Poachers are having a field day in Bihar, courtesy India’s Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF, CC). The visuals of Asia’s largest antelope being gunned down reminds us of the Pre – Independence Jalianwala Bagh massacre by the arrogant Brigadier General R.E.H. Dyre in Amritsar, Punjab. Prakash Javdekar, Union Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Environment, Forests and Climate Change has joined the same hall of fame. Never in the history of this country has such a massacre been conducted by any forest minister.
MoEF asks for hunting proposals from states
It all started with a provocative advisory issued by the MoEF months after Javdekar was crowned their king. The advisory invited proposals from the states so that the Center could declare wild animals as vermin, which essentially means that all protection will be taken away from such species in that state and they can be killed as rats and mice. No accountability, no process, no impact assessment, and what’s more, the dead bodies are free to be misused!
So far five states have responded to this advisory. Bihar asked for wild boar and nilgai to be declared vermin, Himachal asked for rhesus macaque (monkeys) to be so declared, Maharashtra wants wild boar and nilgai exterminated, Uttarakhand wants the wild boar killed while Gujarat wants nilgai declared vermin. Proposals from Bihar, Uttarakhand and Himachal have been considered worthy by the MoEF, and those from Gujarat and Maharashtra are under ‘active consideration”.
MoEF Files under RTI show that proposals sent by states were unsupported by justification
A perusal of the proposals sent by the states for extermination of animals shows a complete degeneration of the forest department in India. Not a single state has shown any effort made towards mitigation of man animal conflict. Not a single state has even conducted a scientific census of the animals that they claim to be overpopulated. No survey has been done to show the carrying capacity of the forests and the reasons why these shy herbivores are venturing into human habitation. The proposals simply claim that crop damage has been reported and the politicians of the state are having to face inconvenient situations.
Not a single state has been able to prove to the MoEF that due diligence was done and yet there was failure to curb the conflict. The MoEF has overlooked such minor omissions.
Reasons for man animal conflict
There is indeed growing man animal conflict, but there is a pregnant silence regarding the reasons of such conflicts. The fact that habitat destruction is the single biggest cause for man animal conflict, could not find its way in the MoEF files. Almost every forest range has massive encroachment. The continuous forests of the past have been fragmented into scanty patches and left without corridors. Any animal movement from one place to another in search of water or food is necessarily through habitation. Mining in reserve forests is on the rise and sanctions are being granted left right and center without regard to the fact that it would force the panic stricken wild animals out of the forests. Monoculture of timber varieties and annihilation of the mixed forests add to that growing dumping grounds for solid waste on forest fringes is making animals venture out for food. Buffer zones have been denotified as unnecessary by Javdekar and permissions to convert land use and convert jungles into industrial areas are given without regard to the impact it would have on the man animal conflict.
It is claimed by the IG Forest, S.K.Khanduri, in a press release, that the provision in law used by the MoEF in these cases, existed since 1972. He failed to mention that not a single forest minister in the history of India was foolish enough to use it in such an arbitrary and unscientific manner, defeating the purpose and the objective of the Wildlife Protection Act and the overarching mandate of MoEF. Goa wants to kill peacocks, West Bengal find elephants inconvenient, UP find it problematic to deal with monkeys and a very cooperative MoEF looks the other way if they cannot make out a case and obliges them with a license anyway. Khanduri also omitted to mention that the provocation for such demands has been given by the MoEF by issuing a very misleading advisory in December 2014. All pretences have been abandoned now and its open war against the environment.
The overall mismanagement of the forests and rampant destruction of habitat over decades, suddenly accelerated in the past two years in an unprecedented manner, is responsible for the growth in man animal conflict. The politically motivated shortcut of a genocide will not solve the problem but aggravate it further. Once the prey species are exterminated, the predators will have to be massacred, because they will venture into habitation. The ecological imbalance this is creating will be irreparable. However, by then, everyone would have earned their brownie points and left. It is indeed the beginning of the end of a glorious era of ahimsa and coexistence.
Who is killing?
Incidentally, none of the ‘victim’ farmers have initiated or participated in the massacre. Hunters from other states have been invited to kill off the fauna of Bihar. Nawab’ Shafat Ali Khan, one of the three shooters who hunted down nearly 200 Nilgais in different districts of Bihar over the last one year or so, has a sordid past. Back in 1991, he was arrested by the Karnataka police for supplying weapons to Maoists who operated along the Andhra Pradesh-Odisha border.
Khan was arrested in 1991 along with Patel Sudhakar Reddy, a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), on charges of clandestinely supplying high grade weapons to the ultra-left organisation. Reddy hailed from Kurthiravulacheruvu village near Maldakal in Mahbubnagar district of Andhra Pradesh. He was killed in an encounter by the Maharashtra police in Nagpur three years ago.
While Khan was subsequently charge sheeted, he managed to secure his release by moving political levers in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. He then purchased safari land in Tamil Nadu’s Bokkapuram, bordering the Bandipur national park, from where he would organise ‘wildlife shootings’ for rich clients not only in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh but also in other parts of India. He would use telescope-mounted rifles to kill faraway animals.
Khan had another brush with the law in 2005 when the Karnataka CID (Forests) caught him for his shooting expeditions, which is a punishable act under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. Although the CID (Forests) dropped the case, Khan had by that time earned a degree of notoriety even among his ilk of game hunters.
Violating the Law
Two years ago, Khan came under the lens of the Himachal Pradesh authorities and wildlife conservationists when he killed two leopards in Thunag-Mandi although his specific task was to put down a man-eating tiger.
The Himachal Pradesh government’s decision to invite Khan in 2014 to kill the man-eating tiger was in complete violation of the Wildlife Protection Act and regulations governing the National Tiger Task Force. The standard operating procedure to kill a man-eater – whether a tiger or a leopard – is that only a shooter under the employ of a state government’s forest department could legally do so.
Khan is essentially a trophy hunter and a dealer in wildlife parts. Incidentally, Khan and his companion hunters who killed nilgais in Mokama, Buxar, Bhojpur and West Champaran districts of Bihar, were paid Rs 1,500 per kill. Khan and his two associates are said to have been invited to Mokama by Janata Dal (United) MLC Neeraj Kumar, who contested but lost last year’s assembly election, to finish off the nilgai population there following pressure from local farmers.
ON THE GROUND
More than 250 nilgai have been killed in Bihar only in the first three days of the encounter style shootings. More are being killed every day. It is a free for all. The carcasses of these animals are being misused and even the pregnant animals are being shot. Orphaned calves can be seen running around in panic. Since very few animals have been shot in the head, the deaths are prolonged and extremely painful. Most nilgai have been killed not for agricultural reasons but for sport and meat. Trophy hunters are all headed to Bihar for a free hunting spree.
This can potentially open the floodgates for hunting of wild animals in all other states. The poachers can claim that the body parts or trophy has been obtained from Bihar. By including these animals in the list of vermin, there is no end to the damage that the food chain and the overall ecology will suffer.
By: Gauri Maulekhi,
Animal Rights Activists,