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Monkey menace dogs successive govts

Is it possible to get rid of the aggressive and dangerous monkeys in Shimla and other parts of Himachal Pradesh? Successive governments in the state have given the impression of being confused. They have woken up for a short while whenever the Supreme Court or the Himachal high court put them in the dock. Swaraaj Chauhan writes

india Updated: Sep 04, 2013 17:44 IST

Is it possible to get rid of the aggressive and dangerous monkeys in Shimla and other parts of Himachal Pradesh? Successive governments in the state have given the impression of being confused. They have woken up for a short while whenever the Supreme Court or the Himachal high court put them in the dock.

In a recent case, now being heard by the high court, the state government emphatically told a division bench that the "killing or sterilisation of animals (monkeys) is not a permanent solution." Himachalis, both urban and rural, are highly agitated as the monkey menace has reached alarming proportions.

The petitioners want the state government's permission to kill the marauding monkeys. Residents contend that the simians openly attack people and destroy crops in the Shimla hills, and also in several districts, including Shimla, Solan, Sirmaur, Bilaspur, Hamirpur, Una, Mandi and Kangra.

While the state has virtually become hostage to the monkey's increasingly dangerous and destructive behaviour, successive governments have been announcing 'new' policy decisions, such as sterilisation and killing of monkeys, and then backtracking on these measures within a few months, if not days.

Now, the latest government policy decision, as presented before the high court, is to plant 10 lakh fruit-bearing trees, plants and shrubs in about 10,000 hectares that would provide food for wild animals and monkeys in their natural habitat. The court was informed that the government has envisaged a five-year 'Human-monkey conflict' plan.

Will the defiant and aggressive monkeys suddenly have a change of heart, become obedient and graciously accept the state government's invitation to leave their favourite urban and rural haunts to enjoy the government hospitality in primate protection parks being reportedly prepared for them?
Interestingly, the Congress government's 'new' policy decision is actually more than a decade old. In the previous BJP government, then forest minister JP Nadda had said, "We are containing the monkey nuisance by mass sterilisation and setting up primate protection parks. We are allowing selective killing of monkeys by farmers whose crops are being damaged." The same BJP minister backtracked on his earlier decision, and announced, "We will not carry out mass killing of monkeys, keeping in view the religious sentiments of the people."

In 2005, the Supreme Court approved a Joint Action Plan for Delhi and Shimla, whereby monkeys were to be controlled by trapping and sterilisation. Farmers seem convinced that the schemes for sterilisation and relocation of monkeys are mere gimmicks. They argue that the Centre should be pressed to resume the export of monkeys and the Wildlife Protection Act should be amended. Meanwhile, the proposal for hiring villagers under the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) for the protection of crops should be pursued vigorously.

During the British Raj, when Shimla was the seat of power, the monkeys provided amusement to foreign rulers. However, when famous English writer Rudyard Kipling arrived in Shimla nearly a century ago, the monkey tricks were not much appreciated. In his 'Jungle Book', Kipling described the screeching "banderlog" as the villains.

Former Himachal minister and BJP MLA Ravinder Singh Ravi had once suggested in the Vidhan Sabha that Naga and Gurkha regiments of the army be posted in the state from time to time. Ravi said some of the delicacies from the region, to which these contingents belong, are based on the meat of these animals. "In the past, a regiment was posted in Holta (near Palampur town), and stayed there for three years. Lo and behold, there was a significant drop in the population of monkeys." he added.

Monkeys of Shimla have now been officially designated as an urban menace. A growing number of Himachalis now advocate resuming the export of monkeys for medical and scientific purposes, as used to happen until 1978, when this export was banned.