Bihar's nilgai nightmare: Farmers demand an end to crop depredation

The nilgai has become a thorn in the side of hundreds of thousand farmers in Bihar as no amount of preventive measures taken is working. Large tracts of land with ready-to-harvest produce are destroyed by herds of nilgai. Is killing the nilgai a solution to the problem?

Rahul JhaRahul Jha   3 March 2022 9:21 AM GMT

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Bihars nilgai nightmare: Farmers demand an end to crop depredationThe farmers in the state feel the problem has “gone out of hand". Photo: Gaon Connection

Sukhdev Sharma is at his wits end. The 57-year-old farmer who is a resident of Parsarma village in Bihar's Supaul district lives in constant dread that his crops will be destroyed by wandering herds of nilgai. The farmer told Gaon Connection that there were nearly 100 of the animals roaming around his panchayat that is located about 275 kilometres from the state capital, Patna.

"The nilgai spare nothing of our crops. We drive them away on one side and they turn up at the other," the exasperated farmer said. "How long can we sit in our fields protecting them," he asked.

Sukhdev's pain is shared by farmers across the state. Nilgais routinely damage their wheat, vegetables, moong dal or sugarcane crops. Nilgai (Boselaphus tragocamelus) is the largest Asian antelope and is often associated with crop depredation.

About 250 kms away from where Sukhdev lives the nilgai menace is as prevalent.

"I had planted tobacco in one bigha (an acre equals 5 bighas) of land that the nilgai did not allow to grow. I replaced it with wheat which they also destroyed," Abhishek Gupta from Warsi Ali panchayat, which falls in Nawada district, told Gaon Connection. He wished the government would take some measures to address the problem.

The matter of the nilgais has been taken up at various levels in Bihar from panchayats right up to Vidhan Sabha, and even the Parliament. The central government has given conditional permission to hunt the nilgai.

In January 2022, with the permission of the Department of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Bihar and the panchayati raj, permission was granted to authorities to capture nilgai with the help of the forest department. The process of neutering the animals has also begun in the state.

However, the farmers in the state feel the problem has "gone out of hand and some drastic measures have to be implemented to solve the nilgai problem".

According to Arun Kumar Jha who has served in the agriculture department in Bihar for more than 30 years, farmers have protested about nilgai menace several times. "The first time in 2007, farmers had staged a dharna under the Kisan Sangharsh Samiti. Then again in 2010, the Samiti's president Hardayal Kushwaha, filed a public interest litigation at the Patna High Court," Jha recounted.

Legal permission to hunt nilgai

In 2012, the High Court ordered that the nilgai could be hunted down in a limited way. But only after written permission from the district magistrate or a sub-divisional magistrate. And it was mandatory to cremate the carcass of the slain animal. In 2013, the nilgai was removed from the list of protected species.

And in 2015, the central government shifted the nilgai from Schedule 3 of the wildlife protection act to Schedule 5. The nilgai now fell into the category of animals that were detrimental to agricultural crops. In December of the same year, the central government granted permission to kill nilgais for a period of one year.

In June 2016, in the space of three days, nearly 250 nilgais were killed in Mokama Tal in Patna district. The then central minister Maneka Gandhi questioned the forest and environment ministry about it in parliament.

"Cultivation had become impossible in Mokama Tal," Vijay Singh, a farmer there, told Gaon Connection. "There were nearly 10,000 nilgais in the area and a team of shooters from Hyderabad were called in to tackle the animals," the 57-year-old continued. "It was then that 250 nilgai were shot down and thousands of others were chased into the forests. The farmers in the area were jubilant, but not for too long as the problem has come back," he said.

The Mokama Tal area is a fertile one and according to 46-year-old farmer Ajay Pathak, it can grow enough dal to feed all Bihar. But the farmer explained that the investment on growing dal was a lot more than growing wheat or paddy. And when nilgai herds destroyed entire tracts of standing groups, it was a terrible loss for the farmers.

"Farmers sit out all night to protect their ripening crops from nilgai. Neither the forest department nor the government has done anything to prevent them from destroying our crops. And neither has any farmer received any compensation for this," Pathak said.

Not just crop damage, encounters with the nilgai have also caused road accidents, especially in rural areas. "On October 5, 2021, my wife Kabootri Devi was travelling on a motorcycle towards Samastipur for medical treatment, when suddenly, a herd of nilgai crossed the road in front of them," recounted Ram Vilas Sah of Muradpur Village in Samastipur district. "My wife died and my daughter-in-law sustained serious injuries," the 68-year-old told Gaon Connection.

Farmers have protested about nilgai menace several times. Photo: By arrangement

Rising protests against nilgai

Vaishali district also saw farmer protests in December 2021 under the leadership of Prakash Kumar, district head of the Communist Party of India. The protests were held at Mahnar Bazar. This was followed by protests in other districts too where according to Prakash Kumar pulses and vegetables and fruits were destroyed by the nilgai.

"All the measures taken by the government to tackle the nilgai menace has proved to be ineffective," Lakshman Kumar Jha of the Jan Sanghars Samiti in the Kosi area of Bihar, told Gaon Connection. "The Samiti is in talks with other farmers and if the government does not pay heed to the problem, we are ready for a big protest," he said.

The rising number of nilgai is worrying farmers. In 2020-2021 hundreds of acres of rabi crops were destroyed by them in Muzaffarpur district. "Despite alerting the authorities several times about the problem, no concrete steps have been taken to solve the problem. We either sit out all night trying to scare the animals by beating drums or by lighting fires on the boundary of our lands," said Himanshu who has led several protests in the area.

Farmers are being forced to alter their crop cycles, not because of climate change but because of the nilgai. Some farmers have taken to cultivating low-risk crops while others are investing a lot of money in fencing their land. But not everyone is able to do that.

Last year (2021) Raju Mishra of Baghi panchayat in Supaul district had a disastrous time when vegetables and maize he had planted in about two acres of land were destroyed by the nilgai. "I have lost thousands of rupees because of this," Mishra lamented.

SK Karan, divisional forest officer, Muzaffarpur told Gaon Connection that the department was in the know of the problem and that measures would be taken soon. "When the government had sanctioned the killing of nilgais, in an incident at Bhagwanpur Thana in Vaishali district, a nilgai was buried alive in the presence of some state officials. The video went viral on social media and human rights activists protested after which things went into cold storage for a while," he explained. But now, with the fresh permission to tackle the nilgai menace, things would move forward, he said.

Read the story in Hindi.

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