Union minister and animal rights activist Maneka Gandhi has sought a probe into the Delhi forest department’s annual expenditure of Rs 1 crore to feed monkeys, after HT on Saturday reported that 16,000 simians were starving because of pending food bills.
After a 2007 Delhi high court order, civic agencies have been capturing and sending monkeys to the Asola-Bhatti wildlife sanctuary for the forest department to feed them. The court had said food offered at temples should be collected and sent to the sanctuary where the forest department was to plant fruit-bearing trees to offset the expense. These were not followed.
“It’s a big scandal. [Then chief minister] Sheila Dikshit spent Rs 10 crore a year on monkey feed. When I objected, she doubled the budget. There has to be a proper inquiry,” Gandhi told HT on Saturday.
The annual bill for the feed — fruits, vegetables and black gram — has been rising. From Rs 13 lakh in 2007-08, it rose to Rs 1.5 crore in 2012-13. A contractor on Thursday stopped supply, seeking almost Rs 1 crore as arrears.
“I have visited the place. It’s not a sanctuary. There are no trees. There’s no natural food. It’s a wasteland. I was always against monkeys being fed artificially,” she said, adding, “ Rs 200 crore has been spent on monkey feed. A whole new sanctuary would have been created with such an amount.”
The minister said the number of 16,000 monkeys [released in the sanctuary] is imaginary. “Thousands of monkeys have died over the years for want of food. Those who don’t survive in the sanctuary will automatically return to urban areas,” she said.
The Delhi government’s finance department has ‘disowned’ the past dues, questioning why tenders were not floated and why a particular person got the contract. The forest department said it would go for tenders but said the tenders could not be floated because of varying rates. “In any case, the rates are government approved, and senior officials check quality, quantity and composition of the feed,” said an official.