Monkey menace biting the Hills

Due to primates, 12 states have witnessed crop loss of 286 crores in the year 2017-18 while the loss to horticulture crops is 173 crores, writes Rakesh Rocky

Fear rules: A total of 86 cases of monkey attacks were reported in Shimla in 2017-18

When Harshit Sood came to meet his uncle’s family living in the Lower Jakhu area of capital city of Shimla, a few days ago, he never thought that he had to land in hospital for a reason he never expected. He was climbing the stairs when a group of monkeys attacked him. He ran to save himself but during this course he fractured himself. He was admitted in Indira Gandhi Medical College Hospital, Shimla, for treatment.

There were as many as 86 such cases of monkey attacks registered with the state government record in the year of 2017-18. And there is another side of the picture. Due to monkeys, 12 states have witnessed crop loss of 286 crores in the year 2017-18 (till March 31) while the loss to horticulture crops is 173 crores. A total of 2,318 villages have been identified in the state which are under severe attack of monkeys spread over 57 tehsils in 10 districts of the state out of total 12. “Right from my forefathers, we were farmers since many decades. But in the last few years when we found that kheti-badi (agriculture) is a business of loss due to monkeys and other wild animals, we sold our land and now we have opened a garment showroom in New Shimla,” said Ravinder Jasta of Shimla Gramin area.

He is not alone who is forced to stop agriculture and shift to some other business in past few years. Sanjay Dhatwalia of Bijhri in Hamirpur district have huge losses due to monkeys in his area. Now Sanjay is working as an employee at a shop in Badsar to earn bred-butter to his family. The state government claims that of the total population of 2.7 lakh around 1.39 lakh monkeys have been sterilized since 2006, of which 50 per cent were females. However, many social organisations do not believe to the government figures. “This claim is not correct. Monkeys have caused big losses to the agriculture in Himachal. Large number of farmers are now on roads and fighting for the bread-butter,” said Dr Om Prakash Bhuraita, National Treasurer Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti (BGVS), who is fighting for the cause of state farmers for the last three decades.

On this issue RC Kang, chief wildlife warden and principal conservator of forest (wildlife) said that department is trying its best to save crops in Himachal. “Wildlife experts from Bengaluru will study the eating habits of monkeys and further suggest measures to reduce their attacks on farmlands in the state,” added Kang.

According to the experts the state farmers are facing onslaught from all directions. Firstly, there are natural calamities like drought, floods, hailstorms or delayed rains. Secondly, they are being subjected to exploitation from middleman in the markets besides diminishing subsidies and increasing cost of agricultural inputs. Wild animals including monkeys invade fields and destroy cash crops (off-season vegetables, apple etc.) and food grains (maize, millet etc.). “The livelihood of farmers today in Himachal is seriously threatened by wild animals. Crop raiding wild animals like monkeys (rhesus macaques), wild boars, blue bull, hares, porcupine, parrots, bear, bats peacocks etc. have broght farmers on large numbers on roads,’’ said Kuldeep Tanwar, a leading farmer and CPM leader.

According to the data collected by the Tehelka reveal that state government have spent 48,63,996 in the last six years just to pay as conpensation towards monkey biting cases. As many as 1,220 monkey biting cases came in front of government for claims in these years.
After much hue and cry from the state farmer unions, state government sent a proposal to the centre in 2017. After which central environment, Forest and Climate Change Ministry issued a notification on December 20, 2017, declaring monkeys as vermins in 38 more tehsils of Himachal Pradesh covering 10 districts.

The threat posed by wild animals, including monkeys becomes all the more grim in a scenario where aaproximate 68 percent families in the state possess one hectare less of agricultural land and 80 percent people depend on agriculture and horticulture. Out of 3,243 GPs nearly 71 per cent panchayats (2,301) in the state are affected by wild animals menace while 80 percent farmer families (8,00,000 ) are affected.

According to a survey conducted by Kheti Bachao Sangharsh Samiti, the state have total 3243 gram panchayats (GPs) out of which 2301 are affected. The study revead that the intesity of problem in 936 GPs is low, 770 middle and high in 595 GPs. Report says that ‘’the Centre has once again declared rhesus macaque monkeys as ‘vermin’ in ten districts of Himachal Pradesh, thus allowing the state forest department to cull them for preventing crop loss, conflict with humans, and property loss’’.

