Maneka Gandhi has sent several letters with allegations of corruption and conflict of interest against S.P. Gupta, who is known to be close to the RSS.
New Delhi: The environment ministry is looking into a series of complaints made against the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-affiliated chairman of the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI), including those of corruption, conflict of interest and incompetence, environment minister Harsh Vardhan said.
In a letter to Union Minister Maneka Gandhi dated 19 July, Vardhan said he is getting the matter of “replacing the present AWBI Chairperson” looked into.
Vardhan was responding to a series of complaints made by Gandhi against the conduct of S.P. Gupta, a retired IAS officer, who runs his own “cow shelter” and is reported to be close to the RSS. Gupta was appointed as the AWBI chairperson in December last year.
Gandhi has so far written over six letters to the environment minister — all seen by ThePrint — highlighting instances of Gupta’s alleged misconduct.
“It would be unfair to let a corrupt, irresponsible and destructive individual head a body of the Government which aims at welfare of the weakest members of society,” Gandhi said in a letter dated 17 July.
“I would request you to please replace the present AWBI Chairperson with someone who can handle such a post with grace and dignity,” said Gandhi.
Not just Gandhi, her aide Gauri Maulekhi, a former member of the AWBI, has written to Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra requesting his “indulgence to meet the ends of justice for speechless animals”.
‘Conflict of interest’
One of the most serious allegations against Gupta is of conflict of interest. In her letter to Vardhan dated 17 July, Gandhi said Gupta deliberately recalled the file for amendment in the Registration of Cattle Premises Rules from the environment ministry because its enactment would directly affect his own dairy, which he runs in Mewat.
In 2016, the AWBI had drafted amendments to the rules, authorising the AWBI as well as State Animal Welfare Board (SAWB) to collect records and information pertaining to dairy farms, and inspection and sanction seizure of cattle in case of violation of the rules.
The file was recalled by Gupta after his appointment, and has since been under process, Gandhi said.
“Getting such Regulations vetted by Shri S. P. Gupta or an organisation headed by him would be highly irregular and a conflict of interest, because he runs a commercial dairy in Mewat, Haryana, which would come under ambit of the Regulations.”
Allowing performance of prohibited species
In another letter dated 23 July, Gandhi has highlighted “serious irregularities” in the conduct of the Performing Animal Sub-Committee (PASC) — a nine-member body meant to evaluate applications for use of animal performances in films, events, etc.
She has cited at least 13 specific instances where permission to use animals for performance was allegedly given in violation of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960.
For example, according to Gandhi, permission to use monkeys — a species whose exhibition and performance is prohibited under a Central government notification dated 14 October, 1998 — has been “liberally given” on at least six occasions for TV serials like Swami Ramdev, Dus ka Dum, etc. in complete contravention of the law.
Moreover, citing procedural lapses, Gandhi said the PASC grants permission for use of animals without even achieving the requisite quorum in the meetings.
“Most of the Minutes of the PASC do not record the presence of members, but when presence has been marked in the past six months, only three members have been present,” she wrote. “There cannot be any legitimate meeting till the requisite quorum is achieved.”
In a routine letter dated 20 July, Gupta asked the environment ministry for permission to constitute a “team of inspectors” appointed by him in order to address the illegal slaughter of animals during the upcoming Eid and Dusshera celebrations.
In addition to stating that such committees already exist, Gandhi told Vardhan in her 23 July letter that through a self-appointed team, Gupta intends to “commit further fraud on the State Governments and go on a cheating trip around the country extorting money using the Inspection Committee as an excuse.”
However, dismissing Gandhi’s intervention in the matters of AWBI as overreach, Gupta said, “She wants to run the Board through her aides and proxies, which we will not allow.”
Insisting that all documents given by Gandhi are “fake”, Gupta told ThePrint that AWBI called an emergency meeting to discuss the pressure put by Gandhi on their functioning and has decided to register an FIR against her. “Our mandate is to stop cruelty, and we will keep doing so… Nobody can remove the chairperson since it is a statutory post,” Gupta said, unfazed by the environment ministry looking into demands to replace him.
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