Seeking to distance itself from a controversial call issued by its animal husbandry department in May for “Honorary Animal Welfare Officers” to serve as “eyes to monitor the beef ban” imposed last year, the Maharashtra government has claimed that the exercise was undertaken by a former commissioner of the department “on his own initiative”.
However, records in the possession of The Indian Express clearly show that the call for applications was an official initiative launched through government channels — in the form of a letter dated May 12, 2016, signed by S S Bhosale, the then commissioner of animal husbandry, and sent to all the seven offices of regional joint commissioners and 33 district deputy commissioners of the department.
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Bhosale’s letter was also copied to the office of the principal secretary (animal husbandry) in the Mantralaya — the same official who has now claimed that Bhosale’s move was a personal initiative.
Referring to the amendment brought to the Maharashtra Animal Preservation Act in March 2015, which banned the possession and transport of beef, Bhosale wrote: “However, it’s observed it’s not effective in some parts of the state.”
Having appointed honorary welfare officers in the past, the letter adds, “the department feels such officers should be in every region of the state. In the current scenario, such numbers are very short, and so to increase their numbers, we should invite applications from people, for the effective implementation of the Amended Act.” Bhosale retired on May 31, 2016.
The Indian Express had reported on August 22 that following this call, 2,371 applications were awaiting scrutiny by the High Court-appointed committee to Monitor Animal Welfare Laws. And that despite specific criteria disallowing political/religious links, many applications cleared include those who have admitted to being members of 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.
The report, based on an independent review of all the applications, found that over 60 per cent of applicants have identified themselves as “gau rakshaks” with affiliation to existing gaushalas and gau rakshan samitis. Each application had been endorsed by district deputy commissioners of animal husbandry, with officers having “vouched for the sincerity and integrity of the applicant” and taking “responsibility for their conduct”.
However, in response to the report, Bijay Kumar, principal secretary (animal husbandry) on August 24, said in a statement: “It, hereby, is clarified that the department of animal husbandry, dairy and fisheries has not issued any directives to its field officers to call for applications for selection as ‘Honorary Animal Welfare Officers’ by the High Court-appointed committee to Monitor Animal Welfare Laws in Maharashtra. The High Court appointed committee… has already designated about 134 honorary animal welfare officers. It is learnt that the former commissioner, animal husbandry, has, on his own initiative, invited and collected about 2,202 applications and forwarded them to the said committee with stated purpose of assisting the said committee.”
The Indian Express report was a follow-up to an earlier report in the newspaper on July 28, which found that over 1,900 people had responded to the call from the department. The report further said that the “unprecedented response” followed the “special drive” organised by Bhosale in May.
In July, G P Rane, joint commissioner of animal husbandry (HQ), who was the acting in-charge, told The Indian Express: “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. 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.”
Besides, the court-appointed committee itself had stated that the applications were called by the former commissioner and that a decision on them has been included on the panel’s agenda in September.