“The fresh notification, brought out by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC), will be valid for an year and will be applicable only in non-forest areas. MoEF&CC had issued a similar notification in May 2016 that expired after one year. Himachal Pradesh forest department, though, did not cull a single monkey between 2016 and 2017, its senior officials told DNA. In Bihar and Uttarakhand, too, they had issued similar notifications, declaring nilgai and wild boars as vermins in the respective states,” said Dr Om Prakash Bhuraita.

After the 2016 notification became void, previous Virbhadra Singh-led government sent a fresh proposal to the environment ministry seeking to declare monkeys as vermin again. The proposal was accepted after due appraisal, a ministry official said. The issue of crop losses caused by monkeys was also poll issue in the recent assembly elections. In their electoral campaigns both the Congress and the BJP had promised farmers of appropriate action.

“We have issued a fresh notification, it is not an extension of the old one. Apart from Himachal Pradesh, Bihar had also sought renewal of the notification to declare Nilgai as vermin but their proposal has not been accepted. They are yet to provide impact studies. Uttarakhand has not sought any order to declare wild boars as vermin again.” said a senior ministry official on the condition of anonymity.

When asked as to why the state government sought a fresh notification when no monkey was culled, a senior officer in Forest department said, “Though we did not cull any monkey, we reached out to farmers to create awareness and have succeeded to an extent in curbing the solid waste issue. Open dumping of food waste is the main attraction for monkeys.” 
He added, “Culling is also difficult as religious sentiments are attached with monkeys. Unless any Panchayat passed a resolution to cull monkeys, we do not want to cull them.” Infect, People are reluctant to harm animal, due to the religious sentiments associated with it, believing it to be a descendant of Lord Hanuman.

Animal rights activist Gauri Maulekhi who had moved Supreme Court against the earlier orders of Centre, said, ‘’Conflict with wild animals is a direct result of mismanagement of forests. The forest department has waste tens of crores of public funds on counterproductive sterilisation and now they they want to kill the same sterilised monkeys.’’

Kheto Bachao Samiti Conservative estimates put the loss of 300-450 crores to crops. (75-100 crores horticultural crops plus around 300 crores to agricultural crops). Fallow land due to wild animal menace (out of 78,791 hectares) amounting to loss of more than 500 crores. Watch & ward costs another 1,200 crores (5 to 6 lakh family members/hired persons are engaged in this effort for more than 150 to 200 days). “Total loss according to our study is 2,200 crores per year,’’ said Bhuraita.

According to unofficial records 66.52 per cent land is with the forest department (out of which PAN is 15 per cent) while only 17.14 percent is with farmers (out of which only 11.17 per cent area in cultivable by 9,60,765 farmer families. ‘’Due to all these reasons farmers are migrating from different parts of Sirmour to Shimla and working as laborers in Drabil, Jhakando, Nainidhar, Lojhamanal, Koto Bonch, Panog, in Shillai and from other blocks,’’ claimed the farmer leader. He also claimed that Sumoti Devi of Kando Bhatnol, Dinesh of Navan Bahtwar while a woman died near Ghaghas bridge while saving her children from attacking monkeys, a motorcyclist was killed by group of aggressing monkeys on Kalka-Shimla highway, in Mandi little girl died after monkeys attacked her, Mamta Sachdeva, a young women died in Shimla when group of monkeys attacked her on November 4, 2014.
State Forest Minister Gobind Singh Thakur said that state government is well aware about the losses of crops and human lived in the state by monkeys and other wild animals. ‘’We have framed policies for the compensation. We have also took certain measures to protect people from monkey attacks. Monkey’s sterlisation programme is also yielding good results,’’ said Thakur.

