Taran Taran  -   Indian Punjab Tourism and Cultural Affairs Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu has said he will soon write to Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan with a proposal to exchange gharials (crocodiles) at Chhatbir zoo in Chandigarh with Indus River dolphins of the neighbouring country, reported Indian Express on Sunday.

This comes a day after Indian Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh gave nod to declare the endangered Indus River dolphin, found only in the Beas River in the country, as the state aquatic animal. “We have gharials and Pakistan has Indus River dolphins in abundance. They don’t have gharials and we have very few dolphins in the Beas River. We can give them gharials in exchange of dolphins,” Sidhu said.

Sidhu was at Harike Wetlands near Taran Taran to celebrate World Wetland Day on Saturday. As per a survey conducted in December last year, Beas River has only eight to 10 dolphins.

“We will create a better habitat for the dolphins in Beas by removing the invasive catfish. Then we can bring 30 to 60 dolphins from Pakistan. This has been suggested by officials at Chhatbir zoo and I will write to Prime Minister of Pakistan to make this exchange happen,” said Sidhu.

He said, “There is huge potential for tourism at Harike Wetlands. We receive around 1.25 lakh birds annually at Harike while only 16,000 go to Kharagpur Wetlands, which has been tagged as number one wetland of India. This has happened because no one ever gave any attention to Harike Wetlands. But now we have a concrete plan.”

Sidhu said, “Rs1200 crores were being spent with the assistance of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) on promoting Brand Punjab as the most favoured tourist destination. Out of this, Rs 150 crores will be spent on harnessing the immense potential of Harike Wetlands.” “We will follow Ramsar Convention guidelines for wetland and habitat conservation and create suitable habitat for breeding of waterfowl. Catfish and other invasive species will be removed. Local flora and indigenous species will be reintroduced.

A drone survey of the entire 4,100 hectares will be conducted to identify weak habitat zones and bolster the indigenous species therein, and augment breeding habitats,” said Sidhu.

Infrastructure development activities being undertaken by the department of tourism shall be completed by April 30 this year, he said adding, “Rs 10 crores have been spent on construction of an interpretation centre, bird watch towers, observation tower, canteen, parking” and public conveniences. “Very soon, tourists will be able to avail the facilities such as e-rickshaw, bicycles, binoculars etc. Boating facilities will also be provided here.”