“Prime Minister Modi as head of government is responsible for Minister of EF&CC Prakash Javadekar’s violence against animals while Prakash Javadekar as Union Minister for Environment is responsible for the degradation of coconut trees in Goa.” – Radha Rajan
In the end the buck stops with the Prime Minister. In Hindu dharmic customs and tradition the head of the family is held responsible for the conduct of every member of the family. Prakash Javadekar, Minister for Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF) is guilty of several sins of omission and commission against animals and these must be placed before the nation.
Hinduism is more than religion; it is a worldview which governs a Hindu’s conduct in entirety, from the mundane to the extraordinary. Dharma, the driving force of this unique worldview aims for peace, harmony among all beings and happiness as life’s objectives and therefore desires the well-being of all Creation: plants, forests, rivers, oceans, and creatures that walk on two feet and those that walk on four. Sanathana Dharma governs human relationship with the rest of Creation and when humans violate the sanctity of any being in Creation (which happens too frequently in these times) they violate and disturb nature’s inherent order and invite nature’s fury. Hindus call that karma which is just as easily explained by science as the inevitable consequences arising from disturbing the intricate inter-relationship among all components that constitute the ecology of a locality or region. A Hindu is judged by how he treats rivers, lakes, ponds, forests, trees, fish, birds, reptiles, animals and other humans with and by whom he lives. The Hindu worldview, unlike other faiths is not human-centric because the divine is not anthropomorphic; “larger good” and “larger interest” is certainly not larger human good and larger human interest as proclaimed in this Rig Vedic mantra:
svasti mAnushebhya: | oordhvam jigAtu bheSHajam |
sham no astu dvipade | sham chatushpade |
om shAnti: shAnti: shAnti:
“May all humans, plants and trees, and all creatures walking on two feet and four, may they all prosper and be well.”
It must mean something that so many different animals and birds are an inherent part of the historical narrative of our dharmic traditions—elephant, cow, bull, buffalo, lion, boar, monkey, mouse, horse, dog, crow, swan, peacock, and snake to name just a few. But departing from the civilisational tradition of living together and living in harmony, the BJP government in Goa has declared war against coconut trees while Prakash Javadekar has declared war against animals. MoEF&CC has pronounced wild boars and monkeys to be vermin in Uttarakhand and Shimla respectively, with government license to kill as many wild boars and monkeys as is humanly possible for six months in Uttarakhand and one year in Shimla. Prakash Javadekar has unleashed unspeakable violence against these animals and set an ugly precedent endangering animals which in future may be considered to be obstacles to human greed camouflaged as economic interests. A minister in Goa went public with his intent to declare peacock as vermin. Not surprising because Goa has already declared that the coconut trees dotting their coastline are not trees but “only” palms. Environmentalists believe denying coconut trees the status of trees is intended to facilitate mowing down coconut groves to convert them to housing or commercial plots
Prime Minister Modi as head of government is responsible for Minister of EF&CC Prakash Javadekar’s violence against animals while Prakash Javadekar as Union Minister for Environment is responsible for the degradation of coconut trees in Goa.
This country’s constitution—warts, pimples and all, has still put in place excellent laws for animal well-being, animal welfare and animal rights and they all derive from Article 51 (A) of the Indian Constitution which lists the fundamental duties of every citizen; animal rights and animal welfare laws derive specifically from Article 51 A (g):
“to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wild life, and to have compassion for all living creatures.”
The seminal law to protect animal rights and ensure animal well-being, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (PCA Act) 1960 flowed from Article 51A (g). However, it was not the Constituent Assembly or Nehru’s cabinet or the first elected Parliament which conceived of the law to put life into Article 51 A (g). The PCA Act was the brainchild of Smt. Rukmani Devi Arundale who as Member of Parliament in the Rajya Sabha, wanted to introduce a private member’s bill for prevention of cruelty to animals. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru assured Rukmani Devi that his government would be honoured to make the law and the PCA Act became a reality in 1960. In 1962, the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) was constituted by the government of India under section 4 of the PCA Act 1960 and Smt. Rukmani Devi Arundale was the first Chairman of the AWBI.
