New Delhi: The population of vultures in the country has declined sharply from four crore to less than four lakh in three decades, Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar said on Monday.
Addressing the curtain raiser event for the upcoming 13th Conference of Parties (COP 13) of the United Nation Convention on Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), to be hosted by India next week, he revealed that veterinary drug 'diclofenac', used to treat cattle, lead to death of vultures after they consume the dead animals.
"The conference will discuss the issue of decline in vulture population. In India, vultures died after consuming dead cattle, which were given 'diclofenac' drug, and their population reduced from four crore to less than four lakh. We are taking efforts to revive the population," Javadekar said.
Elaborating on the measures, Soumitra Dasgupta, the Inspector General Forests (Wildlife), Ministry of Environment, said the drug has been banned and the vulture population is now reviving.
Reacting sharply to the ministry's claims, an environmental expert said the drug was yet to be banned, while another one said the effectiveness of the enforcement has been patchy.
"It is true that this drug 'diclofenac' is the main cause of vulture deaths but it has not been banned yet. The drug has only been banned in Tamil Nadu but not across the country. It is a cause of concern," said environmental activist and advocate Gaurav Bansal.
Another environmentalist Dipankar Ghosh from World Wide Fund (WWF), an international organisation for wildlife, said despite a ban it was being openly used.
"Vulture population in India and other parts of south Asia has declined primarily due to diclofenac poisoning. The government has banned selling the chemical for veterinary use but still some people use it in high doses for cattle. This needs to stop. The drug is meant for human beings.
"Vulture breeding sites and their feeding grounds need to be secured," Ghosh said.
A biologist said India as a society has to respect the rule of law for efforts to succeed.
"Diclofenac is the main reason behind massive and rapid decline in population of vultures in India. Even though the drug has been banned, effectiveness of the enforcement has been patchy. In general, India as a society has to respect the rule of law for such efforts to succeed," Bengaluru-based conservation biologist Ravi Chellam said.
During the press conference here, the minister termed COP 13, to be held from February 15-22 in Gujarat, a significant step towards conservation of wildlife. The COP 13 will be inaugurated on February 17 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi through video conference.
"Representatives from 130 countries, eminent conservationists and international NGOs working in the field of wildlife conservation will be attending the COP," Javadekar said.
He said the conference will address issues that have risen due to climate change and air pollution and also discuss scientific methodologies to be used to tackle the problems.
The CMS COP-13, which has over 130 countries as participants, is a global platform for the conservation and sustainable use of migratory animals and their habitats and brings together the states through which migratory species pass.
So far, 12 COPs (conference of parties) have been convened. The CMS COP 13 is an environmental treaty under the aegis of United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is going to be held at Gandhinagar in Gujarat. As the host, India shall be designated the president for the next three years.