Tourists visiting the Taj Mahal will now be under safety cover of catapults to scare rampaging monkeys who have been injuring visitors at an alarming frequency.
A group of Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) troopers are now seen with catapults and not licensed arms for use against terrorists and anti-social elements.
The biggest threat to the security of tourists comes from monkeys and there are hundreds of them waiting to pounce upon unsuspecting visitors, tourist guide Ved Gautam told IANS.
Almost daily a monkey bite case is being reported. Last month, the number of victims was 16. The Archaeological Society of India (ASI) has put up notice boards at several places warning tourists of monkeys.
At 15 points, CISF personnel armed with catapults are ready to take slingshots at the simians who have turned ferocious.
"When they see a catapult aimed against them, the monkeys flee full speed for safety," a trooper said.
CISF Commandant Braj Bhushan Singh said his men had been given catapults to scare away the monkeys and make tourists feel safe inside the Taj Mahal premises.
A number of plans have been drawn up by various government agencies including the Agra Municipal Corporation after a monkey snatched a baby from a mother's lap and killed it some two months ago.
Catapults made of plastic and rubber were selling Rs 10 a piece but are now the price has gone up to Rs 20 due to increasing demand all over the city.
Vegetable vendors, temple security staff, shopkeepers and domestic servants are buying catapults.
According to a rough estimate, the number of monkeys in the Agra city area is around 50,000.
"Such a big population of simians can neither be provided for nor shifted as there are no forests left. Usually they return to urban areas even if they are transported to remote areas," said an animal husbandry expert.
"The problem was earlier confined to Mathura and Vrindavan, but now they are all over the Agra city," said Shravan Kumar Singh, a green activist.
Meanwhile, Naresh Kadyan, Chairman of the National Animal Welfare Party, has protested against the arming of CISF personnel with catapults. He has lodged a complaint with the union Environment and Forest Ministry citing provisions of the Wildlife Act.
(Brij Khandelwal can be contacted at email@example.com)
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