THE High Court-appointed Committee to Monitor Animal Welfare Laws in Maharashtra has decided to return all the applications received under the “special drive” launched in May for honorary animal welfare officers “to serve as eyes to monitor the beef ban” enforced last year. The 12-member committee, headed by Justice C S Dharmadhikari, a retired judge of the Bombay High Court, passed the order to scrap the over-2,000 applications during a meeting Friday.
“On the validity of these applications, there is no question. They stand unauthorised, and should not have been collected… These applications, as of today, are worthless. Suitable instructions will now be sent to all offices,” Bijay Kumar, principal secretary, animal husbandry department, told The Indian Express.
The call for applications was issued through an official letter dated May 12, signed by S S Bhosale, the then commissioner of animal husbandry, and sent to all the regional and district offices of the department.
On August 22, The Indian Express had reported that following this call, 2,371 applications were awaiting scrutiny by the committee. And that despite specific criteria disallowing political/religious links, many applications received include those with links to various Hindutva outfits, including Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal, Ram Sena, Hindu Sena, Shiv Sena, Durgavahini, Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
Besides, The Indian Express had independently analysed the applications and found that over 60 per cent had affiliations to existing gaushalas and gau rakshan samitis.
A committee member confirmed on Friday that the matter was taken up “on priority” during the meeting at the Mantralaya’s Annexe Building.
“We have decided to return all the applications to the animal husbandry office in Pune. Orders have been passed to ensure that none of them are considered,” the committee member told The Indian Express on condition of anonymity.
The committee also found that most applications were forwarded by the divisional animal husbandry chief without proper verification. “In future, the committee will consider eligible candidates after proper scrutiny. They will have to fulfill all criteria as required,” said the member.
The committee includes the municipal commissioner, Mumbai; police commissioner, Mumbai; a representative of the state home department; general manager of a state-run abattoir, and four independent members. It is assisted by officials of the animal husbandry department, which was made the nodal agency by the state government to provide infrastructure and support, as the committee deals with issues relating to animals.
The offices of the police and municipal commissioners sent their representatives for Friday’s meeting.
”The observations made during the meeting were brief. The applications were called at the behest of the animal husbandry commissioner who has since retired. They were called without any detailed consideration, without any need and without any appropriate manner. The committee took these points into consideration before returning the applications,” said the member.
Following the latest decision, three boxes of applications were emptied from the committee’s office.
When contacted, Dr G P Rane, joint commissioner, animal husbandry (Pune), said, “We are carrying the applications back to our office. The committee is the only body that can accept them, and they have returned it. We will now hold a meeting in Pune to decide on how to dispose these applications.”
Another committee member said that under the law, only the court-appointed panel has the powers to appoint honorary animal welfare officers. ”Instructions will now also be given to the divisional offices to convey to the applicants that the exercise has been called off,” said the committee member.
\”The chairman made it clear that he had not asked for these applications, nor was any circular issued on the criteria for selection,” said Bijay Kumar.
\”I will now have to ask the veterinary officers not to be emotionally charged in future as law and order is not their subject. They are not required to give unsolicited support to such sensitive matters. No one in the commissionerates can discuss and do any such action, which we have to later disown,” he said.
The senior official said that he was present only for the “first half” of the previous meeting of the committee in the first week of May, following which Bhosale had issued the call for animal welfare officers.
\”The second half was totally different. The then commissioner of animal husbandry discussed some points. I don’t know what transpired, but perhaps he announced that he will be helping in collecting more volunteers. My point is simple. These applications have been returned. Veterinary officers should not exceed their jurisdiction,” said Kumar.