Maneka survives Indian gov’t fall
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 1999:
NEW DELHI––Despite the April
16 collapse of the coalition government of
India, of which she was part, animal advocate
Maneka Gandhi will remain minister of
state for social welfare and empowerment
until new national elections are held––in June
at earliest, but possibly not until September.
The uncertainty, as ANIMAL
PEOPLE went to press, had to do with
whether elections could be completed before
the summer monsoons.
Meanwhile, Maneka keeps the
supervisory authority over animal protection
that she has built into her office since she
joined the present cabinet in March 1998.
Maneka will not be able to launch
new policy initiatives while serving in the
caretaker regime––but she will be able to
continue following through on the many initiatives
she has already started.
Serving in the Indian parliament
since 1989, in a seemingly secure New Delhi
district, Maneka is expected to win re-election
handily, once elections are held.
Maneka is further expected to enjoy greater
authority if, as anticipated, the newly
deposed Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata
Party returns to power with a stronger coalition
but continues to need Maneka and other
leading non-aligned Members of Parliament
to maintain a majority.
The Congress Party, ruling India
for 51 years before 1998, is not considered
likely to make a comeback after failing to
assemble a coalition able to govern in the two
weeks after the BJP coalition collapsed.
Congress held just 140 of the 545 seats in the
Indian parliament, with no evident strong
allies. Only if Congress should by upset form
the next government would Maneka’s ministry
because tenuous: the chief officer of the
Congress Party is Sonia Gandhi, Maneka’s
Blue Cross of India secretary S.
Chinny Krishna warned ANIMAL PEOPLE
that the Indian political situation is still “very
volatile, and anything can happen.”
But he also highly praised
Maneka’s administration, and looked forward
to more. “In the 13 months Maneka has
been in office,” Krishna said, “the underprivileged,
especially children and the disabled,
as well as animals, have received
attention to a degree not seen before from the
government. With special reference to animal
welfare issues, the major advances were
in strengthening the rules governing animal
experimentation and forbidding pound
seizure, making classroom dissection option
al, and banning the use of several species of
wild animals in circuses. Though the funding
was still far from enough to address the need,
her financial support of animal shelters, animal
ambulances, and the Animal Birth
Control program was unprecedented. Her
ministry made 98 grants for these purposes
through March 1999, in amounts ranging from
$5,000 to $55,000.
“It will be a long time,” Krishna
predicted, “before we see another person with
the commitment and dynamism Maneka brings
to her office.”
Ironically, Maneka’s reputation for
incorruptibility and her often explicit denunciations
of corruption elsewhere without regard
to political consequence may have indirectly
influenced the break-up of the 1998-1999 BJP
coalition. The BJP was elected on the promise
that it would fight corruption. Maneka maintained
public expectation that it would keep
The BJP fell, Celia W. Dugger of
The New York Times explained, “when
Jayalitha Jayaram, a former actress who heads
a party from the state of Tamil Nadu, withdrew
the support of her party’s 18 menbers of
Parliament. Ostensibly, she quit over issues
of national security, but BJP officials said she
was angry because Prime Minister Atal Behiri
Vajpayee refused to dismiss the state government
of Tamil Nadu, which is aggressively
pursuing corruption charges against her.”
Maneka’s influence on BJP leadership
was perhaps most openly evident when
two feral cats engaged in apparent mating
behavior before live television cameras during
Parliamentary President K.R. Narayanan’s session-opening
address in late February.
On June 6, 1987, when two dogs
similarly upstaged the arrival of then-U.S.
President Ronald Reagan at the airport in
Wichita, Kansas, guards shot them.
Narayanan, however, allowed
Maneka’s organization People for Animals to
neuter the cats, along with 10 others who lived
in the Parliament building. The cats were then
returned to the building as official rat-catchers.
Throughout Maneka’s political
career, she has urged Indians to honor ethical
precepts embodied in their major religions.
As followers of the Jain religion
have the strongest tradition of caring for animals,
and also tend to be among the wealthiest
and best educated Indians, Maneka––a Hindu
––has often asked Jains to exemplify the
On December 29, 1998, in an
address to the Jain Fair in Chennai, the largest
city in Tamil Nadu and Jayalitha Jayaram’s
political stronghold, Maneka endorsed the
requests of Jain leaders that bans be imposed
on cattle slaughter and taking cattle to other
states where they might be slaughtered, and
that more be done to stop animal sacrifice.
