Maneka makes waves as animal welfare minister
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 1998:
NEW DELHI––Contrary to Press
Trust of India and New Zealand Press
Association reports of October 7, Indian minister
for social justice and empowerment
Maneka Gandhi did not ban animal experiments
in India effective on October 8––but she
did announce draft regulations to ban the use
of pound animals in biomedical research, and
on October 11 published a ban on certain uses
of animals in entertainment.
By October 31, Maneka had also
banned the import of dolphins and sea lions for
exhibition in India, after two bottlenose dolphins
brought from Bulgaria died suddenly at
the newly opened Dolphin City oceanarium,
India’s first, near Chennai; banned cattle
transport by train, hoping to end the export of
cattle to slaughter in West Bengal; and banned
the transport of poultry and other birds by
train, striking at the wild-caught bird traffic.
The major markets in India for wildcaught
birds are among the urban Hindu,
Islamic, Buddhist, and Jain devout, who buy
and release caged wild birds as an intended
symbolic kindness. Few of the birds, however,
survive the capture and transport, and
fewer still return to their native habitat.
Maneka’s crackdown on animal use
in entertainment was her latest of many
attempts to enforce the intent of a 1980 ban on
animal street shows. In 1990, as minister for
environment and forests, Maneka unsuccessfully
ordered that some 250 bears, 2,000 monkeys,
1,000 mongooses, and 10,000 snakes
should be confiscated from street shows, for
rehabilitation and return to the wild.
Ousted from that position, and from
membership in the Janata Dal party, after she
forcefully denounced corruption, Maneka next
sought enforcement through the courts.
“The ban Maneka announced on
October 8,” forbidding the exhibition and
training of bears, monkeys, tigers, panthers,
and lions, “is actually the final outcome, we
hope, of a lawsuit Maneka initiated in the
early 1990s,” said Blue Cross of India vice
chair S. Chinny Krishna.
But even with Maneka’s proclamation
pending, a judge ordered the Children’s
Park zoo in Chennai, to return a sloth bear to
trainer Raja Sab, of Bellary, Karnataka, from
whom two bears were seized last summer.
Perhaps the bear sensed change coming
in his favor: he reportedly refused to go
with Sab, who eventually left without him.
The other bear is still at the Vandalur
Zoo in Chennai.
The World Society for Animal
Protection estimated in 1997 that about 100
sloth bears cubs are illegally taken from the
wild each year to be trained to dance.
Maneka’s ban drew further impetus
from the 1997 rescue by the Mumbai activist
group Ahimsa of six blind lionesses from the
Great Golden Circus.
“Upon examining them,” Ahimsa
general secretary Satnam Ahuja told Times of
India reporter Lina Choudhury, “we deduced
that the metal spikes routinely used to train the
animals had hit them on the eyes.”
Krishna, an electrical engineer, was
among the two representatives of the humane
community named to a federal scientific panel
which is to review the proposed pound seizure
ban. Meeting for the first time on November
3, the panel is to report to the government
with recommendations by December 3.
The other humane representative on
the scientific panel was to be appointed by
Maneka from within the Welfare Ministry.
Also on the panel are to be the director
of the All India Institute of Medical
Sciences; the chief advisor for the Department
of Biotechnology; India Veterinary Research
Institute director Izat Nagar; S.C. Pathak of
the Department of Surgery and Radiology at
the Assam Agricultural University; and
Central Drug Research Institute consultant
The draft regulations focus on a twoparagraph
prohibition of pound seizure, which
would apply to an estimated 200 animal
Krishna said that as proposed, “It is
the same act that we have tried to get the
Madras municipal corporation to accept for the
last 25 years. The Madras pound was and is
handing over many dogs every day to government
laboratories. I gave a copy of this draft
regulation to the corporation commission,”
Krishna added, “and we hope no more dogs
will be given from the end of this week.”
Maneka’s proposal had quick repercussions.
“Several chemical and drug manufacturing
firms here have stopped providing
free and subsidized medicines for animals,”
Ravi Jha of The Times of India reported from
Ahmendabad on November 3.
“Fundraising methods like selling
greeting cards are also getting a negative
response from the chemical corporate sectors,”
Jha continued, quoting Nandita Amin, chair
of the veterinary aid group V-Care.
“We support animal experimentation
for human care,” Amin said, pledging to
“conduct a survey among other animal welfare
organizations” which she hoped would repudiate
Maneka made headlines again on
October 5 by demanding that Delhi police
commissioner V.N. Singh arrest Delhi chief
wildlife warden H.C. Dhawan, whom she
accused of colluding with reptile traffickers.
The case began on September 26
when Kartik Satyanarayan of the animal welfare
organization Freindicos alerted the government
to the illegal possession of 10
pythons, three cobras, and six sand boas by a
family of snake charmers near the Kalkaji temple.
All 19 snakes were protected species.
Four persons were arrested, and the snakes
were seized. Magistrate Satyendra Kumar
ruled that the snakes should be returned to
their native habitat before October 10.
Maneka demanded of Dhawan that
the snakes be released to Freindicos, instead,
for veterinary treatment and rehabilitation.
Dhawan, however, had his staff take the
snakes to the Delhi Zoo “for a feed and a medical
examination,” he told The Times of India,
after which the snakes were released in Rajaji
National Park, near Dehradun.
“Dehradun is not the natural habitat
of these animals,” Maneka objected. “Their
natural habitat is the Jim Corbett Park.”
