I can see the huge lake spread before me with variety of birds. Hilly, undulating landscape is spread beyond. At the other end, I can see some nilgai feeding lazily. Did I see a chowsingha (four horned antelope)? Not clear from so far, but is possible. I can see or maybe imagine a crocodile here and a crocodile there, now and again, by tell tale ripples in the lake, barely visible snouts…
In the afternoon, we go around the lake to watch wildlife. All along the edge of the lake we can see plastic bottles, plastic bags, rags and what not – waste that has beached. And in the middle of all this waste all along the lake edge are basking crocodiles, difficult to count all in just one afternoon visit – they can be between 50-100, of all age and size. Must be of both sexes, though, I do not know how to differentiate. There they lie like dead but as we approach in a vehicle, closer than 100-150 m, they are full of life and with a dash they splash into the lake. A rare one allows a closer approach. That’s the prize of patience. Looking closely at water reveals, it’s not as clean as it should be. It’s blackish. There is some unpleasant stench as well.
I have visited Madhav some twenty years back. I do not remember all this. Nevertheless, I feel I must explore what’s going on.
I find the cause is just a stone’s through away. City’s sewage is being directly mixed into the lake using a sly. The, than Gwalior royal, Madhav Rao Scindia, has designed the Madhav water supply system in such a way that there is water available for wildlife round the year. In 1918, he built a chain of dams – set of three lakes – on the river Manihar. The drainage of the area reaching the river is first collected in Jadhav Sagar, just outside the present day National Park. Overflow from Jadhav is collected in Sakhya Sagar and overflow from here further goes into Madhav Sagar, and extra water through a sluice gate meets the Manihar River downstream. Prefect system thus provides water to the flora and fauna of the reserve.
The town municipality plays a trick to save the bother of managing the sewage. It brings all the sewage in a large channel which flows adjacent to Jadhav Sagar. Just few metres short of overflow point of the lake, the sewage is mixed with the Jadhav water. The water and sewage together overflow and pass down to Sakhya and from Sakhya to Madhav!
To add insult to injury, The National Park suffers at the hands of fishing mafia. Hand in gloves with local police and bureaucracy, truck loads of fish is illegally collected from the lakes in the Park.
Maharaja Madhav Rao is no more. Forest Management with limited staff is not able to stop the pollution and fishing. People of Shivpuri do not care. Municipality has cut short its work. Crocodile do not have a voice. How much waste might have accumulated in these lakes is anybody’s guess. This is really shitty.