In turn, Maneka asked Jains to set
an example by shunning the use of silk, fur,
leather, or shahtoosh garments, woven from
the hair of the highly endangered chiru antelope
of the high Himalayas, which can be
obtained only by killing the animal.
Maneka further asked the Jains to
cease using elephants and horses in ceremonial
processions, where they may become stressed,
injuring themselves and/or spectators.
The importance of Maneka’s
response went beyond her appeal to Indians to
expand their humane agenda, delivered at an
occasion of national note.
Also key to her popularity with the
Indian people was that while seconding calls
for stronger action against cruel common practices
of the poor, she asked the rich to do better
Agreeing with Hindus and Jains that
cow slaughter should be stopped, which in
India is practiced chiefly by Muslims, and further
agreeing with the Jains that the animal
sacrifices practiced by Hindu followers of the
goddess Kali should also be stopped, Maneka
avoided any appearance of showing favoritism
by challenging Jains, too, to abolish any of
their activities which might be cruel.
Maneka has often been accused of an
alleged lack of diplomacy by political foes,
especially those who have been fingered for
corruption or hypocrisy at the expense of animals,
women, children, or the poor, yet
blunt criticism could scarcely be delivered in a
more diplomatic and democratic manner.
Maneka’s remarks about shahtoosh
seemed to presage a series of wildlife law
enforcement actions hinting––perhaps––at
international cooperation to a rare degree.
The sequence actually began a year
earlier, with the December 1997 seizure of
130 shahtoosh shawls from dealer Barati
Ashok Assomull, 50, in South Kowloon,
China. This was the case that brought the
growing clandestine traffic in shahtoosh to
global note. The traffic appears to involve
trading shahtoosh fibres from Tibet for tiger
bone poached in India and Southeast Asia.
Assomull was convicted, finally, on
February 25, 1999, in part by forensic testimony
furnished by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service. Sentencing was deferred, however,
until March 18––an apparent opening for
Assomull to cooperate with law enforcement
in exchange for leniency.
On March 17, New Delhi police and
Indian wildlife agents seized 96 shahtoosh
shawls from one location and 13 each from
two others, arresting at least three people.
Chinese authorities subsequently
seized 298 chiru pelts and 2,000 rounds of
ammunition, arresting seven alleged poachers,
in a series of raids near the Hoh Xil Nature
Reserve in Qinghai province.
Wildlife law enforcement is not now
under Maneka’s ministry, but it was under her
purview in two terms as environment minister
for previous coalition governments, and as
minister for social welfare and empowerment
she continues to take an active interest in it.
This may explain why influential
people have had a conspicuously harder time
lately of evading prosecution for wildlife
offenses. Some have tried, however, including
BJP allies in the Telagu Desam Party.
The Indian Supreme Court on
January 18 ordered a Central Bureau of
Investigation probe of an October 13 dinner
for 500 TDP members held near the Papikonda
sanctuary in the Eastern Ghats hill district of
Andhra Pradesh. The menu reportedly included
more than 100 animals of five protected
species, hunted within the sanctuary under
direction of political activist K. Venkata
Satyanarayan. His guests included five
Andhra Pradesh state ministers and G.M.C.
Balyogi, speaker of the Lok Sabha, the lower
house of the Indian Parliament.
Investigation was delayed, private
petitioner P. Pullarao testified, by corrupt
sanctuary officials, “sustained efforts to
destroy evidence,” and intimidation of witnesses,
including one K. Venkateshwarlu,
who was reportedly beaten in his home, in
front of his wife, by local TDP leaders.
Hyderabad-region TDP district
leader and tax collector M. Balram, TDP district
leader M. Ramadas, and two associates
then allegedly served the meat from at least 62
ducks of three protected species at a March 21
luncheon for 1,000 people, including 27 other
TDP district leaders and three Congress Party
leaders. Charges were filed against them on
March 25. Balram finally surrendered to
police on April 20, after a month in hiding.
Other alleged wildlife lawbreakers
with clout who have recently been brought to
justice have included Uttar Pradesh legislator
Murad Lari, who reportedly confessed to
shooting two chital deer in the Sohagibarwa
Wildlife Sanctuary in November 1998; a cook
who was reportedly arrrested while preparing
four protected quail for members of the
Maharashtra legislature in December 1998;
four police officers in Srinivasapur, near
Bangalore, who allegedly shot and ate protected
bats at the station house in December 1998;
and New Delhi politician Romesha Sharma,
charged in October 1998 with illegally possessing
tiger, leopard, and chital pelts.
