Two central ministers faced off over animals rights on Thursday with Maneka Gandhi slamming an “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 activities that have led to rising incidents of man-animal conflicts.
Around 500 wild boars and 200 blue bulls (nilgai) have been killed since the ministry started giving permission in December, 2014 to kill “vermin” – the official term used for animals considered unwanted -- in response to requests from states hit hard by human-animal conflicts.
Gandhi, the women and child development minister, held Javadekar personally responsible for killing the animals and said she could not understand the “lust for killing animals”.
Environment ministry writing to every state&allowing killing of animals. Elephants,wild boars,monkeys: Maneka Gandhi pic.twitter.com/SeKaDSxtPJ— ANI (@ANI_news) June 9, 2016
First time Environment ministry is giving permission to kill animals,don't understand this lust for killing:Maneka Gandhi,Union Minister— ANI (@ANI_news) June 9, 2016
“(The) environment ministry is writing to every state, asking which animal should be killed and that they will give permission for it,” said Gandhi, who was the environment minister in the previous NDA government.
“In Bengal, they (environment ministry) have permitted the killing of elephants, in Himachal Pradesh they have ordered killing of monkeys, and in Goa they gave permission to kill peacocks,” said Gandhi, a vocal animal rights campaigner.
Javadekar said the permissions to kill wildlife are targeted, scientifically safe and legal if requested by local authorities. His ministry officials denied Gandhi’s claim that permission has been granted for killing peacocks and elephants.
It is on the recommendation of state govts, also its an old law: Prakash Javadekar on Maneka Gandhi's allegations pic.twitter.com/nvLpWuDP0c— ANI (@ANI_news) June 9, 2016
“It is not a programme of the central government. The law is such,” Javadekar said, 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 the 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 in India, according to recent government data. Though the number of animals killed in these conflict zones is officially around 35, activists say it does not include the leopards and elephants clubbed or poisoned by villagers.
The NDA government gave life to the provision of culling animals after former cabinet secretary TSR Subaramaniam asked the ministry to issue an advisory to state governments.
Junior agriculture minister Sanjeey Balyan also assured the states that animals would be allowed to be killed even though the advisory said it can be done only as the last resort.
However, proposals submitted by state governments reveal that most of them opted for culling without exploring other options.
Gandhi found support from animal rights groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA). They are likely to challenge the ministry’s permissions in the Supreme Court.
Animal rights activists say authorities should educate people on how to avoid conflicts with animals by using noisemakers and fences to prevent animals from encroaching on farmland, and better protect wild habitats from pollution and development.