Wild animals threaten livelihood of Himachal farmers

Tehelka talked to Dr Om Prakash Bhuraita, National Treasurer Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti (BGVS) and Dr Kuldeep Tanwar of Kheti bachao Sangharsh Samiti on this issue. Both are raising farmers issues in the hilly state for the long time. Here are the exerpts:

The livelihood of farmers today in HP is seriously threatened by wild animals. It has become such a loosing battle, that many farmers have stopped growing crops, vital to their sustenance. In a human population of 65 lakh, monkey population is 3.17 lakh (2004 Forest department survey estimates) and must have proportionately increased by now. This is one of the largest concentration of monkeys and amounts to 1 monkey for every 18 humans. Because the state forests cannot carry or sustain such a large concentration of monkeys, they are posing a grave threat to agriculture. Human-wildlife conflict has increased alarmingly in past few years and in the absence of a appropriate management plan this problem is only going to increase in future. This is the single biggest and urgent issue troubling farmers in HP today. There are also other wildlife species endangering crops. Many a time voices have been raised regarding this problem but not in any organized manner. Rural people in Himachal have now been forced to raise their collective voice through ‘Kheti Bachao Sangharsh Samiti’, as a manifest of their anger. Protecting the crops is not a matter of saving an individual family, but any threat on agriculture is a threat to long time food security of the people of state. The magnitude of the problem has to be viewed in this light. Nearly 2301 panchayats in the state are affected by wild animals. Most of the panchayats in Hamirpur, Kangra, Solan, Sirmaur, Mandi, Una, Kullu and Shimla are facing the threat of wild life on agriculture. Going by the newspaper reports, 53 per cent of damage to crops has been reportedly done by monkeys and 23 per cent by wild boars. Conservative estimates put the loss of 75 crores to horticulture, 100 crores to agriculture and 150-200 crores to other sectors. The threat posed by wild animals becomes all the more grim in a scenario where 84 per cent families in the state possess 5 bighas or less of agricultural land and 70 per cent people depend on agriculture and horticulture. Due to this reasons, people are forced to keep their land vacant which is a dangerous signals in a land use based economy, like that of Himachal Pradesh. An estimate of FSI indicates that during 2000-03 there was decline of 1453 sq. kms. in dense forest category and increase in open forest category by 1446 sq. kms. in the same period. But the most important question is, how responsible for this interference are the common farmers? how many small and marginal farmers have encroached on forests? forest mafia is primarily responsible for such encroachments, that has eliminated forests after forests, or illegally occupied hundreds of bighas of forest land. Large scale tree felling is also not done by the common person but by forest mafia. Often the blame of ecological imbalance is thrust on the farmers and unregulated damage by forest mafia is overlooked. Big dam, cement factories and other projects have also repeatedly muddled with wildlife habitats but the forest department has been unwilling to share their responsibility. In last years availability of food base in forest area has decreased due to fragmentation and continuous degradation of forest as well as monoculture practices being followed. The diminishing availability of food and wildlife entering human habitation has very historical reason behind it. An important reason for this has been the faulty plantation policy in the past. A single specie of trees was promoted in forests. The policy of growing cheer pine between 1000 to 1800 mt. height has led to a vast impact on forest life, continuously diminishing wild fruits, flowers, roots and herbs which were consumed by wild animals as food. To a certain extent, the Wildlife Acts are also responsible for increasing population of certain wild species. In these Acts the blanket ban on killing of wild animals has also aggravated the problem. Legally, monkeys cannot be killed.

Under The Prevention of Cruelty To Animals Act, 1960 (Section 11.3), it is allowed to kill stray dogs, but not monkeys. Only protection of wild animals is not enough there must be active management of wildlife. Both preventive and reactive measures must be under taken by the forest department to minimize human-wildlife conflict. Increase in population of monkeys is attributable to other factors also. Religious feelings have also led to increase in their population. Secondly, before 1978, India was the largest exporter of monkeys, exporting 60-70 thousands monkeys per year to other countries for bio-medical researches. After 1978 this was banned. The ban on the export of monkeys was laid because of pressure from national and international agencies who at times give a greater weigtage to sensitivity towards animals but overlook human difficulties. In 1980, HP had 60,000 monkeys population which has risen to 3,17,112 (as per 2004 census), which registers a growth of 530 per cent over that period 1908-2004. This is far greater than the carrying capacity of the state ( Monkey Menace in Himachal Pradesh, Report prepared by the Committee appointed by the AWBI-Ministry of Environment & Forests, GOI, December, 2005). If their growth rate is not checked, it will reach alarming proportions in near future. In the current changed scenario, the lifting of ban on export of monkeys needs to be reconsidered.