The Problem of Nilgai to Indian Farmers
Recently a great controversy has erupted between two Union Ministers over culling of Nilgai in Bihar, as the permission to do so was handed down from Union Environment & Forest Minister, Prakash Javdekar, which was vehemently objected to by Union Minister for Women & Child Development, Maneka Gandhi and lashed out on him for handing out such permission, as she had a long record of protecting wild animals in general. Javdekar believes the Nilgai now-a-days has become a major problem for Indian farmers, while Meneka Gandhi too is not without a point over its mass killings. The present article looks into the problem of Nilgai to Indian farmers and also suggests a way out which might satisfy both the sparing ministers in one go.
Nilgai, the largest of all Indian antelopes commonly known as “Blue Bull” (Ghandroze in Eastern Uttar Pradesh) has become a major threat to the rural crops production processes in the entire Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Western part of Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharastra, Gujarat, Northern parts of Karnataka, Punjab and Harayana. If we say Nilgai has posed a serious challenge to agricultural production in the entire Indian nation, it will not be an exaggeration. Nevertheless, no one in the Government sector seems aware of nationwide dimension of this mighty threat to Indian agricultural crops. Everyone including the elected representatives, when their attention is drawn towards Nilgai invasion in their area, thinks that this is a localised problem, and should be tackled at the local level. They hardly visualise that the problem has assumed a nationwide dimension and hence, they have so far failed to raise the issue in their Assemblies or Parliament in a concerted manner.e and half decade without being noticed by the ruling elite, agronomists, horticulturists, agro- economists, sociologists, academicians, foresters, wildlife authorities, veterinarians, environmentalists, wildlife lovers, and even by the media and by the least of all ‘planners’ of this country. We do not think government is sensitive enough to realise how agonising it is to the already poverty and debt stricken rural peasantry, to lose their entire investment in terms of their hard earned or loaned capital and two or three months of labor to a wild animal who is not even a part of their rural domestication. It is a very grave matter for poor farmers who lose their valuable crops, sometimes overnight without any attendant compensation either from the government or from the wildlife lovers, who oppose in any way, any change in wildlife’s habitat or way of life. It seems poor, Indian farmer unknowingly and thanklessly, is paying the price for the ‘love for animals’ hobby of wildlife lovers and insensitivity of the provincial and national governments.
Shooting of Nilgai Can’t Be a Solution
Farmers are baffled by the threat to their crops from unforeseen quarters and fail to understand how to cope with this new situation, which was not there till last few decades. Farmers at the most hold meetings at village, block or district level to protest and agitate against the problem; they pursue it with District Magistrate (DM) to do something to contain Nilgai invasion. However, DMs neither have comprehended the magnitude of the problem, nor having large sized specialized government agency to catch them at the district level, seem helpless in providing any solution. Many DMs, realising the gravity of the situation and the seriousness of anger and protest of farmers, have verbally allowed them, in the past, to shoot down blue bulls of their areas.
But, this is a very ill advised step, demonstrates inability and desperation. It would lead to a large-scale slaughter of species, which despite being quite inhuman can’t be a permanent solution. This could also aggravate the man-animal conflict as the natural predators of Nilgai viz. tigers, leopards, wolves and jackals being deprived of their food could turn to domestic livestock for their own survival. Moreover, DM’s verbal orders cannot hold any water in the court of law. This solution thus, might further put farmers behind the bar as Nilgai is on a protected animal’s list. (However, we fail to understand why Nilgai is on protection list?) Protection should be extended to only those animals, which are endangered, not to one, which is over-populated and causing extensive damage. It has been grouped in the Schedule – III of “The Wildlife Act, 1972”. Besides, Nilgai being a fast and swift-moving animal, villagers by accident might land up shooting someone else instead of a blue bull. In this case, there would be even a bigger problem for the farming community. A
similar unilateral decision, a few years ago, by a Maharastra forest minister Surupsinh Naik to allow the killing of Nilgai, which were suspected of damaging crops, sparked a major controversy in the state. Likewise, UNI in a news report accounted, of late, that few wildlife and agricultural experts too, have suggested culling of Blue Bulls on the pattern of killing of kangaroos in Australia.