On 28th March, 2016, Minister of EF&CC, Prakash Javadekar issued a show-cause notice to the AWBI asking why action should not be taken against the Board for filing a case in the Supreme Court against the MoEF&CC executive order dated 7th January 2016 removing bulls from the list of animals which are not performing animals. Animals which are not performing animals may not be trained or exhibited for public entertainment. Lions, tigers, panthers, bears and monkeys which are in this list, can no longer be trained to perform unnatural acts in circuses or private shows. In July 2011, the then Minister for EF&CC Jairam Ramesh, after sustained deliberations with the AWBI, included bulls in the list which effectively ended jallikattu, rekla, kambala and bullock-cart races in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Maharashtra.
In a short-sighted move with an eye on the impending Tamil Nadu assembly elections, Prakash Javadekar on 7th January 2016 issued a new executive order removing bulls from this list simply to enable jallikattu and other bull-tormenting human sport to make a comeback during Pongal or Makar Sankranti. The move was both short-sighted and foolhardy because the new notification not only sought to overturn the May 2014 SC judgment banning jallikattu, it also ignored the explicit warning by the Apex Court that the government may not tweak, amend or rescind the July 2011 notification without first consulting the AWBI and seeking the Board’s advise in the matter. Horrified by the real possibility that jallikattu, rekla and bullock-cart races may comeback with a vengeance, AWBI knocked on the doors of the Supreme Court the very next day after the government issued the notification, to get the MoEF&CC notification quashed.
This was unprecedented in the history of the AWBI and an avoidable embarrassment for Prime Minister Modi. For Minister of EF&CC and AWBI to be on opposite sides of an animal issue is like the Governor of RBI and Finance Minister engaging in war of words or for the Defence Minister to express no confidence in the country’s Chief of Army Staff. The government must realize the dangers to democracy when democratic institutions face off on a collision course. Several senior and eminent advocates of the Supreme Court were arrayed in court on behalf of AWBI and other animal welfare organizations and animal welfare activists against the MoEF&CC notification; and every one of them appeared free of cost for the cause of animal well-being. To make matters worse, the Supreme Court was unimpressed with the Attorney-General’s arguments in support of jallikattu and within minutes stayed Prakash Javadekar’s January 2016 notification permitting jallikattu.
It was in keeping with Minister Javadekar’s mindset and style of functioning when, instead of acknowledging the rightness of AWBI’s conduct, he chose to declare war against the Board. First, lower-level functionaries in the Ministry called up members of the Board wanting to know how they could use funds allotted to the Board for animal welfare to pay senior advocates in their case against the government. Next, not very subtle moves were made to divide the Board; telephone calls were made to members of the Board to find out who stood where on the issue of jallikattu and other bull-tormenting sport. When MoEF&CC realized that the Board had not spent any money for the case in the Supreme Court and that all Board members were unanimous in their decision to stand by and uphold the July 2011 notification, the ministry, on 28th March 2016, issued a show cause notice to the AWBI.
The show cause notice makes the following points:
That the government notification “regarding the participation of bulls in jallikattu and bullock-cart races” dated 7th January 2016 was sent to the AWBI “for compliance in letter and spirit”.
That AWBI had filed several cases in different courts against the Union of India in violation of the DO issued by the government on 22-02-2012 which instructed AWBI to refrain from doing so.
That the AWBI has no locus standii to file any case on any matter because the AWBI is vested only with an advisory role and has to obtain prior approval of the ministry before filing counter-affidavits.
Section 4 of the PCA Act 1960 deals with the constitution of AWBI and its functions:
(1) For the promotion of animal welfare generally and for the purpose of protecting animals from being subjected to unnecessary pain or suffering, in particular, there shall be established by the Central Government, as soon as may be after the commencement of this Act, a Board to be called the Animal Welfare Board of India.
(2) The Board shall be a body corporate having perpetual succession and a common seal with power, subject to the provisions of this Act, to acquire, hold, and dispose of property and may by its name sue and be sued.
Section 9 of the PCA Act deals with the functions of the Board: The functions of the Board shall be:
(a) to keep the law in force in India for the prevention of cruelty to animals under constant study and advise the government on the amendments to be undertaken in any such law from time to time.
(l) to advise the government on any matter connected with animal welfare or the prevention of infliction of unnecessary pain or suffering to animals.
