Ministers spar over nilgai cull

A war of words erupted today between two Union ministers over the environment ministry's decision to allow the selective killing of nilgai or blue antelopes in Bihar where the animals have been ravaging crops.

By G.S. Mudur
  • Published 10.06.16
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New Delhi, June 9: A war of words erupted today between two Union ministers over the environment ministry's decision to allow the selective killing of nilgai or blue antelopes in Bihar where the animals have been ravaging crops.

Women and child development minister Maneka Gandhi decried the shooting of about 200 nilgai in the state over the past week, saying it reflected the environment ministry's "lust for killing of animals."

Addressing a public meeting in Gaya today, Maneka held the Nitish Kumar government responsible for "brutal killing" of nilgai. She claimed that even during the British rule such an action by the government had not been taken. She went on to claim that the act of shooting nilgai was a condemnable step and urged the people of the state to stand against any such action. "People should stand against such moves and stop the killing of animals," she said.

Maneka is on a two-day visit to Gaya during which she would share information about the works having been done by the Modi government in the past two years.

But environment minister Prakash Javadekar said the culling - which had been allowed on a request from the Bihar government - was an element of "scientific management" of human-animal conflict.

"What has happened in Bihar is a big massacre of a protected animal," Maneka told television channels today.

She said the environment ministry has been writing to all states asking them to name the species they want to kill, adding that they've permitted Bengal to kill elephants, Himachal Pradesh to kill monkeys, Goa to kill peacocks and Maharashtra to kill wild boars.

The claims prompted the environment ministry to deny that it had given permissions to kill elephants or peacocks and Javadekar to clarify that his ministry had merely responded to state requests. "When farmers face difficulties because animals are destroying their crops and when states send us requests, we grant permission only for specific areas and specific periods," Javadekar said.

Bihar's ruling JDU said the state government had every right to ask for permission from the central government if animals are not in control. "The central government has in June 2015 given permission that up to November 2016 one can kill nilgai. According to the ban jeewan sarakshan niyam, Section XI-V, a professional shooter can be used," JDU MLC Neeraj Kumar said.

The nilgai issue is affecting Bihar since 2007 and even Patna High Court asked the Centre to take corrective measures in 2010. Residents of Mokama approached Neeraj to seek respite from the nilgai menace.

Later, Nawab Shafat Khan, a trained shooter hailing from Hyderabad was hired and he killed around 250 nilgai in Mokama taal over the past four days. The services of Nawab have been availed by forests departments of Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh among several other states. Sources added that Nawab has also got licence to kill vermin in Bihar, Jharkhand and Maharashtra.

A senior wildlife official said the environment ministry had not given any permission to kill deer, peacock, or elephant and that all permissions given have followed the standard operating processes laid down in India's Wildlife Protection Act of 1972. Under the law, state governments can submit proposals for culling if there are complaints about human-wildlife conflict.

Addressing reporters in Calcutta today, Union minister of state for agriculture and farmers' welfare Sanjeev Baliyan said: "A provision has to be made in the wildlife act to bring nilgai out of its ambit to allow for their control, especially where the animal's numbers are in excess and they damage standing crop."

"Five states have submitted proposals," said S.K. Khanduri, inspector-general of wildlife in the environment ministry. "The ministry examines these proposals and allows scientific management in specific areas for a limited time. There have been complaints about wild boar, nilgai and other animals," Khanduri said.

Scientists from Wildlife Institute of India, Dehra Dun, have in the past documented crop-raiding by "overabundant" populations of nilgai in several parts of the country.

While the nilgai has been recorded in 114 protected areas in 16 states, a research paper from the WII had five years ago warned that Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Haryana, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh and Uttarakhand appear to be the worst-affected by their crop-raiding.

Additional reporting by Amit Bhelari and Piyush Kumar Tripathi in Patna, and Alok Kumar in Gaya