The Supreme Court refused on Monday to put on hold the Centre’s notifications that declared blue bulls, monkeys and wild boars vermin, allowing them to be culled in three states.
A vacation bench of justice AK Goel and justice AM Khanwilkar asked the petitioners -- animal welfare boards and rights activist -- to raise their concerns with the Centre.
“You make the representations. They will consider and take a decision. The authority is with the central government,” the bench said, setting a July 15 deadline -- the next date of hearing – for the government.
The petitioners had on June 15 asked the court to quash the three notices that declared nilgai (blue bulls), monkeys and wild boars as vermin in Bihar, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, respectively.
The Centre’s decisions to classify -- on state governments’ request – the three animals as vermin put the spotlight back on conservation challenges in India where incidents of man-animal conflict are rising as wildlife habitat shrinks.
Starting December 1, the environment ministry has issued three notifications. The most recent was on May 24 for some districts of Himachal Pradesh.
The bench asked if the notifications applied to animals in their habitat. “Absolute prohibition applies to habitat. You cannot hunt them down in their homes,” it said.
The order applied only to animals outside the forest area, the government’s second senior-most legal officer solicitor general Ranjit Kumar told the court.
The three states had complained they were struggling to pay farmers for crop losses and the growing animal population also posed a risk to human lives.
Every year, crops standing in hundreds of acres are destroyed by animals looking for food. Efforts by people to protect their farmland often lead to fatalities on both sides.
Senior advocate Anand Grover, appearing for animal rights activist Gauri Maulekhi, argued that ?the notifications -- applicable for a year -- were issued without any scientific survey. The vermin tag, he said, deprived the animals of the shield provided under the wildlife protection act.
The animal welfare board told the court that moving the animals from protected to ‘vermin’ category has to be backed by scientific evidence.
Around 500 wild boars and 200 blue bulls have been killed since the ministry started giving permissions.
Recently, women and child development minister Maneka Gandhi, too, spoke out against “indiscriminate” killing of animals. Gandhi held her environment ministry colleague Prakash Javadekar responsible and said she could not understand the “lust for killing animals”.
Javadekar defended the move, saying the culling was for “scientific management” of rising animal population.
“The state is no longer responsible for safeguarding the life and well-being of such animals. The indiscriminate killing of these animals will have a detrimental effect on the food chain and in turn lead to an ecological imbalance,” the plea said.
The Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre and Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisation are the other petitioners in the case.