Earlier, former Congress Party
Member of Parliament R. Anbarasu, of
Chennai, was embarrassed when his son
Ashokan was arrested for injuring six
bystanders as he chased and repeatedly fired a
shotgun at a cobra. Another of Anbarasu’s
sons, Azhul, was arrested for illegally toting a
gun during the 1998 election campaign.
Conservationists were unsuccessful,
however, in trying to invoke wildlife protection
laws to stop the April 11 test launch of the
Agni-II intermediate range ballistic missile
from Wheeler Island, off the Orissa Coast.
Upon learning that the missile test site had
been built near the beaches where about 70%
of the world’s last million olive ridley sea turtles
nest, the Wildlife Institute of Orissa
sought an injunction against missile-launching
from the Orissa High Court. The Defence
Ministry argued in an April 9 affidavit that it
did not plan to test-fire missiles during the turtle
nesting season, previously defined by the
court as November to May.
Two days later the missile flew.
Demonstrating the Indian capability
of detonating nuclear weapons soon after taking
office in 1998, the BJP government soared
to peak popularity. With loss of the
Parliamentary majority looming, party leaders
may have rushed the missile test in hopes
another show of military strength could keep
them in office––or at least get them re-elected.
The Asian economic crisis, spreading
from Indonesia and Thailand, hindered
Maneka’s efforts on behalf of street dogs and
circus animals. Her approach to both issues
was to amend public policy to favor humane
alternatives, providing as much seed money to
develop the alternatives as possible, while––of
necessity––leaving most of the funding burden
to private charity.
Historically, because taxpayers
resist funding programs which do not serve
personal interests, leaving animal welfare
funding burden largely to charity is the only
approach which usually succeeds, in any
nation. But Maneka had bad luck.
“Charitable donations in general and
animal welfare work in particular are the first
casualties of a downturn in any economy,”
explained S. Chinny Krishna. “The Blue
Cross of India, while never getting much corporate
support, has certainly seen a reduction
in what little it gets from that sector. I do not
have figures from other organizations, but am
sure their experience would be the same.”
But the economic crunch helped
Maneka’s efforts to abolish classroom animal
dissection, in favor of computerized simulations
developed by the Blue Cross under
supervision of Krishna––an electrical engineer
who has opposed animal research since briefly
working in a U.S. research laboratory more
than 30 years ago.
The Blue Cross programs are among
the most advanced in the world. They are also
far less expensive to use than live animals.
The crux of the street dog issue is
that the public and politicians, as in much of
the U.S., have yet to understand that just capturing
and killing strays doesn’t solve dog
problems, and costs more in the long run than
an effective Animal Birth Control program, as
pioneered by the Blue Cross.
Several of the biggest cities in India
had already gone to no-kill animal control as
of December 1997, when the Animal Welfare
Board of India resolved that becoming a nokill
nation by 2005 should be a national goal.
Progress toward no-kill continues,
but the charities who neuter street dogs tend to
lack the means to fix as many dogs as is necessary
to achieve visible reduction of numbers,
and often must divert what resources they have
from neutering to fighting efforts to reinstate
It doesn’t help that hiring dogcatchers
is a time-honored way for politicans to create
Mumbai was the first major no-kill
city in India, halting dog electrocutions in
January 1994. Losing an attempt to restart the
electrocutions last December in the Bombay
High Court, the city government on February
10 appealed to the Indian Supreme Court.
In early April, meanwhile, the
Mumbai-based All-India Animal Welfare
Association opened infectious disease and
rabies isolation wards for both cats and dogs,
and announced plans for further construction
which will boost neutering capacity from 150
animals per month to circa 400 a month.
Other Mumbai humane societies
with active street dog neutering programs
include the Bombay SPCA and Ahimsa Inc.
Lucknow, the capital of Uttar
Pradesh, moved haphazardly toward no-kill in
1998, as local low-cost neutering clinics were
denounced to media by a group called Animals
Friends, which sold animal chastity belts.
Lucknow city veterinarian M.A.
Ansari told the Lucknow Times in late January
1999 that while the dog population appeared to
be increasing by 15% per year, no-kill had
already become defacto city policy by public
demand. According to the Lucknow Times,
Ansari said stray dogs “are either taken away
from the city limits or sterilized,” unless they
are irrecoverably ill or injured.
