New Delhi, June 19: Notwithstanding Prime Minister Narendra Modi's call for conservation and to project India's eco-sensitive stance, the government's call for culling of "vermin" animals has caused a blot on its image abroad, with over 1.5 million people asking 'what's wrong with the Indian government'.
"It is distressing to learn that protected animals are being killed and treated as vermin. When laws are disrespected it does damage to the image of any country as one is committed to the rule of law and to protection of species," Kathy Hessler, Clinical Professor of Law and Animal Law Clinic Director at Lewis and Clark Law School, said. The institute is one of the only centres in the world that teaches animal law.
About 100 NGOs under Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisation have urged Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar to stop unscientific and indiscriminate culling of wild species declared as 'vermin'.
The Indian government has admitted to culling Nilgai, an antelope species, wild boar, and monkeys (rhesus macaque) on the specific request of state governments after terming them "vermin". The debate has now reached the Supreme Court, which will hear a plea challenging three government notifications that declared these species as vermin.
Prime Minister Modi, addressing the 'Third Asian Ministerial Conference on Tiger Conservation' in April this year, had said that "conservation of nature should not be a drag on development and can happen in a mutually complementary manner".
Though India's own Wildlife Protection Act-1972 is considered one of the best and inspiring laws in the world, the reports of culling of 250 Nilgai in Bihar, and plans to kill other species, and the Union Environment Minister supporting the move, has shocked international institutes.
Hessler says the Indian government should seriously explore alternatives.
"We also recognize that human-animal conflicts cause real damage, but it needs to be prevented and managed better with the interests of all in mind," she added.
Javadekar has said there are laws that support culling. But experts disagree.
"Under section 62 of the Wildlife Protection Act, certain animals could be declared vermin. But it never says that killing is to be the first solution. In the case of Nilgai, it seems that the government is not interested in exploring other options, which are easy and require no killing," Nikunj Sharma of PETA said.
He adds that ever since the debate on culling has arisen, India's image abroad as a society that has always respected conservation and valued the environment has taken a beating.
"We have been receiving reactions from across the globe. There have been some 15 lakh reactions on our webpage alone. People are asking what is wrong with the Indian government," he said.
According to Hessler, India needs to educate its public about the value of animals and the need for peaceful mutual coexistence for better functioning of the ecosystem.
Stating that Nilgai and wild boar are part of protected species in India, she said that culling of these animals is proof that laws need to be strengthened.
Kartick Satyanarayan of Wildlife SOS, who is working with ecologists in Alaska on bear conservation, also says that the news of culling of Nilgai has hurt India's reputation.
"The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 is a visionary law. There are case studies on it. Students across the world come here to learn about conservation and people admire India for its pro-wildlife image. But the culling and consideration for more animals to be declared vermin has damaged our reputation," Kartick said.