April 4, 2016 12:20:04 pm
Monkeys are wreaking havoc in Himachal Pradesh. Their burgeoning population, change in eating habits — dependence on cooked and baked food — and habitat shift from forests to towns has created a new level of man-animal conflict in the hill state.
Apart from attacking people, monkey raid crops and leave farmers grappling with losses that have hit the state’s economy. It has contributed immensely to farming becoming unviable, particularly affecting the livelihood of small farmers. Such has been the impact of the destruction that farmers have had to abandon fields.
In Solan, one of the most severely affected districts, farmers have not sown crops on over 2,864 hectares of land in 161 villages this year, resulting in an estimated loss of Rs 19.16 crore. “This is a district known for cash crops. Once the monkeys invade the fields, they don’t spare anything, whether it’s cash crop, cereals or maize. We can guard the fields close to our houses but who will keep watch on fields away from our homes? It’s better not to cultivate crops as we at least save input costs,” said Kewal Krishan, a marginal farmer at Dharampur.
The state has now begun to act. It had secured permission from the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) last week, to declare the simians as vermin, which will allow their selective killing in Shimla town. Nine hotspots have been notified, where permission can be given to an applicant for killing monkeys. There is now a move to approach the MoEF to extend the orders to 39 hotspots in 75 tehsils identified during a recent survey in 10 of the state’s 12 districts.
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Chief wildlife warden S S Negi says a sterilisation programme initiated in 2006-07 has also helped check the monkey numbers. Over a lakh monkeys have been sterilised till now. According to the latest monkey census, there are over 2.07 lakh of the simians in the state, around a lakh less than in 2004. But the numbers are not falling fast enough for those affected (see box).
The destruction of crops and geographical reach of the monkeys is growing. The agriculture department estimates an annual crop loss of Rs 184.20 crore due to this menace but the horticulture department has pegged it at Rs 150.10 crore.
Kuldeep Tanwar, convenor of the Kheti Bachao Sangharsh Samiti, an umbrella organisation of farmers fighting the monkey menace, disputes the official estimates. “The total direct and indirect loss to crops is over Rs 2,000 crore. One is direct crop loss to the tune of Rs 500 crore and the other is loss of opportunity, where farmers have abandoned their fields in 70,000 hectares. This will be another Rs 500 crore. The third is loss of manpower as farmers have to guard their fields day and night (diversion from labour, work and job), which will be around Rs 1,000 crore loss,” he explains.
A retired Indian Forest Service officer, Tanwar, who is also president of Himachal Kisan Sabha, said the Indian Council for Agriculture Search has concluded that three wild animals — the bluebull, monkeys and wild boars — are the reasons for low production of cereals and a few other crops in UP, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Gujarat. He credits the Shimla Municipal Corporation for making a case for declaring monkeys as vermin in the capital town, where, he adds, the problem is really serious.
As of now, barring Lahaul-Spiti, all other 11 districts of Himachal are affected by the monkey problem.
During the BJP regime in 2000, the government had empowered divisional forest officers to issue permits to kill monkeys, an initiative it took up again in 2010. In January 2011, however, the state High Court stayed the order on a petition filed by animal rights activists. The court instead asked the wildlife department to opt for non-fatal methods like use of rubber bullets to scare away monkeys. That method though has not worked.
Attacks on humans up
The number of reported monkey attacks on humans has also gone up. In 2013-14, there were 513 reported attacks, the highest so far. A woman in Shimla died due to an attack while another has been permanently disabled as she fell from the building after being attacked by monkeys.
The government has disbursed relief of Rs 28 lakh to 674 victims of monkey attacks in the last three years. They are now considered the biggest public nuisance in Shimla. They bite people, contaminate drinking water in storage tanks, transmit diseases, steal, tear, break, snatch, and enter houses, buildings and even hospital wards. Shimla’s leading government health facilities, IGMC hospital, and Kamla Nehru Hospital for women, are most vulnerable to raiding monkeys.
Ever since the high court ban on monkey killing, the state has been banking on a sterilisation campaign to tackle the menace. Eight sterilisation centres have been set up and catchers are paid Rs 500 per monkey to bring them to the centres. After the procedure, the monkeys are released in the forests.
There are, however, skeptics of this method. Kullu MLA Maheshwar Singh, who has been frequently raising the issue in assembly, has questioned the methodology of sterilisation and its success. “It’s the biggest scam in the forest department. More than Rs 6 crore has been spent to set up these centres. Bogus payments of up to Rs 20 to Rs 25 lakh has been paid to monkey catchers. Why not pass on this money to farmers who have lost their crops or abandoned cultivation ? Moreover, after sterilisation, monkeys are not dropped at the native place or in their troops. They lose their group, and become more furious and attack humans,” he says.
Electric fencing of fields
The state government has also proposed a scheme, soon to be rolled out, for electric fencing of fields. Willing
farmers can get a 60 per cent subsidy. Forest minister Thakur Singh Bharmouri says the fencing “will be absolutely safe. It will not kill the monkeys, only will scare them away once the animals come in contact with the live wires.”
Yet another scheme being considered is a Vanar Vatika (see interview).
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