Merritt Cliffton -- Animal People - October, November 1998
"You will be happy to know that I have finally gotten the animal welfare department, which is the first of its kind anywhere in the world," People For Animals founder Maneka Gandhi e-mailed to ANIMAL PEOPLE. "It is now a part of my ministry," Maneka said, as welfare minister for the government of India, "and I would like to make it into a full-fledged department."
A senior independent member of the Indian par1iament, representing her New Delhi district since 1989, Maneka is among the power brokers in the coalition government of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party. She may actually have more clout now than she did during two appointments as environment minister while a member of the Janata Dal party, from which she was ousted in 1996 for denouncing alleged corruption among fellow ministers.
To create an independent animal welfare department has been Maneka's first ambition since she entered politics, she told ANIMAL PEOPLE over lunch during the 1997 national conference of the Animal Welfare Board of India.
The Animal Welfare Board has advisory authority, a small budget, some deputized inspectors, and a constitutional mandate to prevent animal suffering, but it cannot actually make and enforce policy. The chief inspection powers pertaining to animals in India, as in the U.S., are split among departments with other mandates -- and often inherent conflicts of interest.
Maneka explained to ANIMAL PEOPLE that she would like to bring all of the animal-related inspection services together in one branch of government which would answer to no other, would vigorously implement the recommendations of the Animal Welfare Board, and would uphold the unique provision in Article 51-A of the Indian constitution that the people of India have a moral obligation to prevent animal suffering.
Whatever Maneka is up to, though, the timing for animals couldn't be better. Noting the success of the Animal Birth Control program pioneered 30 years ago by the Blue Cross of India in Chennai (Madras), and actively encouraging it through most of the years since, the Animal Welfare Board in December 1997 recommended that India should pursue achieving no-kill animal control nationwide by 2005. No-kill policies were already in effect in Chennai, Mumbai, Delhi, Jaipur, and several other major cities.
The recommendation was ratified by the government in power then -- but that government was toppled by the Bharatiya Janata coalition in March 1998.
MANEKA MAKES NEW WAVESManeka has announced draft regulations to ban the use of pound animals in biomedical research, and published a ban on certain uses of animals in entrainment. She has also banned the import of dolphins and sea lions for exhibit in India. She has banned cattle transport by train, hoping to end the export of cattle to slaughter in West Bengal. And then she has banned the transport of poultry and other birds by train, striking at the wild-caught bird traffic.
The draft regulations focus on a two-paragraph prohibition of pound seizure, which apply to an estimated 200 animal research laboratories.
Such is expected of Maneka, who won the shift of the animal welfare department from the agriculture ministry to the ministry for social justice and empowerment. The department attempts to implement the policies set by the Animal Welfare Board of India.
"According to our information," said Susi Wiesinger of Ahimsa (an animal rights organization in Mumbai), "she is also trying to get a separate ministry for animal welfare. It is very fortunate to have a minister for animal welfare who is actually a dedicated animal rights activist," Wiesinger added. "We all have big hopes, and do expect dramatic changes for the animals." Whether or not Maneka can get as much from the Bharatiya Janata government as she seeks, animal protection groups have high hopes.
The sources of this information are FDA; Wall Street Journal; and New England Journal of Medicine (3,4).
TIME Magazine, Oct-26-1998, Page 108 -- Submitted by Dilip Doshi, Rego Park, NY.