Effects on Cultivation Pattern and Cash Crops
Although the Nilgai is supposed to be found only in the sparsely covered hilly terrain of Indian landmass from the base of the Himalayas to Mysore, its population in the last one and half decade has risen so alarmingly throughout the country that there is a strong reason to initiate a campaign to delete its name from the protected animals’ list. Nonetheless, it does not occur in eastern Bengal or Assam, or on the Malabar coasts. Its population has multiplied so enormously in the preceding years that it has narrowly limited the options before the farmers to sow a few particular crops in a particular season, as some crops are more favorite among blue bulls e.g. cash crops like arahar pulses, pea pulses, millet, maize, sugarcane, even tender leaves of paddy and wheat, various vegetable crops like cabbage, cauliflower, spinach, beans, lady’s finger, brinjal, cucumber, pumpkin, gourd, muskmelon, watermelon etc. No one of concern notices that it has completely changed the crop sowing or cultivation pattern, preferences and options of the Indian farming community.
Of all the pulses, arahar is the costliest one in the market due to its ingrained protein content, its taste and lower availability. Despite being a cash cropper, no farmer, now a day, prefers to cultivate it as on the one hand it takes eight months to ripe, on the other, by the time of its harvesting, Nilgai hardly leaves any grain on its stem, as it is the most favored protein consumption for the animal. This is also one of the major reasons for soaring prices pulses in the nationwide market every year.
Cash strapped rural India has very few limited options in this regard, either to sell their labor or cultivate only those crops on the field, which can fetch them some instant money. But, the ventures of Nilgai have threatened even that option. There are many instances of suicide being committed by the farming community on that count too, but are rarely reported in the media. The grazing and browsing habits of blue bulls are such that the farmers are caught off-guard. They feed in the night till late in the morning or until about 08:30 hours, and again early in the evenings. Though they are voracious eater but hardly consume anything during the daytime. However, the farmers due to sheer ignorance run after the antelope during the daytime, to remove them from their field in order to prevent them from foraging their crops.
They are much more diurnal in their habits than a deer, caring little about the sun, seeking shade only during the hottest hours of the day, retiring later in the morning and rising again earlier in the evening. They rarely drink water even during the hottest part of year and days. The green and fresh vegetation they eat fulfills their need for water. The toiling farmers after their day-long labour retire in the night, to find out in the morning that the blue bulls have grazed their entire investment in terms of both capital and labour of complete two or three months duration.
Natural Habitat and Reasons for Faster Multiplication
The reason for their faster multiplication, it appears, is the shrinking Indian forest cover itself in general, which was their shelter and food. It led to their migration to rural agricultural crops production milieu. The Nilgai’s usual natural haunts are hills sparsely dotted with trees and insist on more or less open forests and scrubs. They are particularly fond of open grassy hill forests meagerly covered with trees and decidedly avoid dense forests. The new plain agrarian environment for Nilgai perfectly suited them, as except for hilly terrain, it was very similar to their natural habitat. The cultivated rural plains also provided them a modicum of cover to occasionally hide them during the day.
They never had a natural predators like lion, tiger, panther, jackal, dog, fox, hyena, leopard etc. in the changed surroundings. On the contrary, there was plenty of carbohydrate and protein rich food available for them for their geometrical burgeoning. The female attains sexual maturity at the age of twenty-five months and their period of gestation is eight to nine months. The young are produced at all seasons and have no regular rutting season or breeding period. However, by a slight majority most of the births take place shortly before the rains. The blue bulls give birth to either single young or twins, the latter being quite common. Even the mistaken religious believe of Hindu brethrens that it belonged to the species of their revered cow family, came to their rescue. Muslim peasantry hardly dared to kill them for consumption purposes as there was always a possibility of a riot between the two religious communities over the issue.
