Animal Welfare Board faces off against the BJP government
CHENNAI, NEW DELHI––The elected government of India and the appointed but constitutionally empowered Animal Welfare Board of India appear to be headed toward a showdown before the Indian Supreme Court––a showdown which precedent indicates the Animal Welfare Board would win.
In the interim, however, challenging the authority of the Animal Welfare Board might help the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party coalition in upcoming elections in Tamil Nadu state.
The elections are set for May 16-21.
Ministry sues AWBI
The federal Ministry of Environment & Forests on March 28, 2016 sued the Animal Welfare Board of India for allegedly illegally appealing to the Indian Supreme Court against a January 7, 2016 order by Javadekar that an outlawed form of public participation bullfighting called jallikattu could proceed.
Aligned with the Bharatiya Janata Party, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam party, headed by former actress J. Jayalalithaa, made a show in the run-up to the current election campaign of trying to re-legalize jallikattu, traditionally practiced during harvest festivals in southern India.
Hundreds of bulls
Jallikattu participants try to untie a bag of coins strung between a bull’s horns. Hundreds of men may surround and torment each bull, including by twisting the bull’s tail and pouring liquor down his throat, while dozens or even hundreds of bulls may be released into the streets as part of each jallikattu event.
Banned in 2007 by a two-judge Supreme Court of India panel, jallikattu was reinstated in 2008 by a three-judge panel. At least 21 people were killed and 1,614 injured during jallikattu events in January 2009 alone.
Banned, reinstated, banned again
The jallikattu ban was reinstituted in 2011 when the Animal Welfare Board of India added bulls to a list of animals, mostly endangered wildlife species, who may not be used in public performances.
The Supreme Court of India in 2014 upheld the authority of the Animal Welfare Board to prohibit performances involving bulls.
Bucking that Supreme Court ruling, federal minister for environment and forests Prakash Javadekar on January 7, 2016 tried to re-legalize jallikattu by administratively removing bulls from the Animal Welfare Board list.
AWBI went to Supreme Court
But the Javadekar edict allowing jallikattu to resume had barely been issued when on January 8, 2016 Animal Welfare Board of India chair R.M. Kharb and vice chair Chinny Krishna appealed to the Supreme Court of India.
A two-judge Supreme Court of India panel including Justices Dipak Misra and N.V. Ramana on January 12, 2016 refused to grant an order that would have allowed jallakattu to proceed during the 2016 harvest festival season, but directed the various factions seeking to reinstate jallikattu and bullock cart racing to prepare arguments for a further hearing on the constitutionality of prohibiting the use of bulls as performing animals.
BJP demanded resignations
The Bharatiya Janata Party federal government, headed by Hindu nationalist prime minister Narendra Modi, reportedly demanded the resignations of both Kharb and Krishna.
Kharb and Krishna both refused to resign.
Explained Krishna to Firstpost, “The AWBI chair and vice-chair are at par [in political rank] with a Minister of State,” meaning that that they have no obligation to resign in response to a ministerial request.
Kharb and Krishna each brought to the standoff considerable patriotic credentials.
Kharb, heading the Animal Welfare Board of India since June 2006, retired from the Indian army veterinary corps with the rank of major general.
Krishna, one of the architects of the Indian space program, has directed the Chennai-based Blue Cross of India since 1964.
Both Kharb and Krishna have deep personal roots in Tamil Nadu; Krishna’s family is known to have resided in Tamil Nadu since the earliest surviving written records from the region.
“The Indian constitution enshrines that we should have compassion towards all living creatures,” Krishna told media. “We are the only country in the world to have an Animal Welfare Board,” with a constitutional mandate to protect animals as well as to regulate human economic use of animals.”
With the Tamil Nadu elections looming, reported The Indian Express, “The show cause notice was issued to Kharb nearly three months after the apex court stayed the [Ministry of Environment & Forests] notification lifting the [jallikattu] ban. According to the ministry, the AWBI has no locus standi [legal standing] to file any matter before any court without seeking prior permission from the ministry.”
“Role of AWBI is advisory” says BJP
Claimed the Ministry of Environment & Forests lawsuit, “It has been noticed in the past that Animal Welfare Board of India has been filing writ petitions in various courts seeking directions/relief against the Government of India and had specifically been directed to refrain from doing so. The Government of India has issued clear instructions that the role of the Animal Welfare Board is advisory and the Board has been directed to get approval of the Ministry before filing counter-affidavits.”
Follow the money or follow the law?
The Animal Welfare Board of India is funded by the Ministry of Forests & Environment, albeit that the board members serve without compensations.
But the Bharatiya Janata Party view that the Animal Welfare Board of India is therefore subordinate to the Ministry of Environment & Forests appears to contradict several decades of jurisprudence.
Said Animal Welfare Board of India member and Humane Society International representative N.G. Jayasimha, “This is purely a political move. When Supreme Court has accepted that the AWBI has a locus standi, then the show-cause notice is superfluous. This move shows the Bharatiya Janata Party’s desperation before the Tamil Nadu elections.”
Agreed Scroll.in commentator Sandhya Ravishankar, “The government may have intended to notch up a few brownie points in the poll-bound state of Tamil Nadu.”
“The Animal Welfare Board of Inda’s definition of cruelty cannot be different when the Congress is in power and when the BJP is in power,” anti-jallikattu activist Radha Rajan told Ravishankar.