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New Delhi: Environment minister Prakash Javadekar was on Thursday accused of having a “lust for killing animals" by his cabinet colleague Maneka Gandhi after his ministry declared the common Rhesus monkey “vermin" in Himachal Pradesh to pave the way for their large-scale culling.

Gandhi’s outburst came after the Rhesus Macaque joined the wild boar in Uttarakhand and Nilgai in Bihar on a list of animals that the environment ministry has allowed to be culled.

Javadekar’s ministry issued a notification on 31 May declaring Rhesus Macaque monkeys “vermin" across most of Himachal Pradesh for one year. The notification allows the state government to take steps for the large-scale culling of monkeys without attracting penal provisions of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.

The move angered women and child development minister Gandhi. “The environment ministry is writing to every state asking them which animal they want to kill stating that they will grant permission. In West Bengal, they gave permission to kill elephants; in Himachal, they gave permission to kill monkeys; in Goa, they gave permission to kill peacocks," Gandhi told ANI news agency.

“I don’t understand what is this lust for killing animals? Environment ministry is responsible for it. It is for the first time such clearances are being given," said the minister, who is an animal rights advocate.

Javadekar defended his ministry, saying: “When state governments write to us about farmers suffering due to crop damage by animals, then such permissions are given. It is on the recommendation of state governments; also it’s an old law."

The inspector general for wildlife, S.K. Khanduri, too defended the ministry’s action, saying it has not given permission to kill deer, peacock or elephant. “Till date, five states have submitted the proposal. The ministry examines the proposal in detail and allows scientific management in a specific area for a limited time," he said, adding proposals from Maharashtra and Gujarat are being studied.

The 31 May notification said, “The state of Himachal Pradesh has reported damage to life and property including large-scale destruction of agriculture by Rhesus Macaque monkeys in areas outside forests. The central government has considered it necessary to mitigate the damage to human life, crops and other properties of the state for ensuring conservation of wildlife in forests." Mint has seen a copy of the notification.

Monkeys are a protected species under Schedule II of the Wildlife (Protection) Act. But if any wild animal poses danger to human life or property (including standing crops), or is disabled or diseased beyond recovery, the law allows for its killing.

Using these provisions, any animal listed in Schedule I-IV can be put in Schedule V for a specific period, declared a vermin and killed. Schedule V incl-udes animals like the common crow, fruit bats, mice and rats.

Of the 12 districts of Himachal Pradesh, the notification declares monkeys “vermin" in 10—Chamba, Kangra, Una, Bilaspur, Shimla, Sirmour, Kullu, Hamirpur, Solan and Mandi.

The notification comes after repeated requests from the Himachal Pradesh authorities, who cited rising cases of monkeys destroying property, including crops and biting people.

In March, the green ministry had declared monkeys vermin only in Shimla. Mint reported in February that the ministry has categorized wild boars vermin in Uttarakhand for a year. In December, the nilgai and wild boar were declared vermin in Bihar for a year.

Meanwhile, transport minister Nitin Gadkari described nilgai as a nuisance to farmers. “Do you know these nilgai are such a nuisance to farmers and how much crop they damage? You can’t give them priority over human beings. Even on roads, animals are one of the causes of accidents," said Gadkari.

Wildlife activists supported Gandhi, saying there are plenty of other options available to authorities other than culling.

“Ecological balance cannot be restored through the barrel of a gun. Killing some wild animals does nothing towards helping farmers or anyone else because other animals simply come and take their place. Killing animals must never be considered a solution because it is not, but here, it’s the only so-called solution the government is offering, and it’s lazy, because real solutions take effort," said Poorva Joshipura, chief executive of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals India, an NGO working for the welfare of animals.

Jyotika Sood contributed to this story.

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