Monday, March 17, 2008

Nilgai threat to standing crops generates heat in Assembly


Nilgai threat to standing crops generates heat in Assembly

Indian Express

The swelling population of nilgais, which is causing extensive damage to standing crops across Gujarat generated a heated debate in the Assembly on Friday.

Speaker Ashok Bhatt directed the state Forest Minister to convene a special meeting of MLAs to discuss measures to contain this menace at the earliest.

The issue cropped up during the Question Hour when BJP MLAs Ambalal Rohit and Hanubhai Dhorajiya, through separate queries, complained that farmers in the state were suffering extensive damage due to the nilgai menace, and sought to know what steps the government was taking to curb this.

Replying to the questions, Forest Minister Mangubhai Patel told the House that the population of nilgais was increasing at an alarming pace, and that his department had initiated different methods to protect the farmers’ standing crops from the wild herbivores.

He said sarpanchs of as many as 1,545 villages, mainly in Saurashtra/Kutch and north Gujarat had been delegated powers to issue gun licenses to aggrieved farmers to kill the animals.

When the minister said that other methods like capturing and sterilisation of the animals had failed to yield positive results, MLAs from both the Treasury and Opposition benches grew restless and wanted to raise supplementary queries on the issue. This prompted the Speaker to intervene in the matter, saying that the issue needed to be discussed at length for a permanent solution.

“I strongly feel that a special meeting of MLAs cutting across party lines be convened either on Monday or Tuesday to discuss the threat posed by the nilgais to the standing crops. The ministers and officials of the various departments concerned should attend the meeting, invite suggestions from the elected members and find out a solution to this problem,” he said.

Senior Congress MLA Arjun Modhwadia suggested that the ministers and officials of the Home and Revenue departments should also be asked to attend this meeting, as the issue of killing of the animals by license gun holders is also involved.

Later, outside the Assembly, a senior Forest official told The Indian Express that the population of nilgais in Gujarat had shot up from 66,000 in 2002 to 97,000 as per the latest census of 2005, adding that it may have crossed the one-lakh mark by now.

He said the department had also issued gun licences in accordance with the wildlife laws. As per the guidelines, the animal will have to be buried after it is killed, and none of its body parts are to be used for commercial purposes.

He further said the permission to kill the animals had been granted to farmers only in four villages – two in Kutch and one each in Ahmedabad and Anand.

“Even the village sarpanchas who have been delegated these powers are facing a piquant situation in that they face a lot of resistance from the local Jain community when it comes to killing of nilgais,” he said.

It may be recalled that when the government had taken a decision in 2006 allowing farmers to kill the animals, at least two Jain MLAs – Babu Meghji Shah and Bhavin Sheth – had opposed the move, saying that is tantamount to cruelty against the animals, and that killing them cannot be allowed on the pretext of protecting standing crops.

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