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Langurs gone, monkeys on a roll

- Raisina hills under simian siege after sundown

New Delhi, Jan. 21: Raisina Hills is at the mercy of marauding monkeys after sundown ever since the BJP’s Maneka Gandhi put the fear of arrest in langurwallahs.

The animal activist had a langurwallah — people who traditionally raise langurs and are hired to use their animals to chase smaller monkeys away — arrested under the wildlife protection act for staging a street-side show in the Raisina Hills area last December.

The entire tribe has now started refusing to provide their services in the high-security Raisina Hills area, which houses the PMO and the South and North Blocks. As a result, the simians that surface after sundown have been making merry with a vengeance, with no fear of any langur stalking them.

“Monkeys of all sizes take over the North Block premises once the offices close in the evening. They spend the night inside, hop from one place to another, break flower pots, uproot saplings and even damage telephone wires,” a North Block official said.

“They also make the premises very dirty as they relieve themselves before leaving the place in the morning. On weekends, they create havoc even during the day.”

The two gardeners at the North Block have no option but to remove 35-50 broken flower pots and 15-20 damaged saplings every morning and replace them with fresh ones.

“The place stinks in the morning. The cleaners have a tough time cleaning up the premises before the offices reopen,” said Arvind Jha, a gardener.

Under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, the langur is a protected species. Under the Indian Penal Code Sections 2, 8, 11,40, 41, 43, 48, 51, 61 and 62, langurs cannot be owned, traded, bought, sold or hired out. Any violation of this law entails a three-year jail term or a fine or both.

Till Maneka turned the spotlight on langurwallahs, 35-year-old Gulfam and his five relatives had been keeping the North and South Block premises free of monkeys between 8pm and 6am. The home ministry had issued them ID cards giving access to the premises.

“Langur-keeping is our ancestral profession,” Gulfam said. “We have been providing (the services of) langurs to North and South Block for the past 10 years. Each one of us got Rs 7,500 a month. The mere presence of a langur is enough to scare monkeys away. These monkeys then convey the fear to other simians nearby,” he said.

But Gulfam and his relatives have lost their means of living since the arrest of his cousin, Altaf, in December.

“Madam Maneka Gandhi was passing through Raisina Hill in her car when she noticed Altaf using his two langurs for a street show to raise money before going home,” he recounted.

“She called up the cops of Parliament police station and he was arrested. He got bail after three days in Tihar jail.”

Altaf’s relatives had also been providing the services of their langurs to Shastri Bhavan, Krishi Bhavan, Akashvani Bhavan and other corporate offices for a monthly sum of Rs 7,500.

They have now found a new way to earn their living. “We have approached the caretaker of North Block and requested him to hire us without our langurs. We can scare away monkeys as we know how to make the ‘whoop-whoop’ sound that langurs make,” he said.

An officer of Parliament police station said Maneka had ordered the immediate arrest of langurwallahs. She is believed to have sent Altaf’s langurs for rehabilitation in the forests.

“Earlier, we never arrested any langurwallah because nobody complained. But since Maneka Gandhi has started a campaign, we have to act accordingly,” he said.

“Monkeys are a big menace in Delhi and the presence of a langur is enough to scare them away. At times, they even come inside the police station and create havoc,” he said.