Maneka Gandhi is being populist, monkey menace seriously biting India

Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay
Nilanjan MukhopadhyayJun 11, 2016 | 15:48

Maneka Gandhi is being populist, monkey menace seriously biting India

The WhatsApp group of my Resident Welfare Association (RWA) is hyperactive these days. Another round of discussions is going on after one of the office bearers suggested that we should have another meeting to discuss what to do with monkeys.

Some years ago, my colony – on the border of Delhi and Uttar Pradesh – began to be regularly visited by our commonly believed ancestors. At that time, the RWA existed in its pre-historic avatar as a loose collective of residents. The coordinator sent a note along with the monthly collections register asking if the monkey menace was serious enough to warrant collective action.

Having our balcony routinely being taken over and potted plants destroyed by troops of monkeys every other day, we agreed. A few others too approved the idea of hiring a "langur man" at an extra charge.

Monkey menace is a losing battle.

The arrangement worked for just a few months before it broke down because the langur was not stationed and monkeys learnt to look around for the more powerful primate before making an entry. Monkey menace is a losing battle much like fighting diabetes or any other chronic disorder which can just be managed, not cured. Every second day, someone is attacked or given charge and stories abound of people rushing for anti-rabies shots.

Last year, on a family holiday we went to Shimla and drove up to Jakhoo Hill, abode to a temple dedicated to the monkey god – Hanuman. The cabbie warned me to remove my spectacles and advised against carrying handbags. While climbing up the stairs to the temple, we crossed a panic-stricken man and his family. A monkey had snatched his spectacles. A scratch on the neck marked the end of the holiday.

Three and a half decades ago, as a cub reporter, I was part of the tribe of scribes routinely writing stories on monkey menace in Lutyens' Delhi. In the 1980s, we saw iron wire meshes coming up on all windows in North and South Blocks after monkeys began routinely entering offices and destroying files.

Every office in Delhi’s ministerial zone is now similarly "barricaded". MPs and senior officers who live in houses in the area dare not keep doors and windows open. Till a few years ago, Lok Sabha Secretariat maintained a full-fledged langur brigade to shoo the monkeys away.

Travellers to any pilgrimage centre will know the number of monkeys and how hotels are forced to fence balconies to ensure that the rooms remain monkey-free.

I googled "money menace" and the datelines revealed the diversity that is India: Kashmir, Delhi, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Maharashtra and almost every other part. If I try reading all the 32,700 hits Google News threw up (1,06,000 on Google web), the rest of my life will be spent in this.

A Centre for Science and Environment report in August 2015 reported that monkey menace was not an urban phenomenon but was engulfing rural areas too, and, severely damaging crops. In Shimla, a Kheti Bachao Andolan had sprung up and its leaders claimed that monkeys had caused crop losses to the tune of Rs 2,200 crore between 2007 and 2012.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ambition of making Varanasi Wi-Fi enabled has come unstuck as monkeys chew up optical fibre cables. The CSE report estimated that 20 states and UTs reported significant crop damage.

There is no estimate of the number of attacks on humans and its cost. In 2015, Telangana government spent Rs 830 crore to create green islands for monkey populations; Himachal Pradesh suffered crop loss of Rs 500 crore, Rs 2 crore was allocated by Agra city to fight monkey menace. 

Maneka Gandhi is doing a Gandhari act by not looking at these harsh figures and indulging in wildlife populism when she accuses Prakash Javdekar of lust to kill. Gandhi made strides politically in her career by being the devil’s advocate and taking contrarian positions. But the time has come when someone should tell her that it is time stop playing to the gallery.

A nilgai strayed outside the Delhi ridge and created tumult in Rashtrapati Bhawan and Vijay Chowk.

Some weeks ago, a nilgai strayed outside the Delhi ridge and created tumult in Rashtrapati Bhawan and Vijay Chowk before it was caught and taken back. In the name of conservationism and wildlife protection, we should not allow human life to be threatened and incur crop loses.

Cities have grown and will continue to grow. Anyone who argues that animals have a right to intrude into areas inhabited by humans because their territories have been taken over is being grossly anti-human.

It is time for government to seriously debate ways to limit damage in areas of such conflict. The monkey menace is for real and all because of unbridled population growth of primates.

Primatologists have long argued in Delhi that a concerted plan needs to be drawn up as knee-jerk reaction of relocating monkeys to forests will provide no long-term solution. Experts have calculated that at least one-third of the population needs to be sterilised to stabilise (mind you, not reduce!) growth.

This is impossible to achieve. This leaves no way but to allow culling for a certain period. But let this be done by government agencies and not by common citizens. The power to kill should not be given to citizens.

I am going to tell my RWA members that instead of seeking temporary solutions, lobby with other similar groups facing the same problem and make representations to your elected representatives to pressurise government.

We can no longer continue to monkey on the monkey menace. The problem is at our doorstep, literally.

Last updated: June 12, 2016 | 22:51
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