The state animal welfare board has not held a single meeting in the past 11 years, Right To Information (RTI) queries have revealed.
The last meeting of the board, which falls under the department of animal husbandry, was held in October 2002.
The primary function of the board is to ensure proper implementation of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act,1960, the Maharashtra Animal Preservation Act, 1976, and norms associated with slaughterhouses and animal transportation. The board is also mandated to give recommendations to the state on animal welfare.
Information sought under the RTI Act by an activist reveals that although the state animal welfare boards (SAWB), with a term of three years, were reconstituted in 1998, 2001, 2004 and in September 2013, after its constitution in 1991, meetings were held once each in 1991, 1992 and 2002.
The board was formed in the state in 1991 after Maneka Gandhi, the then Union Minister of State for Environment & Forests, had written a letter to all the chief ministers requesting them to set up a State Animal Welfare Board (SAWB). Subsequently, in August 2008, the Supreme Court had directed all the state governments to constitute SAWBs and and Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) in each district within three months from the date of the order.
Furthermore, in the 2004 list of SAWB members, it was found that names of three members who had passed away were included in the list, said a former member who did not wish to be named.
“No meetings, and not a single action taken by the SAWB, shows the state administration is not concerned with animal welfare.
These boards are formed only to comply with the Centre’s direction,” said R K Joshi, who was a member of the board in 1998, 2001 and 2013.
The newly-reconstituted board has 25 members, including the state’s Animal Husbandry, Dairy Development and Fisheries Minister Madhukar Chavan as chairman, secretary Anil Diggikar as its member secretary as well as the commissioner of the animal husbandry department in Pune and animal welfare activists and vets from across the state.
NGOs working in the field claim the state does not seem interested in animal welfare beyond constituting a committee. The view is also shared by the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI). “Most of the state animal welfare boards, including in Maharashtra have remained only on paper. They are required to work proactively to fulfill the mandate for which they have been established/set up,” said an official from the AWBI.
The state, however, has not been able to provide a reason for the lack of meetings or any action taken by the SAWB.
Diggikar said that although he is the member secretary of the board, the coordination between members is handled by the commissionerate of animal husbandry in Pune. “If the NGOs that are part of the board come to me requesting for a meeting, we would certainly hold one. We are not shunning our responsibility. But the NGOs are more aware of animal cruelty cases. We will definitely intervene to ensure there is no cruelty done to animals,” Diggikar said, adding that hardly any meetings are held even at the district level.
Although a government resolution announced the reconstitution of the board in September 2013, a letter listing the functions of the board was issued only in December, Dr G P Rane, deputy commissioner of animal husbandry department in Pune. “Now that the functions have been laid down, we will approach the minister of animal husbandry and hold a meeting accordingly,” he added.
Meanwhile, Shakuntala Majumdar from Thane SPCA, who became a member of the board in 2013, said she and a few other members from Mumbai were sending a letter to the additional commissioner of animal husbandry department this week requesting that a meeting be held at the earliest.