Nonetheless, for the purpose of clarity, the Nilgai does not belong to cow family and is in fact, the largest of all the Indian antelopes. The male of the species has a smooth bluish-gray coat of thin fur justifying the name of “Blue Bull” and the sheer as large size as bull or cow has given them the name of Nilgai. Thus, they are similar to both cow and horse in build. Earlier, it was actually known as Nilghod (blue horse) and was hunted for meat till the early Mughal period. However, nilgai’s hunting in this period, posed a problem of its extinction. According to Ain-e-Akbari, Emperor Akbar, the architect of ‘Din-e-Elahi’, was aware of Hindu sentiments with regards to cows, renamed it ‘nilgai’ from ‘nilghod’ to conserve its depleting stock from hunting for its meat. The new nomenclature helped them in keeping the hunters away. But, the change of their name has so much suited them that now the farming community itself has slipped to the depletion side.
Nilgai is in fact not the only enemy of farmers’ crops; there are families of mouse and many birds too, who steal their crops. However, the difference between threats of mousses and birds; and Nilgais to agricultural crops is that mousses and birds have at least predators in snakes, cats, dogs and other hunting birds, whereas the Nilgai has none at all in the rural agricultural background. Instead they have plenty of protein and carbohydrate rich food available at their beck and call, suitable for their faster reproduction.
Alternative Approaches to the Solution
Now the most critical question is how to cope up with this new situation, which was not there a few decades earlier for the rural peasantry of India. If we see it properly, it is a problem of over-population of one particular species of animal in the existing rural surroundings, which has raised the question of man-animal conflict. Here we should ask a question to ourselves “we have to manage Nilgais, at the same time, we have to manage ourselves.” It should be born in our mind that for the overall ecological balance, over-population of any one species, whether human beings or any other animal is not appropriate. We should also ponder if the conservationist policy pursued by the government and other agencies or activists, leads to over-congestion of that very species, as in the case of Nilgai (By putting them on the protection list), what should be the alternate method to contain them or should it be allowed to exert pressure on our already depleted eco-system with their over-crowding? If preservationists are worried about the threatened species, they should also feel concerned about excessive numbers of a particular species as a result of their conservation efforts. At this juncture we must point out, if the environmentalist fails to provide any viable alternate solutions to Nilgai’s problem, the simmering anger is so deep among the affected parties that it will definitely in nearby future lead to large-scale massacre of the said species, after all even wildlife experts, too, have started advocating its culling.
We will have to maintain an optimum balance, as extreme of both the cases (of over-population or depletion) are not advisable for the proper health of our ecology. Abundance of any animal species, not only the human beings, exerts biotic pressure on our bio-network. It might be instrumental in the extinction of many other species of flora and fauna, as animals for their food are either dependent on plants or on any other animal, they themselves cannot prepare their own food. Among the living beings, only plants make their own food with the help of chlorophyll, carbon dioxide and sunrays, and do not have to consume other plants or animals for their survival. As such, other animals’ populace too, cannot be allowed to grow unbridled. If we feel concerned about the growing human population and its consequences for our general environment and use modern medical knowledge and other kinds of interventions to contain it, then why not modern veterinary knowledge too, can be applied in other animal’s case to hold its growing numbers.
