HYDERABAD: Hyderabad's Murgi Chowk is India's largest illegal wildlife market that stocks over 20,000 birds and animals at any given time. Name a bird, the 140-odd shopkeepers on this street, nestled few metres away from the historic Charminar, make it available in a matter of few hours. Mahesh Agarwal, an animal activist, who has been crusading against cruelty to animals for nearly a decade says that so far neither the state government, police nor the forest department have initiated any action against the shopkeepers despite being aware that wild birds and animals are being sold openly here.
Agarwal who is the general secretary of Sahayog Organisation says that birds and animals from various parts of the world are caged in unhygienic conditions in the market. Reeling out names such as the wild hare, sparrows, macaws, civet cats, monitor lizards, owls, hard shell tortoises and snakes among a host of others that the traders sell here, the activist says that birds are sold in bags much like grocery, when as per the Wildlife Protection Act, one cannot even touch them. Having observed the decades-old market closely, he reveals that wild birds are supplied from this market all over AP and also from neighbouring states. One-and-a-half month ago, 200 parrots were transported to Bhongir (Nalgonda district) from here, he adds.
He says that by choosing parrots as pets, people are committing a punishable offence under the Act. It warrants a three-month imprisonment, fine of Rs 25,000 or both. Agarwal, who fought with the city police in his bid to supply grains to the hungry pigeons at the Mecca Masjid when a curfew was imposed after communal clashes in March 2010, insists that India has some of the best animal protection laws in the world. The main reason for the persisting cruelty according to him is lack of awareness and non-implementation of the laws that are already in place.
Pointing out the non-local kabutar among the thousands settled on the minarets of the Mecca Masjid, he maintains that the centuries-old mosque happens to be the only place in the city where pigeons can be found in such numbers. However, he adds that compared to about five years ago, the numbers have dwindled to half. "There are 35,000-40,000 pigeons in the mosque now. Around 8 sacks of grains are their daily feed brought by people from all communities," says Agarwal attributing the massive decline in the numbers to cell phone towers and the kite festival.
Agarwal's organisation has rescued 1,000 snakes in the last six years alone, a chunk of them during Nag Panchami. He himself has suffered snake bites four times during the rescue. "This is a religious belt and it is considered auspicious to feed milk to the snake on Nag Panchami," he says, adding how thousands of reptiles go through a horrifying period during this time. They are defanged, their poison glands are removed and their mouths stitched from the sides by the mafia that captures the reptiles about a month ahead of the festival.
After the festival, they are killed as their skin fetches money. Furthermore, every gram of venom is sold for a whopping Rs 20,000. This way, the snake population has reduced drastically over the years. "Due to this, the rat menace is not under control. Animals are becoming easy prey for human greed. They are soft targets for any one trying to make a quick buck. People need to be aware of the place of animals in our lives and the need to give them due respect," he says. If the state government takes some stringent measures, these casualties can be reduced, he signs off.