OVER 1,900 people have responded to a call from the state’s Department of Animal Husbandry to serve as “eyes to monitor the beef ban”. The “unprecedented response” followed a “special drive” organised by a former commissioner, S S Bhosale, at the department in May this year.
The voluntary post gives the person authority to make the police accountable to act on a complaint. There are currently only 134 animal lovers enlisted as ‘honorary animal welfare officers’ hired over a period of time. The drive advertising the post was launched through the offices of livestock development officers across the state.
Going by the protocol, every volunteer needs to be recommended by an animal welfare organisation, or a registered body, which can vouch for the applicant’s integrity. The application is then forwarded to the High Court-appointed Committee to Monitor Animal Welfare Laws headed by C S Dharmadhikari (retired judge, Bombay High Court).
“This initiative was taken by the former animal husbandry commissioner who has since retired. There was no consultation within the committee for taking this step. This was his own idea and he released the advertisement in his department. In response, a huge number of applications have come. The committee is yet to apply its mind whether to admit these people as animal welfare officers or not to admit.
Because the question of supervision will come,” said a committee member speaking to The Indian Express. “If such a large number of people are appointed, how do we ensure they work within the four walls of law. There is so much activism in this field now and many a times untoward incidents also happen. So we have to guard against all. This needs a serious consideration at the committee’s level which will be done in the next meeting in August. We will make the final decision only in this meeting.” he said.
At the Department of Animal Husbandry, Pune, meanwhile, officials are awaiting final approvals. “We have for now not got a single approval,” said a senior official.
“We will wait for the advice of the committee. The idea of our former commissioner was to effectively implement the beef ban. If there are more people monitoring, there will be a better control,” said G P Rane, Joint Commissioner of Animal Husbandry (HQ). “The honorary officers would have worked along with the police and other departments to help implement the amended Act. They will be responsible for general animal welfare as well.”
A commissioner at the Pune department said, “The emphasis was to implement the new Act with ‘social help’. The applicant once chosen will be given an identity card, which will carry the signature of the committee head.”
According to officials, the application has an important clause. Each applicant has to sign that he or she is “not affiliated to any political party” or “engaged in animal welfare activities on religious grounds”.
The application for the post had to also stipulate they have “working knowledge of the animal welfare laws and in particular Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Act 1976, and Prevention and Cruelty against animal Act, 1960”.
“Most of the applicants have stated they are interested in animal welfare activity. The criteria, which the committee has adopted so far, is that they need to be recommended by a local welfare organisation which vouches for their integrity. In the present case, people have applied en mass and there is hardly anybody to vouch for their integrity,” said the committee member, adding that some applications were recommended by gaushalas and panjrapols across the state.
When contacted, Bhosale, who has now taken to agriculture, said he had seen “extreme cruelty to cattle” across the regions frequented by him in the last few months.
“Once the Act was put in force, we would have meetings with different stakeholders. The police were one such body who raised their hands when we would ask them to improve their monitoring. Stop tempos and trucks and inspect if any banned livestock was being taken to slaughterhouses. They said they did not have manpower. I want at least 100 such volunteers in every taluka who can then take up the role of a public figure and assist the animal husbandry department and the police to ensure the amended Act is implemented. This is not just for cows. Though our emphasis is on them, this is also for any local breed, which is useful and needs to be protected. The decision to have these posts will finally be with the committee, but I must add that in my proposal I had mentioned we need such officers if we want to see good monitoring across the state, as government offices are understaffed and animal husbandry officers are not expected to go to people’s colonies to find if slaughter or any illegal act is taking place. The applicant’s character can always be verified by the office of the superintendent of police and the collector or any other such office,” he said.