By Sharon St Joan
India has the most enlightened animal welfare laws in the world. For example, cow slaughter is illegal in all but two states. Municipalities are responsible for running and paying for spay/neuter programs for community dogs and cats. Sports hunting is illegal throughout India. These laws have been enacted over the past fifty years. The Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 provides strict protection for all wildlife.
But, sadly, all this may be about to change! The Minister of Forests and the Environment, Prakash Jevadekar, is energetically seeking to roll back all the hard-fought protections for wild animals. He has sought to reintroduce bullock cart racing after it was recently banned in Maharashtra, and last year, he announced that the laws against jallikattu (bull fighting) in Tamil Nadu could be ignored with impunity. He has allowed peacocks in Goa to be killed and has suggested that it would be a good idea to bring back sports hunting. Dissection has been banned in Indian schools, and now the Minister wants the ban lifted.
The greatest damage done so far has been the recent shooting deaths of 200 nilgai (blue bulls) in Bihar, in northeast India, and the killing of Rhesus monkeys in Himachal Pradesh – and the imminent threat to other protected species, specifically wild boar.
Prakash Jevadekar, whose responsibility it is to ensure that India’s wildlife are protected, has written to a number of Indian states requesting that they send to him a list of animals they consider a “nuisance” so that measures may be taken against the animals. Five states responded; as a consequence, the wild animals in question have now been officially labeled “vermin,” and their lives are now at risk.
Dr. Chinny Krishna, Vice Chairman of the Animal Welfare Board of India, explained some of the legal technicalities. There is a provision in the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 to allow for the killing, in rare instances, for a very limited period of time, of wildlife that pose a dire threat to human beings or to crops. This is meant to be used only as a last resort, and there are a number of non-lethal measures that are required to be taken first; such as fencing or re-location of the wildlife or population control by chemical sterilants.
In addition, there are already in effect systems to pay farmers for the loss of crops.
Dr. Krishna noted that the Ministry of Forests and the Environment actually requested that lists of “nuisance” animals be sent to him by the states, which goes against the intent of the Wildlife Protection Act, and secondly, non-lethal means to prevent wildlife conflicts were not employed first.
Humane Society International will be filing a case with the Indian Supreme Court. The Animal Welfare Board of India will be sending a letter to notify the Environment Ministry of what it sees as violations of the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972.
The actions by the Environment Ministry are highly unusual and uncharacteristic of the compassion normally shown by Indian authorities towards the wildlife of India.
What makes this situation especially urgent is that, as Dr. Krishna put it, “Once the door is opened to killing wildlife indiscriminately, it’s hard to shut the door again.” Allowing these illegal actions to stand would jeopardize the lives of so many innocent animals – and would threaten the entire animal protection system in India, a structure that has been put into place over five decades, through exhaustive work on the part of dedicated animal groups and individuals. Allowing the collapse of the wildlife laws would also send a terrible signal to the rest of Asia and ultimately, the world – at a time when wildlife trafficking is out of control and many wild species are heading toward the cliff of extinction, especially in Asia and Africa, but also throughout the world. It is a global problem.
We can all act to help these animals – the nilgai (blue bulls), the Rhesus monkeys, the wild boars, and all the rest of India’s wildlife, now under threat. It’s important to note that significant efforts have been made recently by Prime Minister Modi’s government to have closer, friendlier ties with the U.S. and with other countries outside India. In your email or tweet, please identify yourself as an American (or other nationality) and please do not be shy about including your profession. It’s important to make the point that people in all countries are deeply concerned about what is happening to the animals of India. Tigers, elephants, Rhesus monkeys and all of India’s wild animals are some of the most beautiful and most beloved wild animals on earth. It will be a tragedy if we fail to stand up for them.
How you can help
Please tweet Prime Minister Modi at @PMOIndia
Sample tweet (Please make relevant changes): @PMOIndia As an American writer, I am shocked at the killing of India’s nilgai and monkeys. A new MoEF Minister is needed to save wildlife!
To email Prime Minister Modi, click here.
Then click on “Write to the Prime Minister.”
Sample email (Please change the wording to personalize this):
Dear Prime Minister Modi,
The recent actions of the Minister of the MoEF, Prakash Jevadekar, causing the deaths of 200 nilgai, as well as peacocks in Goa, and Rhesus monkeys in Himachal Pradesh are very alarming. India holds a unique place in the world as a country whose reverence for animals is a timeless tradition at the center of Hinduism. This senseless killing of India’s beautiful wildlife is indefensible, illegal, and a betrayal of Indian culture. Please replace Prakash Jevadekar with someone who values “ahimsa” and who represents the best of India, not the worst. Thank you.
Top photo: Aiwok / Wikimedia Commons / This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license. / Rhesus Macaque with two babies in Shimla Himachal Pradesh near the Jakhu temple.