They bite people, contaminate drinking water in storage tanks, steal, tear, break and snatch. 2015-16 saw more than 2,200 cases of attacks/bites — 6 a day on average. Between 2004-05 and 2015-16, the state government paid compensation of Rs 1.01 crore to victims of these attacks. According to the government, crop losses amount to Rs 500 crore per annum; the Himachal Kisan Sabha says it is closer to Rs 2,000 crore.
Monkeys have been an old problem in Himachal Pradesh — one that the sterilisation of 1.25 lakh of the animals over the last 10 years has been unable to solve. The Ministry of Environment and Forests had declared monkeys vermin in 53 tehsils, besides Shimla city, to peel away a layer of protection and facilitate their culling — and the state government has now decided to give the job to an Eco Task Force in rural areas. It is also exploring other options, including some innovative ones such as feeding the animals contraceptives.
The Wildlife Department’s 2015 survey put the monkey population at 2,07,614, down from 2,24,086 in 2013. In 2004, before the launch of the sterilisation programme in 2006-07, their numbers were 3,17,512. The sterlisation of 1.25 lakh monkeys — about half of them females — has brought the population down, according to Chief Wildlife Warden S K Sharma.
There are 8 sterilisation centres, one of which is in Shimla — a model centre that is being replicated by states such as Uttarakhand. Monkeys catchers from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand are hired to trap monkeys; they are paid Rs 700 per monkey and, if they are able to catch 80% of a herd, they get Rs 1,000 per monkey. The animals are released after being sterilised.
But the numbers and effort notwithstanding, the problem remains. Monkeys appear as a matter of urgent public importance at every session of the Assembly, and they are now an election issue as well. A wave of anger sweeps through the state every time a monkey attack leaves someone dead, injured or crippled.
In 2010-11, the government allowed the Forest Department to issue gun licences to farmers to kill monkeys to prevent damage to crops, but the High Court stayed the move. After the 2012 elections, the Congress government decided to focus on sterilisation. Farmers’ bodies, especially the Himachal Kisan Sabha, pressured the government to ask the Centre to declare monkeys vermin. The MoEF issued a notification to this effect for Shimla’s urban areas (38 hotspots) and, subsequently, 53 tehsils. The notification has been extended once, and will expire on May 24.
However, the Wildlife Department, which had framed guidelines for the killing of monkeys by citizens, and devised a standard operating procedure for the disposal of the carcass, has no record of any monkey being killed. When push came to shove, both the farmers’ groups and common citizens backed off because of religious feelings attached to monkeys. Dr Kuldeep Tanwar, who heads the Himachal Kisan Sabha and had led massive protests demanding a solution to the problem, argued farmers had no expertise in killing monkeys, and the Wildlife Department ought to be doing the job.
The government has now decided to entrust the job of culling to an Eco Task Force. The Task Force will help eliminate monkeys if asked by the panchayats. The Forest Department will help with facilities and equipment.
The other innovative proposal is to use oral contraceptives. Additional Chief Secretary (Forests and Wildlife) Tarun Kapoor said, “Oral contraceptives have not been tried in India, but some countries have used it. It can only be a temporary solution, because its effects last only for perhaps 2 or 3 months, and the contraceptives have to administered repeatedly. But the Wildlife Department will work on a pilot project alongside sterilisation, which is a major activity now.”
The government has also cleared a proposal to set up a “rescue centre for life care” for 1,000 monkeys near Shimla airport. The centre will cost Rs 3 crore, and will have cages for the animals, who will receive veterinary care. A proposal to send captured monkeys to Northeastern states did not work out after states like Nagaland and Mizoram refused to accept them.