But the Rajaji and Jim Corbett parks
are both in the Himalayan foothills, north of
Delhi, and are only about 100 miles apart.
Maneka’s greater concern, she told
John Zubrzycki, New Delhi correspondent for
the South China Morning Post, was that the
snakes might not have been released at all.
“I do not believe Dhawan left them
in their natural habitat, as he claims he did,”
she declared. “He probably sold them back to
Dhawan produced a receipt for the
snakes, dated September 28, signed by Rajaji
range officer P.K. Tripathi.
Singh said he had no authority to act.
Reported Zubrzycki, “Ms. Gandhi,
who runs an animal hospital and a telephone
help line for sick cows, also accused Mr.
Dhawan of doing nothing after an American
Embassy cook was caught last August with an
endangered hog deer in an auto-rickshaw.”
Cows vs. dogs
Such is expected of Maneka, who
on September 8 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, “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.”
Krishna, active in animal welfare
since his family founded the Blue Cross of
India from their home in 1959, took note of
Maneka’s opposition. Although Maneka holds
a key position within the government formed
in March 1998 by the Hindu nationalist
Bharatiya Janata party, which might not be
able to maintain a parliamentary majority without
her, she is not a party member, and has
clashed often not only with animal use industries
but also with current Animal Welfare
Board of India chair Guman Mal Lodha.
Lodha, a conservative judge, was
among the speakers at the 34th annual meeting
of the Blue Cross of India on September 20.
“Lodha was under the impression
that the Blue Cross was primarily a dog-andcat
organization,” Krishna told A N I M A L
PEOPLE. “At the first meeting of the Animal
Welfare Board under Lodha, in August,
grants to Blue Cross organizations were
slashed. In my welcoming address I mentioned
that, asked Lodha to restore the grants,
and added that to us at the Blue Cross,” which
has chapters all over India, “a cat is a dog is a
cow. During his speech, Lodha thundered that
to Indians a cow is special, that India lives in
her villages, the cow must be given special
treatment, and finally that the last chair,
General Ashoke Chatterjee, had concentrated
on dogs, and he, Lodha, wished to concentrate
on pinjarapoles and gaushalas,” the traditional
Indian cow shelters, the first of which
were reputedly founded circa 3,000 years ago
by Lord Krishna.
“After the meeting,” S. Chinny
Krishna continued, “when Lodha walked
around our new center, he was quite surprised
to see more than 100 rescued cattle, and wanted
to know why we were not stressing the
work we do for cows and bulls.”
At the same event, General Chatterjee
announced the start of a Blue Cross animal
ambulance service in Chennai, largely funded
by the U.S.-based William and Charlotte Parks
Foundation, whom ANIMAL PEOPLE introduced
to the Blue Cross, and the Brooke
Hospital, a British horse protection charity.
The service will be used, in part, to rescue
cattle who have been injured by traffic.
While cattle are still the basis of the
rural Indian economy, in cities they tend to
become chiefly an animal control and humane
problem. As New York Times c o r r e s p o n d e n t
Barry Bearak reported from New Delhi on
October 21, “with little grass to graze on in
the paved cityscape, cows scavenge through
trash that is increasingly often packed into
polyethylene,” which cattle cannot digest.
New Delhi employs about 100 cow
catchers to round up as many of the estimated
40,000 cattle on the city streets as possible.
Many of those they capture are dying from the
effects of plastic packed into their intestines.
“We lose two or three cows a day,”
New Delhi g a u s h a l a veterinarian Vijay
Chaudry told Bearak.
Animal welfare activists, recycling
advocates, and devout Hindus are seeking a
ban on plastic bags, but are unlikely to succeed,
Bearak suggested. “In modern India,”
he wrote, “the utility of the garbage bag may
be beyond even the spirituality of the cow.”
Lodha took a more conciliatory
direction two weeks later in an interview with
Utpal Chatterjee of the Times of India, after a
visit to the Calcutta Zoo. He reportedly agreed
with local humane officials that the zoo is too
crowded, and praised Maneka for increasing
the Animal Welfare Board budget fivefold.
“We shall no longer be starved of
funds to ensure the prevention of cruelty to
animals,” Lodha said. He praised Maneka’s
allocation of money to support increased veterinary
services, including animal ambulance
programs like the one in Chennai.
“However,” Lodha cautioned,
“these projects are yet to be cleared by the
His favorite topic remained cows––
especially illegal exports of cows for slaughter.
“Such smuggling must be stopped,”
he said. “We are considering steps to stop the
interstate sale and movement of cattle,” as
Maneka announced just a few days later.
“Similarly,” Lodha continued, “we are soon
taking measures to close down 36,000 illegal
and unlicensed slaughterhouses.”
Whether or not Maneka can get as
much from the Bharatiya Janata government as
she seeks, animal protection groups have high
hopes. And the pressure for big changes,
soon, isn’t just coming from India.
On October 17, for instance, the
London-based Born Free Foundation demanded
an end to the annual Great Elephant March,
a tourism event held in Kerala state each
January since 1990. Born Free claimed that
each of the 103 elephants used in last year’s
march suffered ankle injuries from chains.
About 560 privately owned elephants
reside in Kerala, including 50 at the
Only Assam state, with about 1,000
privately owned elephants, claims more.
While the Kerala elephants chiefly participate
in public events, including to promote vegetarianism
and animal welfare, Assamese elephants
are mostly used to drag logs.