Environment ministry in tight spot over rift between Maneka and AWBI chief

Animal Welfare Board of India is marred by a controversy with Union Minister and animal rights activist Maneka Sanjay Gandhi and the board’s first chairman SP Gupta levelling allegations and counter allegations of harming animals’ interests against each other, reports Pawan Kumar Bansal

Union Minister of Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi and Animal Welfare Board of India’s (AWBI) Chairman SP Gupta are at loggerheads with Gupta reportedly submitting his resignation on January,25, 2019, which is yet to be accepted by the government. Although Gupta says that he had resigned as he was unable to devote time to run his cow shelter (Kamdhenu Gowdham and Arogya Sansthan) in Mewat district in Haryana, but it is believed that he was unhappy due to alleged interference in the board’s functioning by Maneka Gandhi.

However, Maneka Gandhi claims that Gupta have been removed from the post due to corruption charges and the ministry had evidence. Talking to Tehelka, she denied the charge of interfering in the functioning of the Board. She challenged Gupta to prove his charges.

S.P.Gupta — who is a retired IAS officer of Haryana cadre having wide connections in RSS as his Gowdham in Mewat in Haryana — has been visited by almost every prominent RSS and BJP leaders of Haryana. He said that allegations of corruption are rubbish. But the correspondence between Maneka Gandhi and Union Environment, Forests and Climate Change Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan and SP Gupta speaks volumes about the sharp difference between Maneka and AWBI chairman.

Dr. Harsh Vardhan neither responded to SMS messages of Tehelka, asking about the reported resignation of SP Gupta and Maneka Gandhi’s allegations against him nor did he respond to repeated calls made on his mobile phone. His assistant said that he was busy and promised of reverting back.

Ever since Gupta joined as first chairman of the Board a year ago, Maneka Gandhi has been raising doubts about the functioning of the Board accusing it of having failed in discharge of its duties. Maneka Gandhi had shot about dozen letters to Harsh Vardhan and even to Prime Minister’s Office questioning the functioning of the Board.

Gupta claimed that the Environment Ministry had sought the Board’s reply on the allegations of Maneka Gandhi which was submitted and ministry was satisfied with their submissions.

On 23rd July, 2018, Maneka Gandhi wrote to Harsh Vardhan that she had repeatedly requested not to allow this person to continue in office ass his actions are causing nothing but damage to the Board and to the Ministry. Maneka Gandhi has further written that the latest communication issued by him, in the garb of addressing the illegal slaughter of animals during upcoming Eid and Dussehra, undermines the law and the directions of Supreme Court and attempts to grab undue authority in the most fraudulent manner.

On August 23, 2018, Gupta wrote to Harsh Varddhan denying the allegations of Maneka Gandhi. Accusing Maneka Gandhi of using defamatory, unsubstantiated and filthy language against him and Board members, Gupta wrote that it is astonishing to have so much interference of Maneka Gandhi in the affairs of the Board for the ulterior motive by “making false, baseless, unwarranted, unsubstantiated, scandalous and defamatory remarks against the Board members and against me as I have refused to succumb to the unlawful demands of Mrs Gandhi and her associates.”

In an unprecedented development Board convened its special meeting on July 30, 2018, to discuss the situation arouse out of allegations of Maneka Gandhi. It passed a resolution expressing serious concern over an alleged fake letter written by someone which was made part of allegations against the Board by Maneka Gandhi in her complaint to Harsh Vardhan.

Maneka Gandhi has alleged that the Board has issued letter granting permission for transportation of animals .Board passed a resolution copy of which was sent to Union Environment Minister making a request for taking up with Maneka Gandhi for not interfering in the effective and smooth functioning of the Board.It wrote that the Board is in the process of lodging of an FIR against unknown person for the offence of forgery and to initiate other appropriate remedy.

It was requested that if in future the Ministry requires Board’s comments on basis of such documents having baseless allegations it may be sent to Chairman or Secretary of the Board in confidential so that image of Board doesn’t get tarnished.

The Board resolution says, “We the Honorary members of the Board, condemn the act of Maneka Gandhi and Gauri Maulekhi (an animals right activist enjoying confidence of Maneka) and request the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change to take appropriate necessary action at the earliest in view of the contiguous interference by Maneka Gandhi and Gauri Maulekhi in the affairs of the Board and also making false, baseless, unwarranted, unsubstantiated and defamatory remarks against the board members and specially its chairman.

The allegations levelled by Maneka Gandhi and Gauri Maulekhi in letters written to Enthronement minister on July 20, 2018, and July 17, 2018, are not only baseless but also lessen the status of the Board in the eyes of the public at large apart from maligning the reputation of board which is one of the biggest statutory bodies in the entire world constituted under the Act of Parliament i.e the prevention of cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 looking after the prevention of cruelty to animals and their welfare.”

It further said that Gauri Maulekhi is not only the adviser to Maneka Gandhi but also one of the trustees in the ‘Peoples for Animals.’ an NGO whose chairperson is Maneka Gandhi.Both have been writing identical letters to Environment Minister levelling false allegations against Board and its chairman. The resolution said that it is most unfortunate that completely false and baseless allegations have been made by the Minister Smt,Maneka Gandhi against the board members without having any kind of factual backing and it is unacceptable that such unsubstantiated allegations have been made by holder of such a high constitutional office in the most causal manner.It further alleges that Gauri Maulekhi is misrepresenting at various forms to be representative of the board. Gauri Maulekhi neither responded to SMS messages of Tehelka nor picked up the phone made to know her version.

Both Gupta and Maneka Gandhi had sharp difference on several issues ranging from ban on Circuses, snake charmers and cattle marketing and use of elephants by tourism departments of various states for tourists. While Maneka Gandhi is bent upon pushing her agenda aggressively, Gupta feels that views of all stakeholders should be taken before taking any decision keeping in view of our culture and traditions besides livelihood of thousands of persons.

It is interesting to mention here that such was the fear of board that billionaire industrialist Mukesh Ambani has sought its permission for use of animals and birds in marriage of his daughter. Anand Mohan Sharan, senior IAS officer of Haryana, recalls an old incident when he was DC, Faridbad.

Sharan told that he got call from Maneka Gandhi that a train loaded with cows was just to pass from Faridabad station which did not have proper proper arrangements of water and fodder for the animals and warned of any lapse in hard tone. Maneka was Minister in the cabinet of Atal Bihari Vajpayee at that time. And the district administration followed the guide lines set by Smt Menaka Gandhi. This way Maneka was in a position to call DC and asked him to look into the matter and take cognizance of the situation as well as feeding the animals!