New Delhi: Union Minister Giriraj Singh wants to embark on a new mission: To take charge of domestic and stray dogs and cats, to develop and conserve their desi or indigenous breeds and export them. This comes as a follow up to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s appeal to pet owners to opt for local breeds of dogs in his monthly Mann Ki Baat address in August last year.
The Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry & Dairying, headed by Singh, had floated the proposal to the cabinet secretariat in September 2020, a month after the prime minister’s appeal to Indians to adopt indigenous breeds, a ministry official who was part of drafting this proposal told ThePrint.
The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) is researching on how “to make Indian breeds better and more useful”, Modi had said. “Next time when you think of keeping a dog, you must bring one of the Indian breed of dogs home. When self-reliant India is becoming the mantra of the masses, then no area should be left behind.”
The cabinet secretariat sent back the ministry’s proposal in January 2021, asking it to hold inter-ministerial consultations on this issue, ThePrint has learnt.
“Other ministries have replied, but we are yet to get a nod from the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. Both are key ministries. Once they send a reply we will again send the proposal to the cabinet secretariat,” a senior functionary in the Animal Husbandry ministry told ThePrint this week on condition of anonymity.
The department has cited the rising number of dog bite cases in cities and India’s aim to eradicate rabies (mostly caused by the bite or scratch of an infected animal) by 2030 to back the proposal. According to the Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP) of the Ministry of Health, a total of 55,74,644 dog bite cases in humans were reported in 2018.
ThePrint reached secretary, animal husbandry department, Atul Chaturvedi, for a comment via message, but there was no response until the time of publishing this report.
Biting the bullet
“The United Nations (UN), in 2017, announced a global initiative to end deaths from dog transmitted rabies by 2030. India is also a part of this global goal,” the proposal, accessed by ThePrint, states as one of the key reasons for promoting conservation and export of indigenous dog breeds.
“Being a member of the UN General Assembly and The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), India should have a holistic plan for the control and elimination of dog-mediated (transmitted) rabies in the country.”
The department’s proposal to the cabinet secretariat includes plans for identification, characterisation, registration, survey, and conservation of indigenous dogs and cats and establishing breeding and training units for selective local varieties of these animals.
“While the Animal Welfare Board of India, a statutory body, handles certain issues relating to dogs and cats, their work does not involve the development of desi breeds. Their focus is more on taking action against animal cruelty,” said another official of the department, who too did not wish to be named.
Issues relating to wild dogs and cats are covered under the working of the environment ministry, but “domestic dogs and cats (and strays) are really orphans, not covered under any ministry. This is why we have proposed to work for their development,” he added.
As per the 19th livestock census (of 2012), India has a population of 11.67 million domestic dogs and 17.13 million stray dogs, comprising several pedigreed and nondescript local breeds.
Finding foreign favour
Other ideas in the proposal include dog population management — with a special focus on strays — through reproductive control, promoting responsible dog ownership, and strengthening regulatory framework to reduce the dog bite cases in humans.
For this, the department has a plan to promote research activities on pet animals by roping in the ICAR and various veterinary universities and colleges.
The document, however, does not give details on any of these plans.
“After the PM spoke about these indigenous breeds, the department showed interest in the issue of local breeds of dogs and cats,” said the official.
He further added, “During the lockdown in 2020, the PM emphasised on the need to adopt desi dogs in one of the episodes of Mann Ki Baat. The idea was later developed by our department and worked into this proposal”.
The department is also hopeful of tapping the domestic and international pet market for local breeds. “We import so many exotic breeds of animals from foreign countries. Why can’t we start marketing our own desi breeds of dogs and cats globally?”
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)