By: Rakesh Lohumi, Sr. Editor-ICN Group 

SHIMLA: The very idea of killing monkeys is abhorrent to Hindus who see the image of their revered deity Lord Hanuman in the simians. Populations of monkeys thrived in an around various temples of Lord Hanuman across the country. Food was available for the simians  in plenty in urban areas too as Hindus consider feeding the monkeys as a pious act. Mount Jakhu, the highest peak of Shimla , has one such old temple and thickly forested hill served as a natural sanctuary for the monkeys until recently.

Today a  huge 108 ft high idol of Lord Hanuman erected alongside the temple stands out in the skyline. However, the realty that it obscures is that Jakhu is it is no more the safe abode for monkeys it used to be, it is a now a tourist place. One encountered hundreds of monkeys in a around the temple till mid 1980’s but now there are few left.  The focus is on tourists not monkeys whose natural habitat has been devastated. Erecting a huge idol to attract tourists is more important than protecting the habitat of simians.

The thick forests cover has given way to concrete structures not only in Jakhu hill but all over the  city and its peripheral rural areas. The concrete jungle is expanding by the day s and green slopes transforming into grey with multi-storied structures coming virtually one over the other.

The entry of private builders in the real estate sector has made things worse as poor farmers are selling out their holdings Instead of protecting forest land, the politicians have been pitching for  regularisation of encroachments in one voice knowing full well that under the Forest Conservation Act (FCA) forest land cannot be diverted for non-forestry use .

The boundaries of protected wildlife areas were redrawn under political pressure to take out areas close to villages.  The area under dense forests has been fast shrinking  with  over  2000 hectares under  encroachment and over 12,000 hectare  diverted for non-forestry use under the FCA, mainly for construction of power projects and roads. While monkeys have been driven ou from their natural habitat , dense  forests have been  leased out entrepreneurs in the name of promoting  eco-tourism.

The callous attitude of government towards environment has led to destruction  bio-reserves, which serve as a natural habitat for wildlife and exotic plants.  Human –animal encounters are on the increase due to the fragmentation of natural habitats due to construction of roads and power projects, the involve impounding of rivers and streams.

Peaceful coexistence of humans with simians had it roots in the spiritual and philosophical traditions being followed by Hindus over the past more than 5,000 years. Compassion for all living beings has been one of the basic tenets of Hinduism, pivoted on the philosophy of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”  ( the entire world is one family).

Ethical treatment of animals is integral to the Hindu tradition as Vedic philosophy believes that all life emanates from only one source the “Supreme Consciousness”, known as Brahman. It is boundless and   all pervasive. The Divine exists in all living beings, only the level of intelligence and ability differs in varying life forms. This underpinning binds all forms of existence and mandates peaceful coexistence of humans, animals and other elements of nature.

Thus, it is quite shocking that government agencies repeatedly come up with plans for carrying out scientific culling of monkeys to deal with increasing conflict with humans, a fall out of environmentally destructive policies being pursued in the name of development.

The latest threat to simians comes from decision of the Centre to declare monkeys as vermin within the limits of Shimla Municipal Corporation for a period of six months. It effectively means that the Rhesus Macaque species of simians can now be killed in the notified area. The idea of scientific culling is being pushed at a time when ongoing biological research is providing increasing evidence to reinforce the Vedic view that many animal species have cognitive faculties and have rich emotional and social lives.

A conference of neuroscientists at the University of Cambridge, UK, came up with the “Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness” on July 7, 2012,  proclaiming the outcome of the long drawn research efforts that  “animals and humans are conscious and aware to the same degree as one another”.

The  animal rights activists and spiritual organisations are up in arms against the  decision. Rajeshwar Singh Negi, an environment  activist  and Convener of Nature Watch India , has  moved the Himachal Pradesh High Court against the notification declaring monkeys as vermin. Delhi based Dhyan Foundation has also joined the legal battle to save the animal with which religious sentiments of people are involved.

This is  the third time that government has given nod for killing monkeys. The Chief wild Warden In 2003 granted  permission  but the people refused to kill the simians and the order expired without any damage to them. Again in  2010 the then BJP government delegated power to divisional forest officers across the state to issue permits to kill monkeys. A huge controversy erupted after members of State Kisan Sabha , a left outfit ,  kill some animals in Sirmour region. Animal rights activists move the High Court against the government decision which granted stay that is still in operation.

The most surprising part is that the permission to kill monkeys has been granted even though the population of simians has declined dramatically over the past decade. As per state forest department’s own claim  over 1,20,000 monkeys, both male and female, have been sterilized since 2006. As a result    the population of monkeys has  gone down from 3, 17,512 in 2004   to  2, 07,614 in 2015. Undoubtedly, the  programme has been a  big success as a decrease of  about  40 percent in  monkey population is very significant. It is obvious that if the number of simians has been declining so fast the nuisance they  cause would not have increased to such an alarming extent that calls for drastic measures like killing.

The monkey nuisance has become a political issues with various parties posing to be the saviors  of farmers  raising vice for effective measures to curb monkey menace. The larger question of environmental degradation is being ignored.  The growing human animal conflict, a consequence of large-scale deforestation and unregulated and excessive urbanisation of hills. Monkey menace is one of the many problems that the hill state is facing today due to lop-sided development policies.

Successive governments have been carrying out development activities at the cost of fragile hill environment and the increasing human –animal conflict was one of many adverse fallouts. The problems like traffic congestion, air and water pollution, shortage of water due to decreasing precipitation and changing microclimate were all a result of unregulated development and laxity in implementation of various environments, forest, building and other related laws. The hills have a limited carrying capacity and they a cannot support large populations due to topographical constraints.

Let us hope that the efforts of animal rights activists and spiritual organizations like Dhyan Foundation will bear fruit and a humane solution to deal with the animal human conflict will emerge. Killing is no solution as humans are facing problems from many other animals like  dogs, leopards, nilgai (Bllule Bull) because of wrong policies.

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