It was 11.30am on Thursday when a battery of top government officials reached Asola-Bhatti wildlife sanctuary with a mini-truck full of fruits and vegetables.
But going hungry for over 20 days, monkeys looked too weak to rush to 14-odd feeding points.
Also, a few simians of the over 18,000 were noticed. “But that’s probably because many moved away in search of food after supply stopped. We will try to lure them back,” said a senior forest department official.
The department is exploring the possibility of setting up a trauma centre for the affected monkeys. “But it’s incorrect to say monkeys went completely without food when supply of feed stopped because of pending bills. Individual animal lovers and NGOs voluntarily gave chana, wheat and kheera (cucumber),” said the official.
Environment department official SD Singh, forest department head Tarun Coomar, chief wildlife warden AK Shukla, deputy conservator of forests (south) Tarun Johri, forest official and veterinary expert Gopinath swung into action following HT’s continued coverage on starving monkeys, and high food bills because of random procurement.
“We are trying to put a foolproof system in place. A task force will ensure the correct quantity and composition of feed. We will draw an effective plan to plant fruit-bearing trees to offset food bills. e-tendering to procure feed will start by March 2015,” the officer said.
The forest department says because of excessive mining (now stopped), the sanctuary is a badly degraded area. “It takes time to make it green. From 2001-02 to 2012-13, more than 17 lakh plants have been raised in the sanctuary. Plantation will continue till 2017,” the official said.
Last year, HT reported that a junior officer in the forest department had been entrusted with the responsibility of spending huge amounts to feed monkeys. “Instead of forming a committee… to look after procurement, distribution, quantity and composition of food, the department has left everything to a deputy range officer. No review has ever been done,” says a July 2013 report of the Delhi audit department. It refers to details from a period between 2008 and 2010.
The finance department has also questioned the move not to float tenders for feed supply.