In a public spat over the culling of wild animals caught in conflict, Union Minister for Women and Child Development, Maneka Gandhi accused Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar of showing a ‘lust for killing animals.’
Ms. Gandhi’s attack follows a spate of clearances from the Environment Ministry, effectively allowing Himachal Pradesh to kill of a species of monkey (Rhesus macaque), and Bihar to eliminate nilgai or blue bull, a species of antelope, and wild pigs where they were in conflict with humans. Speaking to ANI, Ms. Gandhi also charged that the Environment Ministry had allowed the slaughter of peacocks in Goa and elephants in West Bengal. This was denied by the Ministry.
About 200 nilgai have been shot by hired shooters in Bihar’s Mokama area over the past three days. Farmers in a dozen districts of the State have demanded measures to control the crop-raiding animals, and even performed prayers to keep them off fields. The State Board of Wild Life decided to declare the blue bulls as vermin in May 2015.
Mr. Javadekar told a television channel that the permissions were granted after requests from the States and were based on existing laws.
“Till date, five states have submitted proposals. The Ministry examines the proposal in detail and allows scientific management in a specific area for a limited time. There were complaints about wild boar, blue bull and other animals…permission for scientific management [have been given] in the three states of Uttarakhand, Bihar and Himachal Pradesh,” said Inspector General of Forests, S.K. Khanduri.
Culling is a ‘worrisome trend’
The trend of killing animals involved in conflict with people through an official licence is relatively new, and a cause for worry, a former member of the National Board for Wildlife said.
Wildlife had previously been classified as vermin but giving States greater leeway to cull animals was worrisome, said Praveen Bhargav, who served on the Board. “The entire gamut of issues linked to declaration of wild animals as vermin including better safeguards against misuse and other practical solutions to reduce crop loss ought to have been discussed by the National Board for Wildlife. However, the full NBWL has not met in two years,” said Mr. Bhargav.
“We never recommend animals to be killed. States can take measures to control certain animals,” Vinod Ranjan, Additional Director General of Forests said.
Sources close to Ms. Gandhi told The Hindu that she had voiced her reaction as an animal rights activist, but would “informally” take it up with the Environment Ministry. “The Centre should have tried to explore other options instead of advising the states to shoot animals,” the source said.
Wild animals are protected by the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 under which animals and birds are classified, on the basis of threats they face, into four schedules. The highly endangered tiger is in the highest Schedule 1 and hares in Schedule 4. Each class gets different grades of protection and the law allows all, except Schedule 1 animals, to be temporarily slotted as Schedule 5 or ‘vermin.’ Nilgai, wild pig and rhesus macaque come under schedule 2 and 3.