I now live in Pune and occupy the top floor of an apartment building adjoining the wooded grounds and hill slopes of a Defence Research Establishment laboratory. From my terrace I can see peacocks dancing, barking deer prancing and sounders of wild pigs wandering around the lab ground. The officers in the lab are rational people and have for decades been practising sustainable harvests of the prolifically breeding wild pigs, occasionally sharing their pork chops with me. This is what Sweden and Norway, globally at the top in Environmental Performance and Happiness indices do asserting that hunting is wise, long-term utilization of renewable resources to be practised in a properly regulated fashion.
While moose and reindeer abound in these countries, the freezers in many of their houses are full of venison. The hunting regulations are decentralized and decided upon by local stakeholders. Furthermore, wildlife can be legally killed in self-defence or defence of property.
Such an approach should replace our current regime of the Wildlife Protection Act (WLPA) that has brought the entire country under the stranglehold of the anti-people, anti-nature and anti-science Forest Department that has precipitated a humongous human-wildlife conflict.
H S Pabla, former Chief Wildlife Warden of Madhya Pradesh estimates that nearly a thousand people are killed by wild animals like elephants, tigers and sloth bears while tens of thousands are injured each year. Losses of crops and property at the hands of elephants, wild pigs, blackbuck, gaur etc. run into thousands of crores. This is probably an underestimate of the magnitude of the conflict since all of forest and wildlife related data are shrouded in a cloak of obfuscation.
The ban against hunting of the wild pig is the most irrational of all. The International Union for Conservation of Nature maintains careful data on the conservation status of most wild mammals. They categorize wild pig as being of least concern, and in fact, as increasing in many parts of the world such as forested regions of Europe and Canada where it has become a pest. Although no reliable data is available from India, farmers from all over the country report that it is on the increase and is a serious menace, not just in areas adjoining forests, but several hundred kilometres away from any forest area as in the case of Maann, a taluka with the lowest rainfall in Maharashtra.
Under WLPA, people are not free to defend themselves against marauding animals as even driving them out of their homes and crop fields needs official permission. Yet the Indian Penal Code, sections 100 and 103 sanction voluntarily causing of death or of any other harm to the wrong-doer if: (1) An assault by the wrong-doer may reasonably cause the apprehension that death or grievous hurt will be the consequence of such assault (2) If the offence involves the wrong-doer committing house or property trespass or robbery.
Wild pigs have on occasion killed people, they regularly trespass on farmers’ properties and rob him of his produce. Two friends of mine, a retired senior police officer and a retired High Court judge have told me that WLPA is clearly not valid constitutionally. Indeed, India is unique in enacting and enforcing such an irrational and unjust act; no other country bans all hunting outside National Parks, Wildlife Sanctuaries or Game Reserves.
So the way forward is clear, we must scrap this Act and work out a system of wise management of natural resources, including wild life by empowering the local stakeholders in the spirit of Kerala’s path-breaking People’s Planning Campaign of 1995–6.