Outraged researchers oust Maneka Gandhi from Indian lab supervision

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2003:

NEW DELHI–“I am exhausted by this year,”
Maneka Gandhi e-mailed to ANIMAL PEOPLE on New
Year’s Eve. “I lost three jobs, two of my
oldest dogs, both 17, and all the elections in
my constituency. The only thing that I kept this
year was my temper, but I would be happy to lose
that as well! The only thing I gained was
Technically Mrs. Gandhi lost the first of
the three jobs in November 2001, when Prime
Minister of India A.P. Vajpayee reassigned her
from Minister of Culture to Minister of
Statistics, after she clashed with the Korean
ambassador over his allegedly eating dogs.

Despite the transfer, Mrs. Gandhi kept
her officially secondary yet more prominent post
as India’s first Minister for Animal Welfare
until July 2, when she was dropped from the
cabinet entirely as result of concerted
opposition from both the Indian biotech industry
and practitioners of animal sacrifice.
The bizarre alliance of some of the most
educated and least educated people in India
brought the practitioners of animal sacrifice
what they wanted, as Mrs. Gandhi was no longer
in a position to enforce the laws against
sacrifice. Her role as Minister for Animal
Welfare was passed to Environment Minister T.R.
Baalu of Chennai, however, who left Mrs. Gandhi
in place as chair of the Committee for the
Purpose of Control and Supervision of Experiments
on Animals.
The demotions delayed and perhaps killed
Mrs. Gandhi’s dream of opening a National
Institute of Animal Welfare on an eight-acre
campus in Faridabad, a Delhi suburb. The
institute was to have begun offering a four-year
degree program in fall 2002.
The demotions also crippled Mrs. Gandhi’s
effort to lead India into achieving the national
goal of no-kill animal control by 2005, ratified
in December 1997 by the former Congress Party
government. Without Mrs. Gandhi in office to
ensure the prompt distribution of federal
subsidies for street dog sterilization and
anti-rabies vaccination, municipal Animal Birth
Control programs all over India report nonreceipt
of promised grants, and are having to cut back
their work when other sources of funding cannot
be found.
But with only laboratory use of animals
left to supervise from a position of authority,
Mrs. Gandhi concentrated on that job–and the
biotech industry, sensing her vulnerability,
focused on trying to oust her.
Created by a 1964 act of the Indian
Parliament, the CPCSEA by 1966 had produced a
set of Rules for Animal Experiment-ation which
came into legal force on October 4, 1968–the
birthday of St. Francis of Assisi, remembers
Chinny Krishna, who 44 years ago was a cofounder
of the Blue Cross of India, is now vice chair of
the Animal Welfare Board of India, was son of
the late Captain V. Sundaram, who drafted the
act creating the CPCSEA, and is a prominent
scientist himself, having designed and built the
radio telescopes used by the Indian space program.
Unfortunately, Krishna told ANIMAL
PEOPLE, “Vested interests made sure that there
was no enforcement.” The first appointees to the
CPCSEA met just twice in four years. “During the
next 27 years,” Krishna said, “the CPCSEA was
ritually renominated by the Government of India,
with the chair being always the head of the
Indian Council of Medical Research, or an
equally senior official of the Ministry of
Health. It too met precisely twice. Not one
notice was issued to any lab for contravention of
the rules. Not one inspection was made,” even
though the Blue Cross of India often exposed
abuses that occurred within CPCSEA jurisdiction.
Nanditha Krishna, wife of Chinny
Krishna, in March 1978 authored a magazine
exposé of the suffering of monkeys trapped in
India and sold to foreign labs.
“Then-Prime Minister Mararji Desai acted
swiftly,” Chinny Krisha observed. “Within days,
the export of monkeys was banned. But precious
little happened with regard to the animals
suffering and ill-treated in Indian labs, which
included hundreds of monkeys.”
The Indian National Science Academy
separately produced a new set of research
guidelines in 1992. Still, laboratories
remained at liberty to do as they would until
1996, when then-Animal Welfare Board of India
chair A.K. Chatterjee, a retired army general,
managed to reconstitute the CPCSEA with Mrs.
Gandhi as chair and Chinny Krishna as a member,
outnumbered by four heads of government research

86% of labs flunked

Though the balance favored research, the
CPCSEA at last began to enforce the two sets of
long-neglected animal welfare standards. Of 467
laboratories visited by the CPCSEA, exactly
400–86%–failed to meet the basic animal housing
and care requirements.
“Many government departments refused to
comply, and some even approached the courts,”
Chinny Krishna continued, “but the Supreme Court
of India upheld the rules of the CPCSEA and
validated its guidelines regarding anti-snakebite
venom serum production,” an especially
controversial issue after the CPCSEA closed
several antivenin extraction facilities that kept
the horses used to produce the serum in seriously
negligent conditions, documented first-hand by
ANIMAL PEOPLE in December 2000.
“The institutes that were forced to
accept the guidelines began to appreciate them
when they saw the positive benefits to themselves
of maintaining their animals well and keeping
them healthy,” Chinny Krisha explained further.
“Thanks to Maneka, the
manufacture and use of the obsolete neural tissue
antirabies vaccine was replaced in many states by
the safer and more effective tissue culture
vaccine. However, newer vested interests
stepped in. With multinational companies seeing
the huge potential that India offers,
well-financed campaigns against Maneka began in

