The BJP government has cut grants to the Animal Welfare Board every year since it came to power. As a result, grants to cow shelters now are lower than what they were under the UPA government.
Despite its high-octane and aggressive championing of the cause of cow welfare, the BJP government has cut the budget of the Animal Welfare Board – at least 80 per cent of whose grants have traditionally gone to gau shalas – every year since it came to power in 2014.
In turn, for the first time in at least a decade, the board has given less than Rs. 1 crore as grants to animal welfare organizations, mostly cow shelters, sources in the AWB have told ThePrint.
In fact, the AWB released more funds to cow shelters under the UPA government. In 2008-09, for instance, the grants given to animal shelters was Rs. 10.8 crore – the highest in the last 10 years – as opposed to less than Rs 1 crore in 2017-18.
There has been a drastic reduction in the overall budget of the board over the years as well, including under the UPA government. From Rs. 26.7 crore in 2012-13, the overall budget allocation to the board fell to Rs. 2.75 crore this year, although it was higher at Rs. 4.99 crore in the revised budget for 2016-17.
“The board has no money right now,” said a board member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
“Demands (for grants) have been coming from different organisations, but we have nothing to give,” the member said. This could be because the board has no full-time chairman, the member explained.
However, the budget of the board has been coming down ever since the BJP came to power, the member added. Currently, the board is being headed by the Director General of Forests and Special Secretary, Sidhanta Das.
A member of the Shri Krishna Gopal Gau Samiti in Rajasthan city Jodhpur,, Kailash Inaniyan, said that the shelter had stopped receiving any money from the government for the last two years. While in February this year, the government gave some money to the cow shelter, it is not as much as it used to two years ago, he said.
Acknowledging the severe reduction in the budget, an official in the environment ministry cited inadequate utilisation of earlier budgets to the board as the reason. The official admitted that the reduction in the budget has indeed led to the shrinkage of grants to cow shelters, but added that there is good chance that the budget would be increased.
“We have, in fact, asked the board to tell us the maximum budget it would need,” he added.
The drastic reduction in the grants allocated by the board are a part of the process of bringing transparency into the system, said Dr. Hitesh Jani, a current member on the board. Since animal shelters, like all other NGOs, are now required to register themselves with the Niti Ayog in order to receive grants, the funds released to the board have dwindled temporarily.
However, an analysis of the environment ministry’s budget allocations to the AWBI shows that there had been drastic cuts even before the registration of NGOs with Niti Ayog for grant-in-aid was made mandatory in 2016.
At least two former board members, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that the reduction in the AWBI budget is the result of the government’s “vendetta” against the previous board which was appointed by the UPA government and ran afoul of the BJP establishment over the Jallikattu controversy.
“Now that we’re completely out of the way, they may well increase the budget again,” said one former member, referring to the government reconstituting the board in April with new members, almost all of who have worked for cow welfare.