When Vasundhara Raje visited Ranthambore early this year, she was confronted by angry farmers complaining about the large-scale destruction of their crop by herds of nilgai. The Chief Minister promised action, saying there were rules that clearly permitted culling in such cases. And yet, Asia’s biggest antelope remains a nagging headache for the BJP government — how do you cull an animal that has ‘gai’ (cow) as part of its name?
The state government has now approached the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre for an answer, putting Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar in a spot.
According to sources, Javadekar was ready to take action after Raje sought an order from the Centre on the issue during a meeting in New Delhi on November 24. But his advisors then pointed to the potential political fallout of allowing the culling of a species belonging to the bovine sub-family, and called nilgai, the sources added.
“Nilgais raiding crop has become a big problem in the state. It is a different animal but many call it a ‘gai’, there are sentiments involved. I am a Brahmin and killing any animal doesn’t feel right. So we are looking for a solution. Maybe the animals can be moved to areas away from crop land,” Rajasthan Forest Minister Rajkumar Rinwa told The Indian Express.
According to Section 11 of the Wildlife Protection Act, the Chief Wildlife Warden of a state is empowered to allow culling in such cases. Besides, an order was issued in the late 1990s by the then Congress government of Rajasthan, allowing the culling of wild animals considered pests under certain circumstances.
“Not a single nilgai was ever culled under the existing order because people want the Forest Department to do the dirty job. Most of the people are vegetarians and there is a religious angle. But the nilgai problem is present across the state and farmers petition the ministers and officials wherever they visit. The Chief Minister had recently approached the Centre on this matter but no fresh order has been issued,” O.P. Meena, Additional Chief Secretary, Forest and Wildlife, Rajasthan, told The Indian Express.
At the Centre, meanwhile, Javadekar too had received similar petitions from different parts of the country on animals that destroy crop. He had also briefed the ministry’s High Level Committee (HLC), headed by T.S.R. Subramanian, to address this issue in its report on key green laws.
Subsequently, the HLC report acknowledged that “there are some sentimental issues attached to these animals” but recommended that the MoEF issue a circular reminding the state governments of “the authority already vested in them” to allow culling when necessary.
Even earlier, in March 2012, the Ministry had issued an advisory for the management of nilgais for protecting crops in 14 affected states, including Rajasthan.
Neither Raje nor Javadekar responded to requests seeking comment.
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