Dumped by coalition

First coming to power in 1998, the
ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party
initially needed the support of Mrs. Gandhi, an
independent Member of Parliament, to assemble a
ruling coalition.
Five years later, the BJP is politically
stronger than ever, and could afford to dump her.
Partly the BJP is strong because of the
votes of illiterates and fundamentalists, in a
nation where literacy barely exceeds 50%.
Also of importance, business and
industry tend to align themselves with whatever
party is in power. Since 1998 business and
industry have been drifting away from the
Congress Party, which ruled India for 49 of the
first 50 years after it obtained independence
from Britain.
The BJP gained significant political
currency among both the underclasses and the
privileged by developing nuclear weapons, not
only a potent symbol of military might but also a
symbol of interest in high technology to educated
Indians who have long been frustrated by
generations of governmental emphasis on low-tech
job creation for the masses.
Matters came to a head after a
three-member CPCSEA inspection team reported
after visiting the National Institute of
Immunology in New Delhi that the animals were
underfed, underweight, and that up to 90% of
the monkeys housed there had tuberculosis. The
CPCSEA team found extensive record-keeping
deficiencies, they said, and claimed that the
NII staff barred them from inspecting some parts
of the buildings. The CPCSEA recommended that
the NII authorization to do animal research be
The NII is a facility operated by the
federal Department of Biotechnology (DBT). The
DBT sent an inspection team from the Delhi
Science Forum on November 23. At a November 29
court hearing, the DBT team testified that the
NII monkeys were properly fed, and that only two
of the 207 monkeys were tubercular. They argued
that the CPCSEA had misread the veterinary chart
symbol meaning “tested” for the symbol meaning
“tested positive.”
“The CPCSEA found itself in many such
rows in the past, too,” recalled K.G.
Narendranath of the Times of India News Network,
“including when it forcibly seized lab monkeys
from the premises of the National Institute of
Nutrition in Pune in 2001. Leading
pharmaceutical companies, which have a decidedly
pro-research and development orientation,”
Narendranath acknowledged, “have flayed the
CPCSEA for its hostile approach toward the
scientific community. Faced with CPCSEA
interventions at all levels causing huge and
costly delays in research and development,”
Narendranath said, “these companies are being
forced to take all or part of their animal
research to foreign countries.”
Indian scientist M.V. Ramana, now at
Princeton University in the U.S., recalled
another prominent case “in August 1999, when
dozens of monkeys from the Hyderabad laboratory
of the National Institute of Nutrition were
released into the forest. The action held up
tests of alpha-interferon that were being carried
out on the monkeys by a private company, Shantha
Biotech. When the company appealed to the Andhra
Pradesh High Court, the court directed the
CPCSEA to not interfere with the tests, but the
damage was done.”
On December 14 Mrs. Gandhi e-mailed to
ANIMAL PEOPLE that she had just been removed from
the CPCSEA through an alliance of BJP politicians
and Marxists, who jointly decided that the
CPCSEA chair was an “office of profit,” which
cannot be held by an elected official.

Regrouping for battle

But Mrs. Gandhi found some reasons for cheer.
“The 68 Military Dairy Farms were selling
two-day-old calves to butchers,” she recounted.
“So I went on and on until yesterday the general
who is in charge said he had decided to shut all
of them. Life goes on, and fortunately I got 22
monkeys and seven beagles out of a bad lab just a
few days ago.”
Another important legacy of her work was
a November 12 ruling by the Delhi High Court that
makers of cosmetics and over-the-counter drugs
must indicate on the product packaging whether or
not they contain ingredients of animal origin.
The battle to preserve or dismantle the
CPCSEA itself is now well underway. The 90th
Indian Science Congress, held in Bangalore
during the first week of January, became a forum
for demands and denunciations by researchers who
claimed their work was delayed or prevented by
having to meet animal welfare standards.
“The CPCSEA is filled with activists who
have only one agenda–the antivivisectionist
agenda,” NII director Sandip K. Basu raged to
The Times of India.
Malaria vaccine researcher G.
Padmanabjhan told The Hindu that he was obliged
to import beagles to test his product. “We asked
for permission to use street dogs, since the
vaccine was meant for them, but the CPCSEA said
no,” Padmanabjhan insisted. He did not say who
was funding his purported recombinant DNA
research on an anti-malarial vaccine for street

Overseeing slaughter

“Scientists themselves are not averse to
good animal care, not in the least because poor
specimens might produce shoddy results,” wrote
M.V. Ramana for Outlook India. “But being
regulated by animal rights activists is akin to
having vegetarians or vegetarian crusaders
oversee slaughterhouses,” he continued–three
days after Uttar Pradesh, the most populous
state of India, strengthened a 1955 ban on cow
Twenty-seven of the 29 Indian states
forbid cow slaughter. Though they all permit
some slaughter of other animals, under
restrictions that often go unenforced,
vegetarian Hindu, Jain, or Buddhist supervision
of the Indian slaughter industry is not only
routine but implicit in some of the older
legislation, as an intended check-and-balance
against abuses by those who might kill and eat
cows, or mistreat any animal.
“Supervisory authorities should not have agendas
inimical to the activity being supervised,”
Ramana finished, arguing that the CPCSEA should
be “more responsive to the scientific community
itself” than to “animal rights activists.”
“Will things go back to square one?” speculated
Chinny Krishna. “Judging by the acceptance of
the labs of the need to clean up their act, and
more importantly, the distinct change in the
attitude of the press,” during Mrs. Gandhi’s
tenure, “things will not be allowed to go back,”
Krishna said.
“The CPCSEA is now under a senior administrator,”
Krishna concluded. “Since India has survived 55
years of independence only because of our
well-trained administrative service officers, it
is hoped that he will steer the CPCSEA in the
right direction.”

Print Friendly

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.