NEW DELHI: Two central ministers faced off over animals rights on Thursday with Maneka Gandhi slamming the “indiscriminate” killing of wildlife, only to be told by Prakash Javadekar that the culling was for “scientific management” of rising vermin population.
The confrontation put the spotlight back on conservation challenges in India due to shrinking wildlife habitats and growing human activity that have led to a rise in man-animal conflicts.
Around 500 wild boars and 200 blue bulls (nilgai) have been killed since the environment ministry started giving permission in December 2014 to kill “vermin”— the official term for animals considered unwanted — in response to requests from states.
Women and child development minister Gandhi held environment minister Javadekar personally responsible for the killings, saying she could not understand the “lust for killing animals”.
“(The) environment ministry is writing to every state asking which animal should be killed and that they will give permission for it,” she said. Gandhi, an animal rights campaigner who was environment minister in the previous NDA government, said, “They (environment ministry) have permitted the killing of elephants in Bengal, monkeys in Himachal Pradesh, peacocks in Goa.”
Javadekar said the permission to kill wildlife is targeted, scientifically safe and legal if requested by local authorities. His ministry denied Gandhi’s claims of permission for killing peacocks and elephants.
“It is not a programme of the central government. The law is such,” said Javadekar, referring to section 62 of the Wildlife Protection Act.
Every year, hundreds of acres of standing crops are destroyed by herds of animals that venture out of forests in search of food. Efforts by people to protect their farmland often lead to fatalities on both sides.
Around 840 people have died in conflict with tigers and elephants since 2012, government data says. Though the number of animals killed is officially around 35, activists say it does not include leopards and elephants that are clubbed or poisoned by villagers.
The government gave life to the provision for culling after former cabinet secretary TSR Subaramaniam asked the ministry to issue an advisory to state governments. Junior agriculture minister Sanjeev Balyan assured states that animals could be killed even though the advisory says it should be the last resort.
Proposals submitted by states reveal most of them opted for culling without exploring other options.
Gandhi has found support from animal rights groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. They are likely to challenge the ministry’s permissions in the Supreme Court.
The activists say authorities should educate people on how to avoid conflicts with animals by using noisemakers and fences, and better protect wild habitats from pollution and development.