Centre transfers issues on prevention of cruelty to animals to agriculture ministry, activists fume over the move

By Times Of India on 12 Apr 2019
NEW DELHI: In a move which may impact animal welfare issues, the Centre has transferred administrative control and matters concerning cow shelters, prevention of cruelty to animals and its governing law from environment ministry to agriculture ministry.

Though officials call it a matter of administrative convenience in the backdrop of the Centre’s recent move of constituting a permanent apex body on cows (National Commission for Cows) for overall welfare of cattle, the decision drew criticism from animal rights experts who saw it as a ploy to dilute the implementation of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act.

The move came into force on April 4 when the cabinet secretariat issued a notification in this regard by amending the ‘Allocation of Business Rules’ of the central government.

Accordingly, four matters - prevention of cruelty to animals; ‘Gaushalas and Gausadans’ (cow shelters); cattle trespass and the PCA Act, 1960 - got inserted in the list of businesses of department of animal husbandry, dairying and fisheries (DADF) of agriculture ministry after being omitted from the list of environment ministry.

Officials argued that it would be easier for the DADF to monitor and implement the related law more effectively as it has already been dealing with the livestock issues such as matters relating to cattle utilisation, livestock Census, loss of livestock due to natural calamities, importation and animal quarantine.

Experts and animal rights activists have, however, a different take on it. They see contradiction in such move, noting that the regulated (agriculture) ministry which is interested in increased production of meat, dairy and fish industry will now regulate itself.

“The move is the last nail in the coffin for the welfare of animals, especially animals raised for food. When the regulated controls the regulator, the regulations are not worth the paper they are printed on,” said N Jayasimha, managing director of the Humane Society International/India, a leading animal rights NGO.

Jayasimha, who previously served in the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI), said “We will move appropriate forum (court) to seek relief so that the animal agricultural industry does not get a free hand to abuse animals, environment, people, workers and most importantly the process of law.”

Another animal rights expert, Gauri Maulekhi, said, “This action is simply a result of opposition to malpractices within the DADF. It’s a classic case of regulatory capture by the industry and a fraud on the Constitution of India.”

Maulekhi, trustee of the Union minister Maneka Gandhi-led People for Animals (PFA), felt that the decision wiped out “checks and balances” which is needed for good governance. She said, “Animals used for meat, fish, eggs and dairy suffer in factory farms where they are treated as units of production rather than sentient beings.”

The PCA Act was originally administered by the agriculture ministry after being enacted in 1960. It was transferred to the environment ministry much later when the then government had felt that the law that regulates animal-agriculture should be kept at an arm’s length distance from the ministry whose sole purpose is to increase production.

“This also was a good administrative principle of having checks and balance within the system. Over the past few decades, animal agriculture has intensified and the focus has been to increase production of animals per animal unit which has inversely affected animal welfare. Earlier, the Animal Welfare Board exercised its authority to regulate these industries. These regulations were not easily acceptable to the DADF under the agriculture ministry. However, some checks existed,” said Jayasimha.