On February 19 this year, Delhi High Court had directed the Delhi Government to ensure that the process of floating e-tender and giving contract for feeding monkeys in the Asola-Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary was completed in four weeks. Justice Suresh Kait passed the order after the Delhi Government, through advocate Zubeda Begum, informed the court that Rs 25 lakh have been sanctioned by the finance department for feeding monkeys till March 31, by which time the e-tender is likely to be floated for awarding contract for supply of fruits and vegetables. The government also claimed that no monkey was left hungry or died of starvation at the sanctuary.
Clarifying forest department’s stand on the issue, Delhi forest department’s chief conservator of forest and chief warden A K Shukla said, “Feeding to Asola sanctuary was never disrupted and such reports were nothing but a false assumptions. We have over 17,000 monkeys in this sanctuary and number is continuously rising. Neighbouring states like Uttarakhand have already closed their doors for monkeys. In this situation it’s getting tough to accommodate such large number.” Rubbishing forest department’s claim of no starvation, Sonya Ghosh (member of Enforcement Committee appointed by the High Court in February 2007), said, “it’s nothing but lethargic bureaucratic system which is costing dear to the voiceless animal.” She accuses department of disrupting feed supply to the sanctuary and result of which came as rise on monkey-biting cases in the surrounding areas. The department reportedly stopped feeding monkeys for a few days when prices of vegetables and fruits went up but what ensued was catastrophic. Many animal lovers claimed monkeys were left to starve and die.
Is feeding the only solution?
After a 2007 Delhi High Court order, civic agencies have been capturing and sending monkeys to the Asola-Bhatti wildlife sanctuary for the forest department to feed them. The court had said food offered at temples should be collected and sent to the sanctuary where the forest department was to plant fruit-bearing trees to offset the expense.
These were not followed. The annual bill for the feed – fruits, vegetables and black gram – has been rising. “From Rs 13 lakh in 2007-2008, it rose to Rs 1.5 crore in 2012-2013. The department sends 2,500 kg of fruits and vegetables to feed over 18,000 monkeys every day which were moved from the city to Asola-Bhatti sanctuary in 2007, informed DC South, Tarun Johri. But primatologists and wildlife experts say monkeys are too smart to starve. They are extremely adaptable mammals who will leave the sanctuary to forage in neighboring villages or just come back to the city. All the department needs to do is to plant the species that monkeys love and stop feeding them.
“It’s impossible for monkeys to starve to death. They will just stray outside and find food. The department should have prepared the sanctuary adequately to meet the challenge before releasing monkeys in it. I had given them a list of species, including bansa, gram, banana and sugarcane, but those were not planted. I have been inside the sanctuary and seen how much food the department is just wasting on the pretext of feeding monkeys,” Iqbal Malik, a veteran primatologist, was quoted as saying in the media. While, Sonya Ghosh said that sanctuary has nothing which monkeys can survive on naturally. There are babul, Kikar and seesam trees and plants which are of no use for the simians. Besides, urban monkeys are totally dependent on human beings. While, those who are in dense jungles , are naturally capable of finding their meals through natural sources.
How secure is the sanctuary?
The wildlife sanctuary is spread over 4,707 acres and as per official records, it’s accommodating over 17,000 simians. According to the residents at the nearby areas like Sanjay Colony, Bhati Mines, Fatehpur and Chhatarpur, monkeys enter homes and cases of man biting are climbing. “There are over 80 cases per month of man biting and most of the victims are from Sanjay Colony,” said CMO, Samar Sarkar at Fatehpur’s government hospital.
When forest department holds rising number of monkeys responsible for the menace, activist Sonya says, “I don’t think monkeys are a problem anyway. This voiceless creature is the victim of human encroachment to their natural abodes and source of feed. Now look at the sanctuary, how has it been encroached by the locals. Boundary wall is not safe, it has been broken. Tube wells are being dug up and water has been extracted. How land mafia is encroaching and new colonies are being developed. Forest department is mum over it and all are busy holding monkeys responsible for the menace.” The case in the NGT and Supreme Court has also asked the authorities to shift the Sanjay Colony from there so that sanctuary can be preserved.
What’s the way out
There is a cultural and religious bond with the animal. Even in our Constitution, Article 61 D says we all have to have compassion for animals and all living beings and provide an environment for their existence. It’s a law of the land to protect animals. “Administration is busy doing fruitless exercises like deploying langurs and putting lame excuse for covering up their disinterest towards the wildlife species. The law clearly says that the animals must be transported to the sanctuary in a humane manner and fed properly. Border of the sanctuary must be secured to prevent escape but none of this has happened,” said Sonya.
While supporting the NDMC’s move to install power-fencing for keeping monkeys away, she added power fencing is a good idea. The civic body has now decided to go for ‘power fencing’ or ‘simian tape’ to keep them away. “We have already spent over lakhs of rupees on various methods to control the monkey menace, but nothing has worked. We have now decided to scare them away using low-voltage electric fencing,” said New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) Health Officer, PK Sharma. The civic body has started work on installing the electric fencing, also called simian tape, around government buildings and the residences of ministers in Lutyens’ Delhi.
NDMC has been facing a tough time in keeping monkeys at bay in its areas. It has tried several methods to check the monkey menace, from hiring langur handlers and using air guns and rubber bullets to arranging for proper food for them at a particular feeding areas. “After the environment ministry objected to deploying langurs terming it a violation of animal rights, we hired a few people who would imitate the cries of langurs to scare them away. But that, too, failed in the long run,” Sharma said, adding that they have “a team of 40 members working only to scare the monkeys away using different methods.”
> On February 19, 2015 delhi high court directed Delhi to ensure that the process of feeding monkeys in Asola-Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary was completed in four weeks.
> Many animal lovers claimed monkeys were left to starve and die.
> Delhi forest department clarified that Feeding to sanctuary was never disrupted and such reports were false.
> Disrupting feed supply led to rise in monkey-biting cases in the surrounding areas.