Story So Far-
A couple of months ago, The Ministry of environment, forests and climate change asked the states to submit applications for declaring species as vermin; species that were causing harm to crops, property or human life. States have since put to use multiple sections under the Wildlife Protection Act and allowed culling of select species. A campaign has been in place since few months; letters sent, RTIs filed, articles published, matter taken to court and discussions held. The recent killing in Bihar and subsequent media coverage have not only highlighted the issue but also raised further questions.
Are the farmers asking for culling? While the intensity and nature of this conflict varies from landscape to landscape the bottom line is that the famers are suffering from damage caused by wildlife. However, these farmers are asking for a solution to the problem and not for culling. As no other alternatives have been put forth, the easiest option today appears to be to cull. The decision makers and influencers (including conservationists and researchers) have failed to come up with policy issues to address the conflict in the long run and suggest models that could be tried out as pilots in the short run. Conservation organizations have been largely silent on the issue. Is it unwillingness to take a stand on a complicated topic or case of having other priorities or lack of sufficient awareness on the issue? A member of Bihar State Board for Wildlife stated how the state government had written to large conservation organizations for assistance on the topic couple of years ago. Each of these organizations that receive major chunk of their funding for tiger, and other charismatic species, had either raised their proverbial hands and expressed inability to act then or not replied on this issue of herbivores conflict; an issue that today has resulted in culling of large number of tiger prey. Lack of research on the topic is overt; research that feeds into policy and helps shape future actions as opposed to research that results in publications or fuels academic debates at conferences.
The Hunters enter the Picture-
Is this driven by the hunter lobby? How is it that a group of ‘happy to pose with guns’ people gallivant across the country, hunt animals, and then proclaim to be conservationists? That they are well connected with those in power is apparent from the fact that they have been invited from as far as Hyderabad to Shivpuri; the district with one of the highest gun licenses in the country. In Maharashtra – where culling is allowed in select districts – the killings by this group stopped after the chief wildlife warden publicly expressed his disagreement and displeasure in the manner in which they were taking place. In Telangana – where hunting has been permitted across the state – a list of people sanctioned to shoot is in place and the forest department staffs have been directed to assist them (stay in forest guest houses and local transport). Most of these people are members of the Indian Rifles Association and at-least one also an accused in a hunting case in the state. They also tried to bribe the lawyer representing the individual who had filed the PIL against the government order!
Are we saying that wildlife needs to be confined to protected areas and reserve forests? Protected areas which themselves have not been drawn based on conservation needs and reserve forests – large chunks of which have been either degraded or severely damaged by development infrastructure or have simply disappeared. To add fuel to the fire we continue to lose our common lands to market forces and make major changes to our cropping patterns; both of which further shrink the available habitat for wildlife in village lands. Our actions have ensured that carnivores like jackals and wolves that were not uncommon even two decades ago are today missing from our village lands, and we now want to use the pretext of their absence (lack of natural population control measures!) to remove the herbivores from these landscapes!
Qualification of ‘Vermin’ as Per Our Policies
A species can be declared vermin under section 62 of the wildlife protection act; in other words the species moves to schedule 5 of the act and loses protection.
What is the process that is to be followed before a species is declared vermin thus?
Can a state send a request to the centre based on few applications it receives or is it mandatory for the state to have carried out surveys and consultations to understand the situation? Should the state try out mitigation measures before writing to the Centre? Replies to RTI applications, on the topic, have brought forth that most the states have neither taken up any survey prior to sending request to Centre and nor do they have in place a strategy document to address the human wildlife conflict. The Goa Forest Minister is on record stating that they have taken up surveys and based on the findings will send a request to the Centre for declaring species vermin. RTI reply from the state talks otherwise. This is the very minister who had earlier stated that peacock and gaur will be declared vermin in the state!
Where does this culling stop?
The permitted culling of the number of species may soon make their way to this existing list. In context of the recent killing in Bihar, is there a thresh hold after which we say that the conflict is now at an acceptable level? In other words do we want to understand and remove the problem or do we want to remove the species? For this do we also need to be aware to the numbers (close approximations) of these species in different landscapes?
The situation is complex and one that warrants time and attention from multiple stake holders. There are no solutions available that could be placed in bullet points; if they were we would not be reading this today. This could be the last opportunity we have to move beyond our comfort and ego zones and get our acts together for landscape based wildlife conservation or the first step to reducing our protected areas to enlarged glorified zoos.
This is a post by Nimesh Ved, who works with FIAPO on the #NotVermin campaign. The story was posted on scroll, you can check that out here: http://scroll.in/article/809865/the-debate-over-the-culling-of-wildlife-in-india-requires-more-than-just-sound-and-fury
Check out Nimesh’s blog at http://nimesh-ved.blogspot.in/