New Animal Welfare Board chair hopes to eradicate rabies from India

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 2006:

CHENNAI–Major General R.M. Kharb, named chair of the Animal
Welfare Board of India on May 9, 2006, took office in June with a
pledge to “eradicate rabies from India by mass vaccination of stray
dogs, and further strengthen Animal Birth Control by encouraging
rehabilitation and adoption of stray dogs.”
Adoption has long been seen as unlikely in India, due to of
the abundance of street dogs, but “In the past two years, over 2,000
people have adopted homeless dogs from our center,” Pet Animals
Welfare Society president R.T. Sharma, of Delhi, recently told
Prashant K. Nanda of the Indo Asian News Service. “Besides Delhi,”
Sharma said, “the trend is prevalent in the Gurgaon and Noida
To accomplish rabies eradication, Kharb and new vice chair
V.N. Appaji Rao outlined plans to increase the number of animal
welfare organizations supported by the Animal Welfare Board from the
present 2,200 to more than 10,000.

Kharb, a veterinarian who served for 38 years in the Indian
Army Remount & Veterinary Corps, told The Hindu that India needs
more ABC programs, more anti-cruelty societies, and more cattle
rescue groups, calling for “institutional synergy” in partnership
with the Veterinary Council of India, state governments, veterinary
colleges, charities, and private foundations.
Funding programs to help all domestic species, the animal
Welfare Board has often been split between “cow people” and “dog
people,” competing for funding priority. Yet to be seen is whether
Kharb and Rao, also a veterinarian of more than 30 years’
experience, can attract the resources needed to adequately support
both the “cow” and “dog” factions, let alone to extend the Animal
Welfare Board reach fivefold.
The Asia for Animals conference, coming to Chennai in
January 2007, offers the Animal Welfare Board an unprecedented
chance to show the humane universe what India has accomplished since
the duty of every citizen to prevent animal suffering was enshrined
in the Indian constitution in 1960.
“Rao said that the incidence of rabies in Chennai had come
down significantly owing to the partnership between the city
government and organizations such as the Blue Cross of India and the
People for Animals,” reported The Hindu. “Birth control and
successful solid waste management,” reducing the food available to
street dogs, “contributed to the success of the drive.”
Chennai health commissioner K. Manivan affirmed that after
Chennai quit killing street dogs, shifting to the ABC approach,
rabies cases in the city fell from 120 in 1996 to just five in 2005.
Kharb and Rao took office amid resurgent efforts in many
parts of India to reinstitute animal control dog killing, legally
abolished by recommendation of the Animal Welfare Board in December
Though the federal policy against killing street dogs is not
always observed, it has been upheld by the Supreme Court of India.
On March 3, 2006, however, one week after dogs killed a
80-year-old woman in an unwitnessed attack in the Korani suburb of
Thiruvananthapuram, the High Court of Kerala affirmed that dogs may
be killed to protect human health and safety.
Thiruvananthapuram resumed killing dogs, but in early June 2006 was
ordered to stop by the national Secretary for Urban Affairs,
infuriating city councillors and the Federation of Residents
Associations of Thiruvananthapuram.
“The councillors came down heavily on People for Animals,”
the national animal welfare charity that runs many Animal Birth
Control programs, The Hindu reported. “Poojappura councilor K.
Maheswaran Nair urged the government to inquire into the functioning
of the PfA. Chakka councillor S. Ratheendran alleged that vehicles
purchased by the PfA with government funds were used for other
purposes. Communist Party of India leader M. Sujanapriyan called for
legal action against individuals and organisations trying to stop the
killing of rabid stray dogs. Deputy Mayor V. Jayaprakash highlighted
the need to explore legal options to override opposition [to killing
dogs],” but also spoke in favor of strengthening the local Animal
Birth Control program.
World Zoonosis Day, July 6, little noted elsewhere, was
widely observed in India this year. Many of the celebrations
featured hue-and-cry against street dogs, especially in Andhra
Pradesh, where according to The Hindu, “Officials of the Health
Department are in a dilemma over implementing a recent government
order to destroy all stray dogs in the state to end the menace of
The Blue Cross of Hyderabad operates a major ABC program,
but a city-run “ABC” program has at times allegedly been used as a
cover for killing dogs.
Just north of Hyderabad, in Kapra, a suburb of
Secundarabad, scandal erupted in December 2005 when newly hired dog
catchers allegedly poisoned puppies in the streets. In Eluru,
Andhra Pradesh, mayor Kare Babu Rao complained on July 6 that “The
Wildlife Protection Act and the Prevention of Cruelty Against Animals
Act are hindering efforts to kill rabid and stray dogs.” In Bhopal,
Madhya Pradesh state, “The Indian Institute of Forest Management is
facing charges of poisoning stray dogs on its campus in violation of
the law,” reported Sanjay Sharma of the Indo-Asian News Service on
June 6.
Instead of either killing dogs, risking prosecution, or
funding an ABC program, risking higher taxes, the Andra Pradesh
city of Vijayawada has for years hired dogcatchers to dump street
dogs 10 kilometres outside the city, P. Sujatha Varma of The Hindu
Vijayawada mayor Tadi Sakuntala celebrated World Zoonosis Day
by “inaugurating a vaccination camp for pet dogs, organized jointly
by the city, Rotary Club, Vijaya Dairy and Indian Immunologicals,”
The Hindu said. The camp treated 525 pet dogs–but pet dogs are
relatively seldom at issue.
“The crematorium in Venkataramana has become home to almost
all stray dogs of Bellary since the last few months,” reported M.T.
Shivkumar of the Deccan Herald on June 17, 2006, describing the
sort of situation that often provokes street dog massacres. “The
dogs, in search of food, dig into the tombs. They eat to their
fill and carry the remains into town. “
Some of the pressure for resuming dog killing reflects the
traditional use of dog-catching as a pretext for patronage
employment. Some also reflects the inefficiency of many ABC
programs, especially those operated by cities. The rules for
receiving government funding require that ABC boards of directors
must include at least two representatives of animal welfare groups,
but in some cities the representatives are drawn from the management
of cow shelters, religious societies, or organizations set up on
paper to enable a city to qualify for funding.
The Tamil Nadu city of Coimbature started an ABC program in
January 2006, to deal with a street dog population estimated at
50,000. After two months, the Coimbature program had sterilized
only 124 dogs.
“Lack of functional animal welfare organizations is a
hindrance,” observed Anima Balakrishnan of The Hindu. The local
chapter of People for Animals was helping, Balakrishnan noted, but
had the capacity to house only 15 animals at a time in surgical
Ineffective government response to rabies outbreaks is a
further concern. Nominally, India guarantees post-exposure
vaccination to anyone bitten by a suspect dog. But vaccine stocks in
much of the country are perpetually low, and the vaccines used are
often of local manufacture, using obsolescent formulas. Better
vaccines are available–at a price, which can put vaccination beyond
reach of the poor.
Eighteen residents of the Thoubal district in Manipur died
from rabies in April 2006. Because effective post-exposure
vaccination was unavailable, residents of the Maring village in
Sandang Shenba killed and ate many pet dogs, in the mistaken belief
that consuming dog meat would protect them.

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