Gujarat: Dinosaur Museum paints a picture of neglect

Aditi Raja
The Dinosaur Museum at Raiyoli village of Mahisagar district has been inundated for over three weeks. (Express)

Barely five months after Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani inaugurated the country’s first Dinosaur Museum at Raiyoli village of Mahisagar district, said to be the “world’s third-largest dinosaur fossil site”, the museum is already a picture of neglect.

While the basement of the museum where life-size statues of dinosaurs are placed has been inundated for close to three weeks, the dysfunctional air-conditioning in the movie hall prevents the screening of an informative five-minute 3D film.

Officials contracted by the Tourism Corporation of Gujarat Limited (TCGL) said the museum, which was constructed in 2007 but was opened only after an 12-year delay, has been visited by over 25,000 tourists since its inauguration in June this year.

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Wasted potential: lack of planning and monitoring

After the March 2016 CAG report criticising the Gujarat government for neglecting Balasinor Dinosaur Fossil Park, which not only has the potential to attract tourists, but also to be named a UNESCO World Heritage site, the TCGL commissioned a renovation of the museum in 2017. The report tabled in the Assembly had pointed to the lack of planning and monitoring of the project by TCGL. Now, the museum has fallen into neglect again. Meanwhile, the state government is set to build a dinosaur trail at Kevadia Colony near the Statue of Unity, featuring life-size models of dinosaurs, as an added tourist attraction.

In 2016, the museum was renovated to add 3D film screening technology and virtual reality facilities after a 2016 report of the Comptroller Auditor General (CAG) criticised the government of Gujarat and the tourism department for neglecting the museum after investing Rs 8.58 crore in it. About 50 dinosaur models, including a life-size one of Rajasaurus Narmadensis (a species whose fossil was excavated from Gujarat and is named after the Narmada river, where it is thought to have lived) are the Museum’s attractions.

Mamlatdar Vijaya Vala, who is part of the museum’s management committee, said the basement got flooded due to a design flaw. “The problem is there were heavy rains in this area this year, because of which the water table has increased by a great extent,” Vala told this newspaper. “Since the building is old and was constructed by the Tourism Corporation in 2007, at that time they did not undertake concreting of the basement. Now the water from the ground is repeatedly flooding the basement even after we continue to drain it out.” The basement was meant to be a selfie point for tourists with the dinosaurs models.

The sprawling movie hall, which can hold 60 tourists and is fitted with three split air conditioners, gets stuffy because the cooling equipment get overheated. As many as 100 tourists cram into the room most of the time, a staffer on duty, who did not wish to be identified, said, blaming it on ineffective management. Last week, agitated visitors created a ruckus after the faulty air conditioning led to a malfunction in the movie screening and a suffocation scare, the staffer added. The toilets at the museum are also unclean and in a shambles.

TGCL MD Jenu Devan told this newspaper that the department was aware of the problems and was working towards revamping the museum.

“Yes, we have experienced some problems now that the building is being used. It was constructed years ago and was lying vacant,” Devan said. “We have planned to issue tenders and carry out repairs and renovation of the existing building as well as to construct an extension for housing more interesting attractions.”

He said they realised that not only is the flooding of the basement an issue, but that the museum is right now not equipped to handle tourists in summers either. “We need a better air conditioning system. The extension building will have details on the extinction theory of the dinosaurs and also a 5D experience for patrons. We have set a deadline of 18-24 months to build it.”

A collection of dinosaur bones and egg hatcheries, with around 100 eggs, was discovered by the Geological Survey of India (GSI) in 1981-82 in Raiyoli village in Balasinor taluka of Kheda district. The GSI then conducted a thorough excavation in 1991 and unearthed fossils of both herbivorous as well as carnivorous dino- saurs there. Dinosaur fossils have also been discovered in Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh. Balasinor royal scion Aaliya Sultana Babi has been advocating for the preservation of the Dinosaur Fossil Park since 1991, which has now come to be known across the world as the Jurassic Park of India.

Retired GSI Deputy Director and Paleontologist Dr Dhananjay Mohabey, who was among the team of palaeontologists to

discover dinosaur fossils in Raiyoli, about 200km from Kevadia way back 1991, said, “It was only in the year 2000 that we named the Rajasaurus Narmadensis, as we had found skeletal traces of a crown like presence on its skull. So, it was called a ‘Raja’,” Mohabey said.

“At the same time, we also found another dinosaur and it was named Rahiolisauras after the old spelling of the village Raiyoli. Both the Rajasauras and Rahiolisauras were carnivores. There was also another species of herbivore found along with them in Gujarat. Professors and Paleo-ntologists from the universities of Chicago and Michigan had joined us to study the treasures the GSI discovered almost accidentally in the 1980s,” he added.