Extreme environmentalists in their over-enthusiastic zeal for the ’cause of animals’, advocate against any artificial intervention with regard to animal habitation in the wild, fail to appreciate above mentioned finer but basic points of ecological balance and hardly know their limits as to how far their ‘love for animals’ sentiments should stretch. Whether the other animals under ‘love for animals’ feelings should be pitted above, below or at par with the human beings. Fanatical conservationists treat other animals above human beings and canvass for flora and fauna even at the cost of human beings, whereas some other generalists keep them below human beings, but we, on the contrary, treat other animals at par with
human beings, neither above nor below. It is obvious that among all the creatures, only human beings have the most developed mental faculty. Thus, when we analyze from all the angles, we find that every creature has a role to play in the overall ecosystem. That is why when a species of flora or fauna is threatened of extinction we try to conserve it. However, we also make an effort to discard or eliminate those creatures, which cause detrimental effects on individuals or on our society as such. If this would not have been the case, there could not have been any medical or veterinary advancement in the modern age. After all the doctors often use anti-biotic medicines to only kill the unfavorable bacteria or worm – an animated creature, in order to cure someone. If there is spread of an epidemic e.g. plagues or malaria, we try to eliminate its causes – the animated creatures. If we go by radical preservationists’ advocacy, municipalities too should not have been assigned to clear the garbage as it is a natural habitat for many harmful worms, insects and bacteria. Can any radical ecologist dare not to visit hospital or doctor and take medicines under their ‘animal love’ sentiments if attacked by malaria fever or any other such diseases?
The main purpose of the aforesaid work out is to drive home a point that we should exercise our wisdom and should not shy away from applying medical intercession in controlling the overloading of a wild animal in the wider interest of our society and ecology per se. Hence, if the poverty stricken and highly indebted Indian farmers have to be bailed out from such a deep mesh caused by overburden of Nilgai incursions; we should not disregard alternate options of interventionist containment.
First of all, efforts should be made to delete Nilgai’s name from protected animals’ list. As protection should be extended to only those animals, which are endangered, not to the one, which is filled to capacity and causing extensive damage to our already derailed rural economy? It has been grouped in the Schedule – III of “The Wildlife Act, 1972”. Since, this is an Act of Parliament; an effort should be made to mobilise all the parliamentarians of both the houses cutting across different political parties and even the Union Government to remove Nilgai’s name from the aforesaid list in the light of changed rural scenario. There should be a provision for a ‘periodical review’ in the ‘Act’ itself to intermittently look into animals’ populace included in the protection list.
On the operational level, there are two options available for Nilgai’s population restraint. A population survey of Nilgais at the block or district level will have to be conducted underneath both alternatives. Under the first option, we could shift and transport them to their natural habitat from the existing rural settings, where their natural predators too exist and thus the predators will maintain a natural balance of its population itself. The Nilgai’s usual natural hangouts are hills sparsely dotted with trees and insist on more or less open forests and scrubs. They are particularly fond of open grassy hill forests sparingly covered with trees and emphatically avoid dense forests. If we study the areas in which Nilgais are found in abundance, such hilly terrain could be established in the nearby vicinity e.g. Vindhya and Kaimur range in eastern Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and adjoining part of Madhya Pradesh; Aravali hills in parts of Western Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Harayana, Punjab and Rajasthan etc.
Under the second alternative, the help of modern veterinary knowledge of sterilization process could be entertained. The male Nilgai could be trapped and operated upon to make them sterile and leave them in the existing rural surroundings itself, so that they could not reproduce themselves further. In the second instance, the farming community will have to bear the brunt for a few more years. They would have to wait for their natural death to occur. In the above mentioned both the operational plan, an NGO of New Delhi – “Association for Social Health Action” (ASHA), has worked extensively on the subject and has primed a complete project with essential technical expertise to organize it.
At the end of it, it has to be resolved as to which of these two choices suggested above or any other developed after an interaction with rural community, wildlife experts or interested voluntary organisations could be tried, for the sake of poverty stricken, highly indebted rural peasantry of India and for the sympathetic concern and apprehension for the blue bulls too. Suggestions of culling even by the wildlife experts or blank order to shoot down these overcrowded species in an extreme fretfulness would definitely be a very ill advised step. It would demonstrate helplessness and despair on the part of higher authorities and would lead to a large-scale butcher of species, which besides being quite inhuman, can’t be a permanent elucidation. As such, in the wider interests of rural community of India, first of all an attempt should be made to de-list the Blue Bulls from protection list of Schedule – III of “The Wildlife Act, 1972”. In the final stage, they should either be deported to their natural habitat or be sterilized to further reproduce and multiply itself.
By Dr. Ranjan Sharma