Now, Bihar farmers hope for a reprieve from Nilgai

Now, Bihar farmers hope for a reprieve from Nilgai
Fifty six-year-old Ram Sharan Singh in Bihar’s Bhojpur district remained a worried lot after packs of Nilgai destroyed his crops year after year. So perplexed was he with the Nilgai menace that at one point of time, he was mulling over the proposal to shift to other business from agriculture.

But the Centre’s decision to allow Bihar cull Nilgais has come as a major relief for him and other farmers. A recent notification issued by the Union Environment ministry, headed by Prakash Javdekar, in December 2015 says the Centre has agreed to the Bihar government’s demand to declare Nilgai as vermin on account of the damage they cause to the life and property.

This is arguably the first instance where the Ministry of Forest and Environment has declared any species as vermin and granted rights to a state to hunt them down. Bihar had been pressing about the matter after several complaints poured in about damage of crops by Nilgai. Such was the havoc created by the antelope that farmers last year complained to Chief Minister Nitish Kumar during one of his yatras.

The concern was expressed again in the meeting of the State Board of Wild Life, held in May 2015, where it was decided that Bihar would declare the Nilgai as vermin. “The proposal was then forwarded to the Union Environment Ministry,” Bihar’s Principal Secretary, Forest and Environment, Vivek Kumar Singh told Deccan Herald.

“We were receiving regular complaints about crops damaged by Nilgai. Since Nilgai (also called blue bull) is a Schedule III animal, it has been quite difficult to handle the menace. But after cultivation was hit, there was a growing clamour to hunt down the Nilgai despite the emotional attachment to it due to ‘gai’ factor,” said Singh.

It’s not only the farm area where the Nilgais had wreaked havoc. Sometime back, a peculiar situation arose in Patna when an antelope strayed into the campus of Jayaprakash Narayan International Airport .

Mercifully, before it could enter the high-security zone, zoo officials from the nearby Sanjay Gandhi Biological Park were requisitioned who helped in apprehending the wayward animal.

Close on the heels of a blue bull entering the Patna airport, yet another antelope entered the campus of Gaya International Airport, some 125 km from Patna. Every takeoff and landing of international and domestic flights in Gaya was fraught with danger as the blue bull, which had once strayed onto the runway, was said to be hiding in the adjoining 50-hectare dense forest cover at the airport. The antelope was eventually apprehended by the forest department officials who came looking for the herbivorous animal with tranquilliser guns in hand.

Prior to this incident, when a tiger strayed in from Valmikinagar reserve area (in Champaran), it killed several antelopes along the Gandak basin, while returning to its territory.

The villagers, comprising mostly farmers, were profusely thanking the God because these Nilgais had destroyed acres of crops worth lakhs.

“Rattled over Nilgais’ havoc, we had organised Mahachandi yajna (a form of prayer) some time back to invoke the Goddess Durga. The goddess sent in the tiger to chase the blue bull. We are thankful to Maa Durga,” said Rampujan Singh, a native of Saran.

Bihar has a history of Nilgais damaging lentil crops like arhar and moong (pulses), thereby adversely affecting their production. Farmers in several districts where the Ganga and Gandak basin exists face huge losses as crops of wheat, maize, vegetables and pulses are damaged by herds of Nilgais. These animals not only graze in farmlands but also damage standing crops.

During Vishwas Yatra undertaken by Nitish Kumar, the farmers narrated him their plight over the mess created by Nilgais. “There are thousands of Nilgais. And their population is increasing by the day because a female antelope breeds twice a year,” an aggrieved farmer told the Chief Minister emphasising on the need to capture and sterilise the Blue Bull.

Later, farmers in many parts of Bihar put up bars and barricades to protect the crops from Nilgais and also continuously monitored their fields.

The Bihar Agricultural Management and Extension Training Institute (BAMETI) organised one of the workshops on the issue in which representatives of the state government and other experts dwelt at length how to overcome this problem. The meeting, which was attended by Chief Conservator of Forests, wild life experts and activists of NGOs, deliberated on the issue and suggested ways and means to protect the crops from these wild herbivores.

One of the suggestions was to empower mukhiyas to issue gun licences to kill these animals and make them honorary wildlife warden. But the suggestion was immediately shot down. “As per the Indian culture, Hindus consider Nilgais as sacred because of the nomenclature. It has gai (cow) in it, and therefore it can’t be gunned down,” an expert argued.

The other reason for the increase in antelopes’ population is said to be the shrinking forest. The carnivores that kept a check on their population are fast dwindling. As a consequence, the wild carnivores nowadays roam freely and, of late, have entered the human habitat.

Taking note of the serious problem, the Centre, on December 1, 2015 issued a gazette notification which has allowed Bihar to cull Nilgais. Now this should make farmers heave a sigh of relief.

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