Shimla, June 26 (IANS) The Himachal Pradesh government is soliciting public opinion on how best to tackle the 'monkey menace' which has caused crop losses worth hundreds of crores of rupees in recent years, Forest Minister Thakur Singh Bharmouri said on Sunday.
Bharmouri told IANS he has requested the people, including farmers, animal rights activists and legislators, to suggest long-term solutions for the damage that a growing number of monkeys in the state has been inflicting on farming and the economy.
The number of monkeys in Himachal Pradesh increased five-fold from 61,000 to 317,000 between 1990 and 2004, according to the state wildlife department.
Their number has since declined, presumably due to the state government's sterilization programme. The state is currently home to 207,614 monkeys, still a very high number, according to Bharmouri.
The minister's canvassing of public opinion has been sparked by continued division on the long-standing issue: between those who advocate drastic measures to deal with animals that cause damage and those who raise moral and legal concerns.
Long been the subject of legal wrangling, the rift is currently being argued in the Himachal Pradesh High Court as well as the Supreme Court.
While the high court on April 19 issued notice to the central and state governments on the issue of declaring monkeys 'vermin' within the Shimla Municipal Corporation's jurisdiction, the apex court on June 20 refused to put on hold a notification that allows the culling of monkeys.
The notification was issued on March 14 by the central government, declaring monkeys 'vermin' in Shimla for a period of six months. Another notification was issued in May to treat monkeys as vermin for a period of one year in other districts of Chamba, Kangra, Una, Bilaspur, Shimla, Sirmour, Kullu, Hamirpur, Sonlan and Mandi.
The notifications allow mass killing or 'culling' of monkeys in the state.
Labelling monkeys 'vermin' has not yet led to their mass killing because the high court in January 2011 put on hold a state government measure to allow farmers to shoot the monkeys to save their crops.
Bharmouri said the state government will request the high court to withdraw the order now that the Supreme Court has refused to block the central government notification.
The next hearings at the high court and the Supreme Court are both scheduled for July.
Meanwhile, monkeys in Himachal Pradesh are legally safe as long as the high court does not withdraw its order.
Bharmouri now wonders if the measure the state has used since 2006 -- that of sterilizing monkeys -- is worth continuing with.
"Under the sterilization programme since 2006, more than 51 percent of the monkeys in the state have been neutered," he said.
Until March 31, a total of 108,325 monkeys were sterilised at eight centres, according to the state wildlife department.
The minister is asking people: Should monkeys be culled or sterilised in order to control their population?
His own opinion is clear by his efforts to get the central government to issue the notification and his stated position that the high court stay on killing monkeys should go.
Quoting the agriculture department report of 2014, Bharmouri said monkeys and other wild animals damaged agricultural crops worth Rs 184 crore annually.
He said the loss to horticulture crops was estimated at Rs 150 crore between 2006 and 2014.
According to official records, there were 674 attacks on humans by the monkeys in the last three years and the sufferers were compensated Rs 28 lakh during this period.
Kuldeep Singh Tanwar of Kheti Bachao Sangharsh Samiti, an NGO working for the cause of farmers, told IANS that farmers were in favour of culling.
"The monkeys should either be eliminated professionally by hiring hunters or the forest department should set up committees at the panchayat level to kill them," Tanwar said.
He said lifting the ban on the export of monkeys for bio-medical research is the humane alternative to check their rising numbers.
The central government had banned the export of wild animals in 1978.