It’s 2pm. We are at The Ridge road in Shimla. The street is animated. It swarms with people. Suddenly a group of monkeys emerge from nowhere and sneak into the queue of walkers, making an extreme din. While passers-by try running to escape the primates, one of the monkeys snatches ice-cream pulled from the hands of a little girl and runs away.
Such incidents, we are told, are not rare in Shimla. Many time monkey attacks in the capital of the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh lead to severely injuries. At other times, their assaults cause deaths. The Himachal Forest Department has classified monkey attacks into three categories — simple attacks, aggrieve injury, permanent disability and in the worst case death. Damages are paid to the victims accordingly after investigation.
♦ Simple attack is when the monkey approach people but does not bite them. It may involve snatching food from the passersby or assail them without any strikes or bites. If there is no injury, the victims are compensated up to 15,000.
♦ Aggrieve injury means an attack with bites its compensation amount is up to 75,000.
♦ If a monkey assault affects the human body and causes the loss of the usage of one of the membranes, it’s considered as permanent disability. The compensation for it is up to 2 lakh.
♦ Serious infections after a monkey bite some time lead to death. In this case, the compensation price is up to 4 lakhs. It also covers deaths due to a simple monkey attack. For example, a person trying to escape from monkey pursuit on a road is knocked down by a car and dies.
The incidents of monkey attacks, according to the Himachal Pradesh Government Forest Department, are roughly put at 2,323 between 2004 and 2018. It cost the state government around 10.35 million.
Human beings are not the only target of these species. According to the state’s agriculture department, a crop loss of around 19 million was reported due to wild animals, particularly monkeys, in 2017. Farmers growing horticulture crops, meanwhile, suffered a loss of Rs 15 million.
The question is why these monkeys, who are normally supposed to live in a place far from humans, are now living closer to people? Well, the reason could be many. The population of monkeys — who were declared vermins by the authorities in 2014 — is growing rapidly. Their population was estimated at 207,816 in 2015, with an annual growth rate of 21.4 per cent. Rhesus macaque is the most widespread species in Shimla. The state government is unable to control it.
The human beings — in their quest for land for constructions of roads, schools, hotels, etc — are stealing on the forests — the dwelling place of wild animals. With shrinking space for them, the primates are forced to live with human beings in cities and towns. They could be seen hanging with the electric cables or living on the roofs of the buildings.
Mall Road, Chhotta Shimla, Jakhu Temple, lower Panthaghati and Sanjauli are the places that lead in monkey biting cases in the state as the population in these areas is very high. Inhabitants of these localities have been forced to erect iron grills outside their doors and windows to protect themselves from monkey attacks. The encroachment of forests by human beings has forced monkeys to live in the human territory.
Again, trees are being cut for construction projects. These actions make the forest devoid of some important trees that are crucial for the wild animals’ survival. The forest gradually become incapable to produce enough food for all its residents, including monkeys. Thus, the primates turn towards the trash bins of human beings searching through the waste to find something to eat. In the process, they leave the wastes outside the trash bin. The waste materials gets carried away by the wind, affecting the cleanliness of the place and adding to the environmental pollution.
With the excessive population of monkeys, even all the garbage of Shimla are not enough to feed them. Therefore, some of these primates go after human beings and snatch their things to satisfy their hunger. Many of the people interviewed by the writers said that most
of the time the apes approach them to rob their food items. In Jakhu Temple and Mall Road areas, the simians attack the tourists to not only steal their food but also their belongings such as sunglasses, wallets, camera, etc. Many time these monkeys come in groups to scare the passers-by. They snatch items from their victims and vanish with almost lightning speed.
Interestingly, people are not allowed to do any extreme harm to monkeys as they are protected by the law under the Wild life Protection Act 1972, Schedule 2. However, in case of self-defense, the provisions regarding monkey’s protection may not be applicable. There is also a religious angle to the issue.
Majority of the people living in Shimla are Hindu and monkeys are perceived as gods by them. The Himachal Pradesh started a monkey sterilisation programme to control their constantly increasing population in 2006. So far, 51.4 of macaque population in the state has been sterilised.
According to the Tutikandi-based Monkey Sterilization Centre of Shimla. The target of monkey sterilization for the year 2015-16 was 28,800. However, 11,072 monkeys were not sterilised until the end of February 2016.
The decline in progress is being attributed to the rapidly growing population of the monkeys. Apparently, the state doesn’t have means to construct a big centre to deal with the rising number of monkeys. Even if they do construct a big shelter, they won’t be able to catch all monkeys of the town.
The Himachal Pradesh Government has made a draft proposal to curb the attacks and the damages caused by the monkeys in the state. It is waiting for an approval from the Central Government of India. The wait needs to end at the earliest.