Over a month ago, Maneka Gandhi had expressed anger for the Environment Ministry’s move of declaring some wild animals as a vermin in a few states for a period of one year. While in Bihar, two wild animals – blue bull (nilgai) and wild boar – have been declared as vermin for one year till December 2016, a copy of the Bihar’s proposal to the Ministry accessed under Right To Information (RTI) Act, shows that the state intended to continue culling nilgai and wild boar for a period of five years in 31 districts.
The proposal by Department of Environment and Forests, Bihar Government, dated August 12, 2015, reads, “People of Bihar are dependent on agriculture. Out of several kinds of wild animals present outside the protected area, two animals – blue bull and wild boar – have been destroying agricultural crops of the people on large scale and have become a menace.” It further reads, “It is requested to kindly consider the proposal and exercise the power conferred under section 62 of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 to declare blue bull and wild boar as vermin for the period of five year in the state of Bihar.”
The proposal does not specify any measures adopted by the state to mitigate the problem except that it has been compensating the affected persons for loss of life and property and the department has been distributing around Rs 50 lakhs every year as compensation, but “people are not satisfied and demand permanent solution. Due to its religious name, even government officials and people do not kill it.”
Nilgai, in India, comes under Schedule III of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. And as per Section 62 of the Wild Life Protection Act, the Central Government may, by notification, declare any wild animal other than those specified in Schedule I and Part II of Schedule II to be vermin for any area and for such period as may be specified therein and so long as such notification is in force, such wild animal shall be deemed to have been included in Schedule V. In the list of International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), nilgai is categorized as an animal of ‘Least Concern’.
Delhi-based animal activist Naresh Kadyan said, “Declaring any animal a vermin for a period of five years, is a sure-shot way of making it extinct in that place. Culling an animal is not a solution. There are scientific ways of tackling such a problem. Firstly, they should have carried out a census and recognised the places where there is surplus population. They could have been relocated. Animals like nilgai and wild boar are an essential parts of the food chain and by culling it, we are disturbing the food chain and indirectly destroying the prey of other wild animals who feed on them.”
A number of RTI queries were shot by The Indian Express to the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change. However, the answers to different queries seem ambiguous. To the RTI query that asks – After the state government seeks permission to declare a particular animal a vermin, how does the Ministry cross checks the facts before issuing the permission?, the reply says – “Proposals from the State Government are considered under Wild Life Protection Act, 1972 and in accordance with advisories of the Ministry.”
For two other RTI queries – “After an animal is declared vermin, is there a restriction on the number of animals that can be killed in the state seeking permission for culling” and “What methodology is adopted by the Ministry of Environment and Forests to keep track on the number of vermin animals culled in the state.” – the Ministry’s response read, “No such information available in the Ministry.”
Bihar environment and forest department principal secretary Vivek Kumar Singh told The Indian Express: “Though we had sought permission for culling of nilgai for five years, we have got permission for culling from December 1 last year to November 1 this year. It took place in Mokama near Patna and Buxar but we do not document culling figures, which may be very less as there has been protests. But culling is still officially permitted till November 1”.
Another senior official in state environment and forests department informed added state board of wildlife headed by CM Nitish Kumar in its meeting held on June 15 in 2015 decided to allow killing of Nilgai to control population and prevent damage to agricultural fields in the state. The proposal was later forwarded to union forest ministry to declare Nilgai as vermin under provisions of Wildlife Protection Act and allow their killing for five years. The centre later sanctioned the proposal but allowed killing of the Nilgai for only one year.
A few weeks ago, Bihar chief minister commented on cow vigilantism and said, “If the cow protectors have so much of sympathy towards ‘gai and nilgai’ then they should keep them at their shakhas. Don’t let them roam in fields and trouble farmers.”