Agra: Over a dozen reported cases of monkey attacks on unsuspecting tourists at Taj Mahal has created a scare and alarmed visitors. Though the security services have now woken up and are keeping a vigil, the sight of rampaging gangs of simians has become a major problem for the authorities in the Taj city.
The Archaeological Survey of India has put up hoardings and cut-outs to warn tourists to stay away from monkeys, as some tourists try to get friendly with the primates and pose for selfies. Officials said that they were trying to seek help from the Agra Municipal Corporation and some NGOs to round up the monkeys. But so far, no one has come forward with a solution. They say that the state Forest and Wildlife Departments are not supporting them or giving permission to catch the monkeys.
Locals have now demanded drastic action against violent and aggressive monkeys who have made life hell for people living in the old city areas.
Agra, these days, is living in the scare of bovine, canine, and simian menace. Even tourists have become victims. Two years ago, there was a hue and cry when a monkey snatched a new-born from the lap of a mother and killed the infant in Runukta village, 20 kms away.
The district authorities had then made a number of promises but nothing much happened. “The elected representatives have ignored the problem, but the condition is appalling as citizens live in constant fear of attacks from the monkey. Thousands of violent monkeys live in this area along the river Yamuna, as the faithfuls regularly feed them bananas and bread,” the local MLA, Purushottam Khandelwal, expressed his helplessness.
Mukesh Jain, trustee of a local NGO Satya Mev Jayate, said: “We have been regularly approaching the authorities with our suggestions and even an offer to help financially, but for some strange reasons, the administration has been dragging its feet. Twice efforts have been made to shift some monkeys to forest areas, but the green activists have stalled the process of transfer.”
The situation is grave. Estimates of the simian population vary from 20,000 to nearly a lakh. “Their population is more in the old city areas where terraces are contiguous. People are no longer able to enjoy terrace facilities as the monkeys have been regularly attacking women and children, in particular,” Vijay Nagar colony resident Sudhir Gupta said.
The whole of Braj Mandal, from Mathura, Vrindavan to Goverdhan and Bateshwar in Agra is living under threat from simians who now resort to all kinds of tricks to snatch food or attack women and children. Their population has gone up phenomenally. During the pandemic lockdown, they became more violent as food supply was snapped.
Dwindling forest cover
Green activist Dr. Devashish Bhattacharya said: “The dwindling forest cover, and fewer fruit-bearing trees being planted has compounded the problem. The need is to develop forests and plant more fruit-bearing trees rather than ornamental ones. The monkeys too are a part of the ecological system, they too have some rights. Let us provide for them instead of cursing them.”
Tourist guides are now warning visitors in advance to remain alert against monkeys. Last year a video went viral of a group of monkeys snatching a water bottle from a foreigner. A tourist, guide Ved Gautam said: “We always warn our clients of sudden bovine, canine or simian attacks in and around monuments in Agra.”
For some time now, tourists have been avoiding lonely romantic walks along the pathways which are lined up with dense green foliage.
The Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) personnel keep an eye on the monkeys. Two years ago catapults were used to shoo away the monkeys but after a furore by animal rights activists, catapults and sling shots disappeared. The CISF personnel and the staffers of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), are at their wit’s end trying to cope with the simian nuisance. “Cats, dogs, monkeys, bees, are proving to be big safety menace in the Taj premises,” said a local tourist guide.
Frequent attempts are made to contain the simian menace in Agra, Mathura and Vrindavan visited by thousands of tourists and pilgrims daily. A Former Divisional Commissioner engaged an NGO, Wildlife SOS, to round up 10,000 monkeys, but the plan did not materialise due to lack of permission from appropriate authorities. But now the situation is really alarming. Monkeys are seen in armies marching from one area to the other. The city has more than 50,000 monkeys.
Due to provisions of the Wildlife Act, monkeys can not be attacked or rounded up without adequate safeguards and precautions. Plans to shift the monkeys to other areas have failed, as no district wants to shelter them.
Indeed, the state faces the biggest threat to peace in the form of exploding simian population in Agra and neighbouring religious shrines in Mathura district and Vrindavan. Pilgrims are almost daily attacked in Vrindavan. Usually, monkeys target spectacles or purses which are returned only when some eatables or cold drinks are offered to the monkeys.
Civic authorities seem helpless in tackling the menace. “We have written so many times to the Municipal Corporation but there has been no action,” an ASI official said.
Agra Development Foundation Secretary, K.C. Jain has petitioned the Allahabad High Court, which has asked for detailed plans to contain the simian menace in Agra.
Jain requested everyone to plant fruit bearing trees this monsoon season. Jain said: “On one hand there is large scale deforestation, on the other hand, trees that are being planted are basically ornamental and can not support monkeys. The whole Agra region is infested with Vilayati Babool, Julie flora, with thorns. We have demanded government agencies clear these trees and plant fruit bearing trees to attract the simian population.”