BHUBANESWAR: Snake charmers set loose scores of cobras on the Mahatma Gandhi Road near the state assembly on Sunday during a protest against the government, causing passers-by to maintain a safe distance.
Police moved in and directed the owners of the venomous snakes to put them inside their baskets as they are not allowed to display the reptiles in a public place.
A large number of snake charmers from Padmakesharipur village on the city's outskirts, who have been hit by a government decision that serpents cannot be kept confined in private custody, staged the protest to demand that the ban on public shows be lifted.
"The forest personnel have been taking away snakes from charmers and releasing them in the wild or in Nandankanan Zoo, which has badly hit the livelihood of about 10,000 snake charmers in the state," said Chitta Das, president of the 'Sapua Kela Sangh' or association of snake charmers.
A police contingent watched from a distance as the charmers opened their baskets and allowed the snakes to slither out, their hoods swaying from side to side.
Das claimed that three snake charmers had taken to begging in the Dumduma area of the state capital after being deprived of a livelihood.
He alleged that they were beaten up as people suspected them to be child-lifters.
Police, wildlife personnel and activists of People For Animals had snatched away snakes from at least 10 snake charmers in the past two months, said Mahendra Parida, convenor of Lok Adhikar Manch, an NGO supporting the snake charmers.
If the government decides to enforce a ban on public shows by snake charmers, it should provide jobs to one person from affected families besides providing an acre of agricultural land, Das said.
The government should lift the restriction on catching snakes and displaying them in public till alternative vocations for the charmers were identified, he demanded.
The forest department should provide licences to charmers and publish a list of snakes that could be caught.
The snake charmers should be given licences to extract poison from venomous snakes and the government should set up a "snake park" in Padmakesharipur, they demanded.