Anti-venom shortage: Irula society to get permission to catch snakes

With deaths due to snake bites touching an average of 58,000 in the country with 70 per cent of it in the North Indian states, the Tamil Nadu government is to allow the Irulas Snake Catchers Industrial Cooperative Society to catch 5,000 snakes annually. The society is the only authorised supplier of snake venom in the country.

For the past couple of years, the Tamil Nadu forest department was not allowing the Irulas, whose major revenue is from catching of snakes, to catch snakes till March leading to a heavy shortage of snakes and thereby snake venom.

The Tamil Nadu forest department issues an order in August every year to catch snakes and in 2020-21 and 2021-22, the order was released only in March middle. This led to the bottlenecks in sanctioning money after the end of the financial year as the bills are to be vetted by the state finance ministry.

R.R. Muthuswamy of the Irula’s Snake Catchers Industrial Cooperative Society while speaking to IANS said, “We get annual permission to catch snakes by August every year and this will end by March of that financial year leading to several bottlenecks in getting the bills cleared due to hindrance in the concerned departments.”

He, however, said that the society has got information about the government issuing the orders in the month of April itself so that the Irula’s can be engaged in snake catching through the year.

The society pays an Irula Rs 2,300 for catching Spectacled Cobra, Rs 850 for common krait, Rs 2,300 for Russels Viper and Rs 300 for saw scaled viper. Sources in the Tamil Nadu forest department informed IANS that the department is contemplating to increase the license of the society to catch more snakes than the present 5,000 as demand for snake venom is on a high.

The Madras High court had in a 1994 order allowed the Irula community to catch snakes for extracting venom, but the Tamil Nadu forest department has not allowed them to catch more than 5.000 snakes a year.

A senior official with the Tamil Nadu forest department while speaking to IANS said, “If the Irulas are not permitted to catch more snakes, there will be a huge gap between the demand for snake venom and the supply. The anti-venom manufacturing companies will then be forced to depend on other spurious suppliers which is illegal. The best way is to increase the permission from the annual 5,000 snakes to 10,000 snakes that would help overcome the shortage of venom and can even be sold to foreign countries, including Asia and Africa where there is a shortage of venom.”

The Irula community is a Scheduled Tribe community, who are nomads but based out of Villupuram, Virudachalam and Krishnagiri districts of Tamil Nadu with the main vocation being snake catching. They work in brick kilns for a living and the misery of the community and their poverty was depicted in the recent blockbuster Tamil movie, ‘Jai Bhim’.

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