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from The Boston Globe

    India pays bananas to get sentry monkeys By Julian West

Sunday 15 April, 2001

THE Indian government has put several large monkeys on its payroll in a last-ditch attempt to scare away thousands of smaller rhesus monkeys that have been attacking New Delhi's civil servants, sabotaging hotlines and stealing state secrets.

The fearsome-looking langur monkeys now patrol South Block, the magnificent red sandstone complex that houses the defence, external affairs and finance ministries - as well as the army headquarters and Delhi's main hospital - snarling menacingly at intruders. Each receives a salary of 600 rupees (£10) a month, paid in bananas.

Monkeys have plagued Delhi's government offices and private houses for several years, raiding fridges, snapping power lines and taking free bus rides. Recently, though, the problem has become almost uncontrollable and several million rhesus monkeys swarm over the capital. At least 10,000 have taken up residence in South Block.

The army chief and his officers, as well as senior civil servants at adjoining ministries, now sit in caged rooms after files containing top secret documents were found strewn in corridors and power cables to computers containing sensitive data were snapped.

Visiting ambassadors have been threatened by screeching primates swinging down from the trees. An army major was hospitalised for rabies injections after a female bit him, and staff at the foreign ministry contracted jaundice after a monkey drowned in the water tank.

Elsewhere in Delhi, monkeys have stolen whisky from alcohol vendors, power supplies have been disabled and, last year, a man died when monkeys dropped a flower pot on his head. Meanwhile, Delhi's transport authorities hired a monkey-catcher to rid their buses of monkey passengers, but the scheme had only limited success because the animals are so ferocious when captured.

Two years ago, the government held a high-level meeting to address the problem and various schemes, such as setting up a special park for captured monkeys or neutering the animals, were mooted and rejected. An earlier plan to trap the pests and ship them to neighbouring states, broke down after many states complained that they had enough trouble coping with their own monkey problems.

Exterminating the animals was not an option, because they are worshipped as incarnations of the monkey god, Hanuman. The traditional Indian way of coping with the problem - in which an apple is placed in a narrow-necked jar, which a monkey is clever enough to seize but not to let go of, thus finding its hand trapped - was clearly only viable for solitary intruders.

Eventually, the staff at President's House, Lutyens's splendid monument to the raj which adjoins South Block, devised the novel plan of using langur patrols after monkeys were found peering into President Narayan's private quarters and romping over his verandah.

The langurs, which are extremely ferocious and attack other monkeys on sight, make their rounds each morning before the civil servants arrive with their tempting tiffin-carriers, or lunch-boxes. However, as temporary employees, unlike the horses, dogs and mules employed by the government, they have not been given the customary Indian civil service numbers.

Unfortunately, though, South Block's cheeky monkeys have decamped to New Delhi's main post office. The city's residents, who are already accustomed to losing large quantities of their mail through pilfering, have resigned themselves to yet more monkey business.

© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2001.

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