The battle against the notifications of the ministry of environment, forests and climate change (MoEFCC) to declare some wildlife animals as vermin and allow their hunting is in the courts. Many of us are aghast with the vision that led to unprecedented haste in bypassing legitimate legal procedures.
Starting December 1, the ministry issued three notifications. The most recent one was on May 24 for some districts of Himachal Pradesh. The notifications declared monkeys, nilgai and wild boars to be vermin and so could be hunted.
The government draws this power from Section 62 of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 (WLPA) that empowers the Centre to declare certain wild animals to be vermin for a specified area and period. Interestingly, till December 2014 no such proposal was received in the ministry as revealed in the office memorandum of the MoEFCC in the Section 4(3) of its advisory in the context of human-wildlife conflict (HWLC). So what suddenly changed?
The decision to cull is also an oversight of its own internal findings. A 2014 MoEFCC advisory on HWLC suggested that the government initiatives to precede any recourse to Section 62 of the WLPA should include regulating human habitations along the forest fringes facing human-wildlife conflict, formulate strategies and management plans for mitigation and response to inculcate confidence among local communities. This also suggests enhancement and enforcement of information and knowledge on wildlife through research and at times by population management strategies, (not necessarily ‘killing’). Section 6 of the advisory envisages that any such proposal must be based on ground-level assessment of the gravity of the situation and must be supported by ‘any study, consultative expert opinion, survey etc.’
The Section 11(1) of the WLPA 1972 authorises chief wildlife wardens to permit hunting only (as a last resort) when the animal cannot be captured, tranquillised or translocated. For these victims of human ravenousness over their natural food habitats, the WLPA has adequate provisions to take corrective measures.
The real story behind this notification, which has escaped attention, are the proposals that are coming to the ministry from mining companies, developers for change of land use, stone crushing units, hydro-electric project developers, sand–bajri and boulder project developers. Sadly, all these projects are at the fringes of fragile forest zones such as the Kedarnath’s musk deer sanctuary, the Nanda Devi National Park and the Bhitarkanika Sanctuary.
The Indian authorities would definitely benefit by reading Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Selfish Giant’, which teaches us the indispensability of coexistence for our own existence.
Even in the US, culling has not been supported. The Ontario’s Human Wildlife Conflict Strategy, September 29, 2006, suggests the need for the ‘recognition of the intrinsic value of wildlife in a social, cultural and spiritual context’. It argues against ‘value-laden statements of “overabundant species”, “loss of agriculture” are made in the absence of any definitions and scientific evidence. These studies have proven through research that hunting actually stimulates population growth rather than curtailing it despite a profound and negative impact on the environment and on the biodiversity of sensitive and unique areas.
Amita Singh is professor of law and governance and disaster research, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi
The views expressed are personal