By Brij Khandelwal
Agra, Dec 14 (IANS) A month after two shocking deaths and a series of attacks by monkey armies, this Taj city continues to remain in panic mode as government agencies indulge in passing the buck.
Divisional Commissioner Anil Kumar and District Magistrate N.G. Ravi Kumar have had several rounds of meetings with the Forest and Wildlife Department officials but all have raised their hands in utter helplessness.
An official said there was neither the expertise nor the funds to deal with the thousands of rampaging monkeys.
“Also, even if we manage to capture some, where do we house them or free them? The provisions of the Wildlife Act leave no room for any drastic measures against the monkeys,” the official told IANS on condition of anonymity.
Officials of the Wildlife SOS, an NGO running sloth bear and elephant centres in Agra, have offered to help with sterilisations and build a secure shelter for the simians, but need funds from the state government which has declined for the moment to support any such programme.
For the district authorities, the simian menace is right now a major concern as tourists visiting the historical monuments have been repeatedly attacked by the monkeys.
“Even the SN Medical College and the Emergency Ward are not safe from monkeys. There is a perpetual shortage of vaccines at the district hospital,” another official said, adding that the state government in Lucknow had been apprised of the ground realities in Agra.
Tourism industry leaders have called for prompt measures to insulate the Taj Mahal from simian invasion. “Foreign tourists feel insecure and restrict their movements fearing attacks from stray animals. So many cases of bag snatching and monkey bites have been reported that a sense of fear grips the visitors when they arrive here,” claimed Taj Ganj hotelier Sandeep Arora.
Civic authorities seem helpless in tackling the menace.
“We have written so many times to the municipal corporation, but there has been no action from their side,” an ASI official said.
The situation is worse in the holy towns of Mathura, Goverdhan and Vrindavan.
According to the locals, there is a certain herd mentality among the monkeys. “Earlier, they would be satisfied with a biscuit or a piece of bread, but lately they have acquired a taste for juices. They are always lookng for packaged juices,” said Rakesh, who, with his sister Janki, helps visitors to Kosi Ghat find their lost items — for a consideration. Things like spectacles and purses are thrown away by the simians in the bushes from where the siblings retrieve them.
In Kosi, there have been several protests. In Mathura and Vrindavan too, many of those who had been injured had complained against the monkeys, which seem to be outnumbering the visitors and pilgrims.
“Due to religious beliefs, no one wants to harm the monkeys, though the vegetable sellers in the area keep catapults ready with stones which the monkeys fear the most,” said Vrindavan resident Kunj Bihari.
Every shrine has dozens and dozens of the primates who have only become more aggressive over the years. For the pilgrims — especially women and children — negotiating their way through the lanes was always a bit difficult with cows and stray dogs everywhere. Now the simian menace has made it more troubling.
Nandan Das, another resident of Vrindavan, said that “monkeys can attack humans, but we cannot kill or shoot them”.
Many residents said they had complained to forest department officials in the area to no avail.
An official from the department, who did not want to be named, said: “We have no funds for these activities (of catching the animals). Moreover, when you can’t kill the monkeys, where would you keep them?”
Residents of the area say the monkeys move around on the terraces of houses in large numbers, often uprooting flowers from their pots. Women and children are often attacked from them. From dawn, they start by jumping from one terrace to another with many of them moving towards the riverfront steps where pilgrims congregate. Their return in the evening is equally menacing.
The solution, according to an animal rights activist lies in mass sterilisation, for which monkey hospitals have to be set up. Another measure could be declaring monkeys ‘vermin’ and excluding them from the protection granted by the Wildlife Act of 1972.
“We have been closely monitoring the situation and have coordinated with various government departments to work out a pragmatic plan of action to deal with the situation. For a monkey shelter we need a huge chunk of land. The district authorities are now looking for the required space. Monkeys would be captured from urban areas and sheltered in the Bandar Shala, where they would be fed and looked after,” Satyamev Jayate trustee Mukesh Jain told IANS.
Religious beliefs come in the way of implementing any major decision to tackle the simian nuisance,
“In another country they would have been just physically liquidated,” said an angry activist.
(Brij Khandelwal can be contacted at [email protected])