The Animal Welfare Board of India is a statutory body constituted by an Act of Parliament. Like the National Human Rights Commission and the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, it is a welfare watchdog body mandated to serve only the cause of animal welfare irrespective of the political ideology of the party in power. If jallikattu has been proved by the AWBI to be cruel inflicting physical and psychological abuse of bulls and the country’s highest court has accepted that it is cruel and banned the sport, then the AWBI as mandated by the PCA Act 1960 must ensure that the law is implemented and the orders of the court are not violated. The AWBI constituted by the Congress and the AWBI constituted by the BJP cannot have shifting stands on what constitutes cruelty. The AWBI cannot change the definition of cruelty against bulls when Jairam Ramesh who included bulls in the list of animals which are not performing animals is Minister of EF&CC and when Jayanthi Natarajan who replaced Ramesh as Minister in 2011 wanted bulls to be removed from the list because like Javadekar she wanted jallikattu. The definition of cruelty when Congress was in power in 2011 and when BJP is in power in 2016 has remained and must remain unchanged for the AWBI; and that is why MoEF&CC was wrong to demand “compliance in letter and spirit” from the AWBI to conduct jallikattu and that is why AWBI was right to go to the Supreme Court seeking to uphold the July 2011 notification which formed the basis for banning jallikattu.
The show-cause notice cited a letter dated 22-02-2012 which warned the AWBI against going to court on jallikattu when the Ministry was in favour of conducting jallikattu. If the issue were not serious, Prakash Javadekar seeking refuge in Jayanthi Natarajan’s letter to the AWBI would be comical. When Jayanthi Natarajan replaced Jairam Ramesh as MoEF&CC she was faced with a peculiar situation. I had filed a case in the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court in December 2011 seeking a ban on jallikattu on the basis of the July 2011 notification; for reasons beyond comprehension after banning jallikattu not once but thrice orally, the division bench in Madurai officially permitted jallikattu the next day. AWBI took the matter to the Supreme Court seeking stay of the orders of the division bench. Jayanthi Natarajan playing to the same gallery in January 2012 which influenced Javadekar’s January 2016 notification, took objection to AWBI going to court on the issue of jallikattu. Jayanthi Natarajan warned the Chairman and Vice Chairman of AWBI that she would withhold funds for the AWBI if the Board did not comply with her wishes. “He (in this case she) who pays the piper, calls the tune”, Natarajan is reported to have told them.
The letter that MoEF&CC is citing in the show cause notice is the letter sent by Jayanthi Natarajan to AWBI warning the Board that it cannot go to court proactively on jallikattu or any issue because said Natarajan, the AWBI has only an advisory role and not a litigatory role. Of course, she was wrong because the AWBI can sue and be sued.
If there is going to be continuity of policies even when governments change then the country does not need different parties with different ideologies. When Javadekar sought refuge in Jayanthi Natarajan, the lines between the Congress and BJP began to blur.
As for Prakash Javadekar questioning the AWBI about spending precious government financial resources to hire the best legal minds to oppose the government, the answer to that question is in two parts:
Section 4 of the PCA Act clearly states that the AWBI can sue and be sued in its name in the line of duty and if it so happens that the government is guilty of cruelty and violence against animals then there is nothing in the law which says the government cannot be sued. The AWBI is obliged by the letter and spirit of the law to sue any agency guilty of violating the letter and spirit of the same law.
As for financial resources, a senior office bearer of the AWBI told me that the Ministry of EF&CC has released only 40% of Rupees 20 crores for 2015-2016 sanctioned by the government for animal welfare schemes and projects.
This was not expected of Modi Sarkar. That the Minister in charge of animal welfare had withheld funds which were meant to be used for purposes as varied as animal birth control programme, maintenance of goshalas, mobile veterinary vans, grants for ambulances, fodder for cattle rescued from traffickers and slaughterhouses, setting up pinjrapoles—all of them suffered a setback in the last year. Prime Minister Modi must do three things to set matters right:
Ask MoEF&CC to withdraw the show-cause notice against the AWBI
To create a new Department of Animal Welfare which will not be affiliated to any ministry; this alone will insulate the Board from ministerial pressure. The Department of Animal Welfare will be funded by Consolidated Funds of the central government.
To ensure that the AWBI is not politicised and to allow it to fulfil its constitutional mandate to serve only animal well-being and not be compelled to serve political interests.
Any animal, bird, reptile or inspect that is alive and we see around us is nothing short of a miracle because it has survived the compulsive human habit to kill and survived the frightening world that humans have created in their self-interest and in which animals, birds, insects and reptiles are forced to live. – Vigil Online, 16 April, 2016
» Radha Rajan is an author, political analyst, and animal rights activist. She lives in Chennai.