Maneka’s attempt to free 256 lions,
100 tigers, 22 sloth bears, 12 leopards, and
15 monkeys from traveling circuses actually
began with an enforcement order she issued in
1991 as environment minister for a previous
government, implementing aspects of the
Wildlife Act of 1972. Follow-up was delayed,
however, by lawsuits filed by the Circus
Federation of India. The Delhi High Court
finally upheld the order in December 1998.
Maneka intended all along that
wildlife freed from circuses should be placed
in retirement sanctuaries which would operate
somewhat like large natural habitat zoos, e.g.
the San Diego Wildlife Park and Northwest
Trek (near Seattle). Part of her concept was
that state-of-the-art zoological refuges should
replace overcrowded roadside menageries and
old-fashioned barred zoos which usually date
back to British rule––or earlier––and that upto-date
veterinary care should be introduced in
place of current haphazard practices which
eschew euthanasia even for the most aged and
debilitated beasts, but include giving monkeys
and chimpanzees a daily shot of brandy in cold
weather in lieu of providing them with adequately
heated facilities and enough blankets.
But while Maneka was out of the
government, neither the Animal Welfare
Board of India nor the Central Zoo Authority
pushed zoo expansion and improvement. Only
in October 1997 did the CZA announce intent
to close 66 substandard zoos.
Following the Delhi High Court verdict,
the CZA argued that member zoos had
no obligation to accept former circus animals.
Circus owners contended that since they could
not exhibit the animals to make money, they
had no obligation to feed them either.
Maneka gave the zoos and circuses
holding the ex-performing animals both a carrot
and a stick: $48,000 a month in Animal
Welfare Board money for care and feeding,
until permanent sanctuaries and private funding
can be arranged––or until another government
dismantles the program––and a warning
that “If even a single animal is found emaciated,
severe punishment will follow.”
Citing the lack of places to put confiscated
wildlife, law enforcement agencies
have remained reluctant to confiscate more
animals from allegedly illegal traveling shows.
A secondary concern is that confiscations
could appear discriminatory, and might exascerbate
ethnic tensions, since traveling animal
exhibitors tend to belong to distinct cultural
minorities: Sansperas snake-charmers,
Madarasi monkey-trainers, and Qualander
dancing bear masters. Compounding the political
risk, the Qualanders are also mostly
Muslim––members of India’s largest minority
group, who already are generally uneasy about
“As long as the owners of the animals
have licenses from the Forest
Department, they are allowed to perform,”
Bangalore SPCA president B.C. Ramakrishna
asserted in March––reportedly outraging both
People For Animals and the Bangalore organization
Compassion Unlimited Plus Action.
A hint of the complications that
could result from shutting down both substandard
zoos and traveling animal exhibits came
with the closure of a snake park in Mysore,
Karnataka state, and movement to close
another in Kannur, Kerala state.
The Mysore snake park was built
with public funding by the Karnataka
Exhibition Authority, a branch of the regional
government, with the hope of stimulating
tourism and creating jobs.
The Kannur snake park was established
in 1982 to generate funding for the nonprofit
Pappinissery Snake Bite Cure Centre,
begun nine years earlier. The facility is credited
with saving more than 11,000 human lives,
while failing to save 272 bite victims who
arrived too late for effective treatment. Both
the snake park and the bite cure center were
founded by former Member of Parliament
M.V. Raghavan, in memory of a close friend
who died from a snake bite.
Raghavan was later expelled from
leftist party he had represented and responded
by forming the Communist Marxist Party. He
charged that the closure order was politically
motivated––as was, he also claimed, a 1993
alleged arson at the snake park which killed 15
king cobras and most of the resident birds.
But there is evident progress on the
zoo front. In February, the Delhi Forest
Department in February won permission to
establish a proposed model habitat for bears,
chital deer, and blackbuck in the Rajokri forest
and the adjoining Asola Bhatti sanctuary of
South Delhi. The bears are to come from some
of the substandard zoos now being closed; the
blackbucks include 27 confiscated from illegal private keepers.
The blackbucks has been kept temporarily at the Delhi Zoo.
In early April, a three-day workshop at Lucknow brought together the directors of 25 zoos believed to be India’s best, to discuss coordinating plans to develop rescue centers and improve veterinary care in accord with Maneka’s strategy.