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Striking a Balance In Human-Animal Conflict

The Goa government plans to approach the Centre to declare some animals like monkeys and wild boars as vermin because they have been causing extensive damage to crops. Monkeys also cause spread of Kyasanur Forest Disease which has affected hundreds of people and claimed nearly a dozen lives. The government had to pay over Rs 40 lakh as compensation to about 700 farmers in 2015-16 for crop damage by wild animals. The government considered declaring peacock and gaur (Indian bison) too as vermin but they are protected species in Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act. Elephants damage crops too but they too enjoy protection. The State Wildlife Board is expected to meet shortly to deliberate forest department’s report on declaration of monkeys and wild boars as vermin to decide whether the state should approach the Centre for that. Goa is likely to get the central approval as the Central Wildlife Board has already given approval to requests from other states including Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Telangana, Bihar and Maharashtra to declare monkeys or wild boars as vermin.

The list of vermin in India includes animals like rats, crows and insects like termites. However, in case of damage to human life, protected wild animals, like ‘man-eating’ tigers or leopards and ‘rogue’ elephants can be killed or removed, while individuals of others species with lower levels of protection, like nilgai (blue bull) and wild boars, can be killed or removed on specific orders if they damage property. The central nod to cull vermin can be state-wide or limited to specific areas. The period of validity of the approval for culling could range from six months to a year. Though there are insistent demands from farmers, Minister for Environment and Forests Rajendra Arlekar says declaring any animal a vermin would be the last resort and only after all other efforts have been explored to contain the threat to human life or damage to crops and other property. He also has stated that once any animal is declared as vermin there is possibility of people using the same as licence to kill animals.

The Forest Minister rightly says that declaring species as vermin would not solve the problem as the experience in other parts of the country shows. Conservationists and animal lovers agree that culling wild animals by declaring them vermin is not a long-term solution. There is a section of conservationists that suggests sterilizing the animals that are causing the problem could be a better idea. However, the idea is difficult to implement, given the fact that wild animals cannot be caught easily; there is also possibility of causing them harm while catching them. There is also possibility of unscrupulous elements trading in wild animal meat using the vermin tag attached to certain animals to not only kill them but kill other animals as well in the process to carry out their nefarious business. It is well known that illicit hunting goes on in various parts of the state and several of the hunters have been apprehended by the forest officials over the years. The forest officials should keep a strict vigil on the activities of these elements so that they do not resort to using the provisions of law to their sinister advantage. In case the state authorities get the approval of the central authorities for declaring certain animals as vermin, they should ensure that the ‘licence’ to kill certain animals, which are actual nuisance, is properly utilized and that the permission is not misused for killing other animals.

Besides, there is need to appropriately word the order declaring the animals as vermin to prevent misuse of the permission, in order to avoid what is happening in Telengana. Though only those wild boars marching towards the fields can be killed there and not those ‘running back to the forests’, illegal hunters have been taking advantage of the loopholes in the order to not only kill wild boars in fields but also those retreating towards forests as also other animals, like spotted deer. The state authorities should ensure that only those who would be affected by attacks of wild animals or their authorized representatives should be allowed to exercise the right to liquidate the animals so as to prevent unscrupulous elements from taking advantage of the relaxed provision of laws. It should be clearly laid down in the orders that those not affected directly by the wild animals declared as vermin would not have the right to liquidate any of them, except in the case of self defence. Also, a state policy should be evolved to deal with the menace of vermin with forest department officials playing proactive role in containing illegal hunting.

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