Marauding monkeys have always been a major poll issue in Himachal Pradesh. Other wild animals – from fruit bats to deer and leopards – have joined them in the list of villains this time.
Farmers in this Himalayan state consider the ubiquitous rhesus macaques a menace for destroying their crops. They have repeatedly petitioned governments for a permanent solution.
Governments led by the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party have promised to tackle the issue but failed to come up with a proper plan. The state government did start a project to sterilise the monkeys in 2007 in a bid to check their population. Official records say 77,380 monkeys have been sterilised so far.
According to Himachal Gyan Vigyan Samiti director Satyavaan Pundir, monkeys are not the only problem for agriculturists and horticulturists in the state. Other wild animals are no less destructive.
A study the Samiti conducted two years ago showed 2,301 panchayats are affected by wild animals that inflict a loss of R500 crore annually. “Farmers have to spend more time to protect their crops from these animals, resulting in extra financial burden,” Pundir said.
The animals have also forced many villagers, particularly in the low-altitude hills and plains, to abandon farming activities. In the Dehra sub-division of Kangra district, for instance, farmers in more than 20 panchayats have taken up non-farming activities to keep wild boars, nilgai, deer and hare at bay.
The situation is no better in Hamirpur, Una, Bilaspur, Solan and Sirmour districts. Only the tribal Kinnaur and Lahaul-Spiti districts are animal trouble-free.
“Both state and central governments need to do something to protect the farmers’ interests. The government should devise some strategy to tackle wild animals other than monkeys, who are damaging crops on a large scale,” said Hukkam Chand, a resident of Kunnan village in Solan district.
Ram Singh of Bhoranj village said leopards have been tormenting livestock farmers of the area, adding that the forest department should keep the felines off the village limits.
“For the villagers in the Kasumpti assembly segment, hares are a major pest as they destroyed the pea crop. Dozens of hares gobbled up my entire crop on Monday,” said Amar Singh, a resident of Patgyar village in Kasumpti.
In Rohru and Jubbal assembly segments, orchard owners begrudge raids by fruit bats.
(With inputs from Arvind Kashyap and Punkaj Bhaartiya)