Shimla: Himachal Pradesh takes pride in temples dedicated to god Hanuman, but the tale is about to turn grim for thousands for monkeys in the state. The government has now backed a farmer outfit's plan to shoot monkeys at sight as the simians have been causing huge damage to crops.
'Operation Monkey' has already received the consent of the government, Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal told IANS.
Less than a week ago, the farmer outfit Kheti Bachao Sangharsh Samiti (KBSS) virtually issued shoot-at-sight orders to prevent marauding monkeys from taking over their fields.
Fed up with the failure of successive governments in the state, thousands of farmers under the KBSS plan to go for mass shooting on random sighting of wild animals, including monkeys, wild boars and blue bulls, from Dec 10 to 23.
KBSS state convenor Kuldeep Singh Tanwar said the state governments have so far failed to check the menace of wild animals.
'The wild animals cause losses to the tune of Rs.300 crore annually by damaging the crops. Of this, more than 50 percent of damage is caused by monkeys alone,' he said.
KBSS is motivating the farmers across the state to apply to conservators of forests and divisional forest officers for permits to shoot wild animals causing destruction. They are trying to secure 10,000 permits by Dec 9.
The government in its notification of March 2 this year allowed selective killing of nilgais (blue bulls) in Kangra, Bilaspur, Una, Solan and Sirmaur districts as their exploding numbers was endangering crops.
'Over the past few years, the farmers had been complaining about the havoc created by blue bulls. They were demanding their killing. Like the selective killing of monkeys, wild boars, jackals, hare, black bears and parrots, the government has allowed the execution of blue bulls,' then forest minister J.P. Nadda had informed the state assembly March 5.
Chief Wildlife Warden A.K. Gulati said as per the government notification, the area divisional forest officer and range officers have been authorised to issue permits for killing the animals.
He said only affected people would carry out the killing of wild animals and the wildlife wing would not execute it.
'The department is giving permits to those farmers who have a gun licence. There would be selective killing and no mass culling at all,' he said.
The wildlife wing estimates that more than 900,000 farmers are affected by wild animals. Monkeys, numbering over 300,000, mainly target the cereal and fruit crops, causing extensive damage.
But the move of farmers to go for mass culling has made animal protection groups and religious leaders furious.
'We will discourage any form of mass culling or the indiscriminate issuing of gun licenses. Himachal Pradesh is also known as 'dev bhoomi' or land of gods. The state must uphold this tradition and marry it with modern scientific tools of wildlife management,' said Arpan Sharma, a spokesperson for Delhi-based Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations.
N.G. Jayasimha, US-based Humane Society's campaign manager in India, said: 'We urge the farmers to be more humane to the animals.'
'Human encroachment has resulted in animals being left without homes and no choice but to wander into cities and farms. Ecological harmony can't be restored through the barrel of a gun,' said PETA India (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals) chief functionary Poorva Joshipura.
The development is significant as Himachal Pradesh takes pride in temples dedicated to Lord Hanuman, the Hindu monkey god. Only about a month ago, a giant idol of the 'mighty monkey deity' was unveiled in the Jakhu hills of Shimla.
'Major religions across the world are opposed to killing,' US-based religious leader Rajan Zed told IANS on e-mail.
Tanwar said lifting the ban on the export of monkeys is the only alternative to check their rising numbers. 'The export of monkeys for bio-medical research is a good option to reduce their population,' he said.