What is and isn’t vermin

Nilgais are Schedule II and III members — protected, but can be hunted under specific conditions. File photo: M.A. Sriram  

Since 2015, the Union Environment Ministry has acceded to requests from Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, and Bihar to declare wild boar, rhesus macaque, and nilgai as vermin within specified territories of these States, and outside forests and protected areas. This reprieve means that those who kill these animals here will, for a year after these notifications come into effect, not be subject to the jail terms and fines that hunting these animals typically invite. Wildlife laws also consider hunted wildlife as ‘government property’ and impose restrictions on how these carcasses must be disposed. Once slotted as vermin, these animals, in the words of a wildlife conservationist, are “open season” and could become easy game for hunters as well as traders in meat.

Wildlife laws divide species into ‘schedules’ ranked from I to V. Schedule I members are the best protected, in theory, with severe punishments meted out to those who hunt them. Wild boars, nilgai and rhesus monkeys are Schedule II and III members — also protected, but can be hunted under specific conditions. Crows and fruit bat fall in Schedule 5, the vermin category.

Moreover, there are laws in the Wildlife Act that empower every State’s Chief Wildlife Warden to authorise hunters to cull animals in a region where they are a proven nuisance. “To deal with a group of animals or, say, a man-eater, the existing laws suffice,” says Vinod Ranjan, a senior Union Environment Ministry official involved with the exercise. “But the problem has gone beyond groups.” Right to Information queries by animal rights activist Gauri Maulekhi and viewed by The Hindu show that the environment ministry, in September 2015, noted that State authorities in Uttarakhand hadn’t provided a scientific basis — such as surveys of the animal population, damage caused by wild boar, money paid out as compensation, and the mechanism by which carcasses would be disposed — through which the animal could be declared ‘vermin’. The Environment Ministry nevertheless declared the animal as vermin on February 3. Only in the case of Himachal Pradesh is there a rough estimate of the rhesus population. For Bihar and Maharashtra there are only regions outlined where wild boars have reportedly caused damage.

Ms. Maulekhi has filed a petition in the Supreme Court challenging the Environment Ministry’s notification highlighting these lacunae.

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Printable version | Aug 6, 2021 9:34:27 AM |

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