Union minister for women and child development Maneka Gandhi’s comments on Thursday, accusing the environment ministry of showing “lust to kill animals”, snowballed into a major stand-off between the
Union minister for women and child development Maneka Gandhi’s comments on Thursday, accusing the environment ministry of showing “lust to kill animals”, snowballed into a major stand-off between the National Democratic Alliance’s two Cabinet colleagues to the delight of Opposition parties.
Ms Gandhi’s outburst came after the Rhesus Macaque (monkey) was declared “vermin” in 10 districts of Himachal Pradesh on May 31, paving the way for their large-scale extermination. Before this, the environment ministry had allowed the culling of wild boar in Uttarakhand in February and Blue Bull (Nilgai) in Bihar in December last year. (Vermin means wild animals believed to be harmful to crops and livestock, or which carry diseases.)
An animal rights activist, Ms Gandhi claimed that in the “biggest ever massacre,” about 200 nilgai have been killed in Bihar and 53 wild boar in drought-hit Chandrapur, Maharashtra. “The environment ministry is writing to every state asking them which animal they want to kill, stating that they will grant permission. In West Bengal, they gave permission to kill elephants (an endangered animal), in Himachal they gave permission to kill monkeys, in Goa they gave permission to kill peacocks,” she alleged, adding, “I don’t understand what is this lust for killing animals. Environment ministry is responsible for it. It is for the first time such clearances are being given.”
Environment minister Prakash Javadekar defended the action and insisted that culling “is done as per an existing law and only on request of states to protect crops for a specific time period.”
“As per existing law, when farmers face a lot of problems and their crops are completely damaged and when state government sends a proposal, only then we allow (culling) and grant approval to the state government’s proposal for a particular area and time period for scientific management. It is not a programme of the central government. The law is such and it is an old one,” he said.
Responding to Ms Gandhi’s claims that the Centre has allowed killing of elephants in West Bengal and peacocks in Goa, Dr S.K. Khanduri, inspector general wildlife, ministry of environment, forest and climate change clarified: “The ministry has not given any permission to kill deer, peacock or elephant anywhere In some places, animal-human conflicts happen. Last year, more than 500 people lost their lives in human-wildlife conflicts. As per the provision of law, if there are complaints about the wildlife conflict, then state government has to submit the proposal which is examined by the ministry to allow scientific management in a specific area for a limited time,” he said, adding, “Till date, five states – Uttarakhand, Bihar, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat — have submitted the proposals as there were complaints about wild boar, blue bull and other animals. These proposals have been examined and permissions for scientific management were given in Uttarakhand, Bihar and Himachal Pradesh. Proposals of Maharashtra and Gujarat are still being examined.”
The face-off between the two NDA ministers invited critical reactions from Opposition parties who alleged absence of teamwork and cohesion in the government. While JD(U) spokesperson Ajay Alok said this is not the first time the ministries are clashing with each other in this government, NCP spokesperson Rahul Narvekar pointed out that “there is no synchronisation between various ministries because of one single person dictating terms.”
There were mixed reactions from wildlife experts on the issue. CEO of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), India, Poorva Joshipura said: “Ecological balance cannot be restored through the barrel of a gun and killing some wild animals does nothing toward helping farmers or anyone else because other animals simply come and take their place.”
On the other hand, CSE supported the environment ministry’s stand. Ajay Saxena, programme manager (forestry) at Centre for Science and Environment, said: “The culling of animals or declaring vermin is an ecological management tool as it is a fact that blue bull and monkeys are creating problems for farmers. If you look at it as an animal welfare perspective, it will be wrong but if you look at it from ecological management perspective, it’s a right move. There is nothing wrong in it.”