I hate press conferences. I always manage to talk myself into controversy. The problem is that I am always trying to think of better ways to do something. In my current job, it is ways to get rid of malnutrition by feeding our children better, or how to stop putting medical professionals into jail while stopping girl children from being killed in the womb. It’s difficult to survive a new idea. There are so many entrenched “experts” who will trash any new thought. It took me 9 years to stop dissection in schools – simply because biology teachers felt that their students needed to kill rats and frogs in order to become doctors. Now no one remembers the millions of animals that were killed.
Most politicians prefer to take a current system and then tweak it gradually. Unfortunately I don’t believe that a patient can have less or more of a medicine that doesn’t work, for it to work.
To come back to press conferences: after the questions of my ministry are over, and attempts have been made to make me say something political, there will be two inevitable questions – one from Kerala and one from Himachal Pradesh.
The Kerala reporter will ask about the “menace of stray dogs “and the Himachal reporter about “the menace of stray monkeys”.
This article is an attempt to set both issues at rest.
Let me start with the obvious: I did not give birth to either species! I did not multiply them or make them a problem! In fact I am part of the scientific solution. The fact is that neither of these states believe that they have a problem.
People don’t care about the number of dogs. They simply want dogs that will stay out of the way, not spread diseases including rabies and will not bite. The solution of sterilization is a tested method for all these problems. Make a sterilization centre in every district – as mandated many times over by the High Courts and the Supreme Court– sign an MOU with an NGO, which has been trained and recognized by the Animal Welfare Board, and pay them to sterilize the dogs over 5 years. When the male / female dogs are picked for sterilization they are also given anti-rabies injection that lasts for three years (the average life of a street dog is never more than 4 years) and if they have any other disease, like mange, they are kept by the NGO till they are disease free and then returned to the same area where they live out their lives harmlessly and happily. No sterilized dog ever bites. The only time a dog bites is when the female is on heat and the male is driven insensate with lust. He will fight with other males, cross boundaries into other territories and in the process some human will get bitten.
The second reason is when the female has had babies and she is so frightened that they will be killed (as 90% are in the first two weeks, by cars, vicious humans who think nothing of stoning little puppies, starvation and cold) that she guards them strenuously and bites anyone who comes near them.
The third reason is something that is easily preventable by adjusting human behaviour. If you constantly abuse / hit a dog, he will lose his innate trust in human goodness and then he will bite someone whom he thinks is going to be mean to him – because meanness is all that he has ever seen. Once a dog is sterilized and returned to his / her own place he will NOT bite as he has no sexual desire left, she will not bite because she will have no children – and if you are nice to them or ignore them, they will not bite the residents of the area as they know their habits intimately. Kerala kills all its dogs all the time. Happy healthy creatures who would make excellent pets and guard dogs, are made into “menaces” by politicians and newspapers for no reason.
The panchayats lap up this regular hate mongering because, according to the law, they get Rs.75 for each dog they kill, so any panchayat leader who is dipping his hands into the till kills fifty dogs, and then claims he has killed 500. The Chief Minister, who is a good human being, has repeatedly given money to start sterilization centres. At the moment three Kerala districts are running them well – and you never hear of “dog menace” in them. The entire state of Kerala has fewer dogs than Delhi – and yet the hype by the papers carries on. If they would just relax for two years and let the experts do their work, everyone would breathe easier. By the way, government spends 700 crores per month to remove polio. The Environment Ministry spends less than 50 lakhs a year on removing rabies. If the programme could be taken up by the Health Ministry – which Haryana has taken up on an experimental basis - and 100 crores spent yearly, we would have a good healthy small, population of dogs within 10 years. It has taken 20 years for polio – I guarantee half that time.
Now for the monkeys and Himachal Pradesh. Veterinary doctors who should have their licences taken away combined their brains with those of forest officers and decided that the only way to get rid of the “monkey menace” in Himachal was to sterilize the monkeys as well.
Unfortunately, this is the worst possible decision. Dogs are more or less solitary. Monkeys live, like humans, in large extended families. If you trap a single monkey, then two things happen: the family rushes away from their own territory/area. They get very angry with humans. So they enter areas that they are unfamiliar with, because now they are too scared to go back to an area where their relative was trapped. Now they enter people’s homes and fields in search of new larders and in the process hurt humans and themselves and destroy crops. The single monkey that has been captured usually breaks a limb during this hideous capturing process (Himachal pays Rs.500 to anyone who captures a monkey) and is sterilized while in terrible pain. He / she usually dies (the mortality of Himachal’s monkeys by the so called vets is unbelievably high). If he/she survives, it is left at the place where it was picked up. But by then the family has disappeared and the troupe replacing them will not accept this poor animal. So, to survive, he enters human homes and becomes predatory. Sterilization in monkeys has resulted in the opposite of what happens in dogs. It has no impact at all on the population of monkeys: that is in any case reducing drastically because of poisoning, shooting and other illegal ways: from 85 lakhs in the 80s they are now a mere 5 lakhs in the whole of India. The difference is that they are sharing space with humans.
Why do we have this problem in Himachal and Uttarakhand? Because the Government of India pays money every year to the state forest departments to set fire to the edges of forests. The logic is that if trenches are dug and the leaves in them set on fire then the forest will not catch fire during the dry season. But the forest ranger sees this as bonus money. He doesn’t dig trenches, he doesn’t map vulnerable forest ranges. He simply cuts a large number of trees illegally and then sets fire to the forest to hide his criminal activity. The fire eats the underbrush, the new trees, berries, vines, soft grasses, new shoots which are the food of wild boar, monkeys, deer, nilgai and other grass eaters every January/February – and so the hungry animals come out. I have urged time and again that if this nonsense is stopped the monkeys will retreat from human habitations almost immediately.
Secondly, we must start planting Indian fruit and berry trees in the middle of forests so that animals remain there. But the forest department refuses to stop the firelines as it will stop the large amount of “pocket money” that the centre gives to each forest ranger. If Himachal and Kerala would only listen, we could create a more real set of “menaces” that could occupy press conferences – paedophiles, children molesters, kidnappers, wife beaters etc!