Securing the borders is rarely linked to animal welfare but the Sashastra Seema Bal, a border guarding force under the Home Ministry, notched up a first on Wednesday when they were conferred the Leadership in Animal Welfare Award.
The award, given out by Humane Society International and People for Animals, is for SSB’s role in preventing smuggling of animals across the Indo-Nepal border, most of whom were intended to be slaughtered at the notorious Gadhimai festival in the neighbouring country’s Bara district. This comes two days after the Supreme Court asked state governments concerned to implement a proposal drawn up by SSB director general Banshi Dhar Sharma to stop animal smuggling across the border.
Sharma had been tasked by the court to hold stakeholder consultations and prepare a blueprint to prevent animal smuggling.
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Gadhimai is a sacrificial ceremony held every five years at the Gadhimai Temple in Bariyarpur, some distance from Kathmandu. Indians in large numbers, especially from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, travel to Nepal for the festival during which buffaloes, goats, pigs and chicken are sacrificed. The festival was last held in 2014. Faced with worldwide criticism for the largescale animal slaughter, the Nepalese government recently announced that it may not hold the festival again. An estimated 5,00,000 animals were killed in 2009, while the figure came down to 50,000 last year.
Sharma, who accepted the award, described it as a very proud moment. “We felt very sad looking at the animals. Many of my men could not take the wanton cow slaughter. We checked every vehicle that crossed the border to ensure no animal was illegally transported. It is a very good feeling to have succeeded… I was earlier posted at the India Bangladesh border and cattle smuggling continues to happen there on a large scale.There is a need to do something about that too,” he said.
The affidavit he submitted in the top court calls for activation of all legally mandated institutions like the Society for Preve-ntion of Cruelty Against Animals. It also calls for restrictions on all animal slaughter especially in religious places. This apart, it envisages use of corporate funding for animal welfare proposals.
In its July 13 order, the Supreme Court, in reference to Sharma’s proposal, had said: “We direct all concerned, to implement the same forthwith. Whilst doing so, it shall be imperative for all the concerned state governments to constitute district SPCAs (Society for Prevention of Cruelty Against Animals)… within four weeks from today.” State governments have to submit compliance report to the apex court within eight weeks.
Gadhimai has been criticised by animal rights activists for years now. “The board of the temple is manned by people from the Communist Party of Nepal. Almost all animals killed during the festival are from India. The blood and bones are sold to China – that money is the real reason why the slaughter happens. It has nothing to do with religion.
Only day before, yesterday we got an order from Supreme Court on this. The PMO, too, has been very supportive of our attempts,” says Women and Child Development Minister and animal rights activist Maneka Gandhi.
Among the other awardees on Wednesday were Jet Airways that was the first Indian airline to implement the policy of not carrying shark fins in their cargo and the Uttarakhand Animal Welfare Board.