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Maneka Gandhi accuses animal panel members of using national emblem to influence & extort

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The Union minister has written a letter to environment minister Harsh Vardhan, calling the situation “disgraceful” and has urged him to “take immediate action to prevent the misuse of power”.

New Delhi: Union minister Maneka Gandhi has complained to environment minister Harsh Vardhan about what she says is the illegal use of the national emblem on letterheads and visiting cards by some members of the Animal Welfare Board of India allegedly “to influence state governments and extort personal favours from people”.

In a letter dated 21 May, which Gandhi has forwarded to the environment minister, a ‘personal aide’ of AWBI member Mohan Singh Ahluwalia asked the chief secretary of Uttarakhand to treat Ahluwalia as a state guest and to provide him security for his visit to the state.

In the strongly-worded letter dated 28 May, Gandhi has written, “This is a case of misrepresentation and fraud.”

Moreover, she has alleged that some individuals using the letterhead are not even nominated members of the board, which is a statutory body established under Section IV of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960. A letter written by S.K. Mittal, for example, who is only the convener of AWBI’s team for inspecting the conduct of jallikattu, and not a member of the board, too has been attacked by Gandhi.

“This is a disgraceful situation more because illegal demands are being made not only using the Emblem of the State, but also under the logo and banner of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Government of India,” Gandhi has said in her letter.

She has also asked Harsh Vardhan to “take immediate action to prevent the misuse of the power granted to nominated members of the board and initiate necessary legal action under the State Emblem of India (Prohibition of Improper Use) Act and the Indian Penal Code.”

‘Nothing illegal about it’

The chairman of the AWBI is allowed to use the emblem on their letterheads only if they are writing on behalf of the board, if at all, said former member Jayasimha Nuggehalli. “Asking to be treated as a state guest and using the emblem for it is just absurd,” he added.

India’s national emblem, an adaptation of Lion Capital of Ashoka, is used as part of the official letterhead of the government of India documents.

Reached by ThePrint, Ahluwalia, whose aide’s letter sparked the controversy, said there is nothing illegal about it since AWBI is constituted under a Parliament act, and thus its members are entitled to use the emblem under the State Emblem of India (Regulation of Use) Rules, 2007.

Commissions and authorities constituted or established by an act of Parliament or set-up by the central government are entitled to use the emblem in official seals.

“This has been the practice for many years,” Ahluwalia claimed, adding that AWBI secretary Ravi Kumar has authorised all members to use the emblem – a claim refuted by Kumar when reached by ThePrint.

“The secretary has no power to authorise the use of emblems,” he said, adding that he would look into the matter.

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