Mumbai: Zoo consultant sacked over mismanagement of penguins at Byculla zoo

Dec 14, 2017, 11:02 IST | Laxman Singh

An inquiry into irregularities has revealed that the firm had failed to verify documents of contractor and guide staff as part of its job

More than a year after Dory, the Humboldt penguin, died at Byculla zoo and exposed a massive scam by the contractor, the civic authorities have decided to fire the project consultant, HKS Designer and Consultant International Company for negligence. The BMC has blamed HKS for failing to verify documents, thereby letting the scam go unnoticed.

The BMC had brought eight Humboldt penguins to the city last year, and is left with seven now
The BMC had brought eight Humboldt penguins to the city last year, and is left with seven now

HKS Designer and Consultant, a Thailand-based company, has been in charge of the multi-crore revamp of Veermata Jeejabai Bhosale Udyan and Zoo for the past 10 years. As consultant, HKS was not only responsible for designing the renovation of the entire zoo, but was also supposed to control the execution of those plans, including overseeing the work of contractors.

The Humboldt penguin exhibit at the zoo has proved to be a big hit
The Humboldt penguin exhibit at the zoo has proved to be a big hit

One of these contractors was Highway Construction Company, which was in charge of the Humboldt penguins – the highlight of Byculla zoo. Weeks after the company brought eight Humboldt penguins to Mumbai, Dory, a female penguin, died of a bacterial infection. Dory's death exposed massive negligence at the zoo, especially by the contractor.

In November 2016, mid-day had further exposed how the contractor had pretended to have prior experience with penguins in order to bag the Rs 40-crore project, going as far as faking three MoUs as proof of their know-how.

Failed in duties
According to the BMC, it was the duty of HKS to verify these documents and the claims of the contractor, which it failed to do. A civic official said, "The inquiry report on the penguin project has pointed out that HKS failed to verify the contractor's documents and guide the zoo staff, which was their job. The report blamed HKS for all the mess that happened in the penguin project. Following this, municipal commissioner Ajoy Mehta ordered that action be initiated against HKS." The official added, "Following the findings, we have decided to sack HKS and appoint a new consultant."

Official speak
A copy of Mehta's order, dated February 6, states: "It appears from the report that the consultant miserably failed to guide the staff and contractor; hence, stringent action shall be initiated against consultant M/s HKS by following due process of law."

Surendra Borale, chief of the municipal architecture department, confirmed the development, and said, "We are in the process of issuing the termination later to consultant. For further proposed work in the revamp project we will appoint a new consultant. We are considering the government's panel of zoo consultants to oversee the rest of the work."

The other side
Rahib Siddique, a representative of HKS in Mumbai, told mid-day, "We have replied to the civic body's notice. For any details regarding the reply, you should speak to the civic body; we don't want to comment on it."

Long association
HKS was hired by BMC in 2007 to design and execute the multi-crore revamp plan for Byculla zoo. This includes new animal exhibits and the development of gardens. HKS was to get 3.5 per cent of costs for the garden work, while the animal exhibits were to fetch the company a 5 per cent cut.

10
No. of years HKS has led the zoo revamp

3.5%
HKS's cut for designing garden

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