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Maneka Gandhi quietly pitched for cattle market rules, documents show

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Legal papers show the Women and Child Development minister wrote to the Finance ministry in 2014 to stop the illegal transport of animals to Nepal for sacrifice.

It is widely known that the genesis of the contentious cattle market rules – stayed by the Supreme Court Tuesday – clearly lies in the 2014 petition filed by animal welfare activist Gauri Maulekhi seeking an end to illegal smuggling of animals to Nepal for ritualistic sacrifice at the Gadhimai festival.

What has, however, not been known is that the origin of the writ petition also has a strong connection to Maneka Gandhi, Women and Child Development minister in NDA-2 and a veteran animal rights activist.

The notification blew up in the face of the Modi government with outraged state governments accusing it of interfering in the jurisdiction of states and of pushing the ruling BJP’s cow protection politics, forcing the Centre to resort to damage control by promising a review of the rules.

Case documents related to Gauri Maulekhi Vs Union of India in the 2014 writ petition accessed by ThePrint clearly show that Maneka Gandhi had written to the Finance ministry flagging the issue. Maulekhi, incidentally, is an aide of Maneka Gandhi and Trustee at the People for Animals, an animal welfare NGO chaired by the minister.

Maneka Gandhi’s note is mentioned in a communication dated 19 September 2014, from the Under Secretary in the Central Board of Excise and Customs to the Director General of the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence on the subject ‘Illegal Transport of Animals to Nepal for sacrifice’.

The DG is forwarded a “DO (Demi Official) letter dated 8 September 2014 received from Smt Maneka Gandhi, Minister of Women and Child Development” besides another from the Managing Director of Humane Society International “for the protection of animals on the above subject”.

Another communication sent by the DRI to Chief Commissioners of Customs in Patna zone and Kolkata zone on 19 October 2014 mention the DO letter by Gandhi and asks for a high alert to be issued to check illegal animal smuggling across the borders to Nepal ahead of the popular Gadhimai festival scheduled for November 2014. Gandhi had also welcomed the notification of the controversial cattle market rules.

“Animal markets were started for farmers so that they could sell their cattle to other farmers…Since last 15 years it has become only for butchers who pretend to be farmers and purchase cattle from the market,” a PTI report quoted her as saying on 27 May 2017. “They buy 80 to 90 heads of cattle and carry it in their trucks and eventually slaughter the animals.”

While Maneka Gandhi did not respond to queries on the issue from ThePrint, Maulekhi said that she was attempting to mobilise support for the ban on illegal animal trade through a number of political representatives and the minister may have been one of those who had obliged.

Maulekhi , however, added that Gandhi had nothing to do with the cattle market rules that were finally notified. “The minister may have written on the issue to relevant departments or authorities in terms of the huge animal smuggling that is going on across the border. Even the Home ministry acknowledges that and so there is hardly any issue of debate on this. She definitely did not have any role to play in framing of the cattle rules and did not write on them,” Maulekhi said.

Maneka Gandhi’s commitment to animal welfare and protection activities is well known as is her interest in the Environment ministry’s animal welfare division.

In June 2014, just about a month after she took over as WCD minister, Gandhi had raised eyebrows by chairing a meeting to review progress of the implementation of the National Rabies Control Programme (NRCP) in Haryana even though the subject was firmly in the Environment ministry’s domain. Gandhi had then said that she only held an informal meeting to understand why the programme had been held up.

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