Animal Welfare Board of India chief ousted for opposing bullfighting
CHENNAI, India––Crippling the ability of the Animal Welfare Board of India to monitor animal use in biomedical research and product safety testing, Indian minister of environment and forests Prakash Javadekar has removed AWBI chair R.M. Kharb from his position on the 13-member Committee for the Purpose of Control and Supervision of Experiments on Animals (CPCSEA).
Global implications for lab animals
Javadekar’s action has international implications, since India ranks second in the world in cosmetics exports, at $19 billion per year, behind only China, and ranks tenth in the world in pharmaceutical exports, at about $11.8 billion per year.
Among the roles of the CPCSEA are overseeing implementation of a 2014 amendment to the Drugs & Cosmetics Rules 1945 that prohibits the import of cosmetic products tested on animals, reinforcing a 2013 national ban on animal testing of cosmetics. The latter brought Indian law governing cosmetics safety testing into alignment with the rules already in effect in the 27-nation European Union, and in Israel, a leading cosmetics trader with India.
Kharb opposed jallikattu
Kharb was the only CPCSEA member representing animal welfare interests. Eleven members represent institutions involved in biomedical research and product safety testing. The 13th position on the current board is reserved for the ministry of environment and forests.
Kharb was removed from the CPCSEA amid an ongoing conflict between Javadekar and the Animal Welfare Board of India over the AWBI prohibition of the use of bulls in public entertainment.
Javadekar on January 7, 2016 ordered that an outlawed form of public participation bullfighting called jallikattu could proceed during early-year harvest festivals. The order was expected to win votes for the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam party, headed by former actress J. Jayalalithaa, during an upcoming Tamil Nadu state election.
Seven-year court fight
The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam party is aligned at the federal level with the Bharatiya Janata Party, to which Javadekar belongs.
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.
Initially prohibiting jallikattu in 2007, the Animal Welfare Board of India fought for seven years in court to enforce the prohibition, winning a definitive ruling from the Supreme Court of India in 2014.
AWBI won appeal to Supreme Court
The Javadekar edict allowing jallikattu to resume had barely been issued when Kharb and AWBI vice chair Chinny Krishna returned to the Supreme Court of India, winning a stay of the edict.
The federal Ministry of Environment & Forests, under Javadekar, then on March 28, 2016 sued the Animal Welfare Board of India, alleging that it had approached the Indian Supreme Court without having the authority to do so.
This was a novel contention, since the Animal Welfare Board of India has many times won Supreme Court rulings on behalf of animals.
The Supreme Court of India rejected Javadekar’s claim of authority over the Animal Welfare Board.
Covert & possibly illegal ouster
Javadekar had already quietly removed Kharb from Committee for the Purpose of Control and Supervision of Experiments on Animals, according to a document dated February 17, 2016, but Kharb was not informed of his removal until circa May 1, 2016.
Whether Javadekar actually had the authority to remove Kharb is another matter likely to be contested in court. The CPCSEA––like the Animal Welfare Board of India–– is reconstituted by prime ministerial appointment at intervals of four to six years, but was not due for reconstitution.
“Surprised by this action”
“We are very surprised by this action,” Kharb wrote to Javadekar, since Kharb’s appointment had been affirmed on December 23, 2015, only two weeks before the conflict over jallikattu erupted.
“The reason we are most taken aback at this development,” Kharb continued, “is because, as you will be aware, section 15 (1) of chapter IV of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960 clearly states that the very [CPCSEA] committee itself is formed on the advice of the Animal Welfare Board.
“Animal experimentation is not and cannot be divorced from animal welfare concern, and hence the relevance of having the board represented on the CPCSEA,” Kharb added.
The CPCSEA web site acknowledges the leading role of the Animal Welfare Board of India in bringing the CPCSEA into being. Originally formed by the passage of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960, the CPCSEA was dormant for 13 years, 1977-1990, but was revived at instigation of the Animal Welfare Board of India in 1991.
Precedent for BJP meddling
There is, however, precedent for Bharatiya Janata Party meddling in the make-up of the CPCSEA to favor the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries. Maneka Gandhi, founder of the national advocacy organization People for Animals in 1988, among the longest-tenured members of the Indian Parliament, and a multi-time cabinet member, usually as part of Bharatiya Janata Party coalition governments, was in July 2002 dropped from the cabinet after seven months of aggressive lobbying from a bizarre alliance of representatives of the Indian biotech industry with cults practicing animal sacrifice.
The alliance united some of the best-educated and most affluent people in India with many of the poorest and least educated.
400 of 467 labs flunked inspections
Despite having lost her cabinet position, however, Maneka Gandhi retained the CPCSEA chair, overseeing a series of laboratory inspections that found 400 of 467 labs visited failing to meet basic animal housing and care requirements.
“Thanks to Maneka,” Chinny Krishna said, “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 earnest.”
Inflaming biotech industry opposition to Maneka Gandhi’s leadership of the CPCSEA board were two earlier incidents.
Dozens of monkeys
First, activists claiming CPCSEA authority in August 1999, released into forests dozens of monkeys taken from the Hyderabad laboratory of the National Institute of Nutrition. 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 monkeys were already long gone.
Two years later, in 2001, the CPCSEA itself seized an allegedly neglected troupe of monkeys from the National Institute of Nutrition in Pune.
Underfed, underweight, & had TB
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 National Institute of Immunology staff barred them from inspecting some parts of the buildings.
The CPCSEA recommended that the National Institute of Immunology authorization to do animal research be cancelled.
Instead, Maneka Gandhi was removed from her CPCSEA position.