19/03/2009

 

Political agenda for Animal welfare needed

 

Maneka Gandhi

 

(Bihar Times) I am off to campaign for my election to Parliament. I wish I had the courage ( and money) to be in a Green party that actually campaigned for real issues – the right to water, alternative energy, saving rivers, a far more practical approach to repairing the economy which is people-centric and not industry centric and above all, the creation and maintenance of natural habitats for all creatures.
A survey found that 93% of all welfare enactments have come about through official action and only 7% through NGO activism . This is not because NGOs do not put in enormous effort, it is because they do not carry the force of law. What can be so quickly achieved with a single stroke of a bureaucratic pen takes years of petitions and protests.  This is why it is so important to become part of the political process. It is also why the animal welfare movement is seriously handicapped, animals cannot participate in the political process and so carry no clout with policy makers. No voice, no choice.    Those who profit from animal abuse, on the other hand , are a well entrenched, well endowed  lobby that uses  its votes and money to continue policies  that allow the killing and exploitation of creatures.  Few understand that a live bird or insect is far more important to the economy than a dead one.   A live tiger brings rain – a dead one brings nothing but devastation.                                              
Animal welfare needs to become part of our political agenda.  This is not such a distant dream. Environmental protection has already become a huge political issue. Obama’s opposition to oil drilling in the ocean won him the crucial environmental vote.  Since his film, ‘An Inconvenient Truth’, Al Gore carries more political clout than when he was Vice President. All European countries have Green parties. Holland has an Animal Party.  The Dutch 'Party for Animals'  leader Marianne Thieme, 34, is a jurist who until recently was president of an animal protection agency. Her  growing frustration  over the lethargic attitude of established parties to animal issues provided the motivation to secure animals a voice in politics. Well known Dutch authors and opinion leaders have joined the party and a growing number of Dutch people are questioning why selfish economic interests should prevail over ethical considerations when it comes to animal and environmental protection.  In its first election,  the party has already won 2 parliamentary seats out of 150 ( the Indian equivalent would be 12 seats, which is larger than most parties in Parliament today. The party’s priority is to end all animal suffering.  It wants a constitutional amendment, guaranteeing animals the right to freedom from pain, fear and stress caused by humans.

India may not yet have a party for animals but there are plenty of reasons why animal welfare should be on every election manifesto.
Animals form the backbone of our rural economy. They yield over 50 million tones of milk a year and help cultivate 60 million hectares of cropland. They carry 18000 million tones of freight and provide 52,000 million watts of power, more than all our powerhouses put together. In money terms, they contribute over Rs 50,000 crores to the national economy. Which other community earns so much for the country? 70% of India relies on animals yet we make no provision for them. The entire total of what the Govt allocates for animals amounts to less than one rupee per animal per year. Even this paltry sum exists mostly on paper. Government veterinary centers in rural areas do not function. In the absence of any veterinary care, animals succumb to curable conditions. When they lose their lives, dairy and doodhwallahs, tanga wallahs, dhobis, transporters, construction suppliers and small farmers lose their livelihoods. A significant percentage of rural bankruptcy is caused by premature and high animal mortality.  Ensuring functional and well equipped veterinary centers with an ambulance service in every area having an animal population above such and such would be an attractive poll promise.

All governments promise cheap and plentiful food for all. Yet beyond doling out subsidies, have no long term plan to achieve this. Here is the solution. 31% of India’s arable land has been diverted for fodder cultivation for meat and dairy herds. There are other problems with meat production.  One mechanized slaughterhouse uses 16 million litres a day which would otherwise meet the needs of 90 lakh people. Slaughterhouse waste (blood, urine, entrails) is poured directly into our water bodies poisoning our water supply. A country that cannot meet the drinking water needs of its population has no business setting up or permitting water-guzzling slaughterhouses. Meat is a serious health issue too. 40% of all cancers and modern diseases like obesity, diabetes, arthritis and heart disease are linked to meat. Municipal slaughterhouses flout municipal regulations of health and hygiene with impunity spreading gastroenteritis, salmonella, cholera and e-coli. Illegal slaughterhouses compound the danger.  Chicken flu, Mad Cow Disease and Anthrax are all clear and present dangers from current factory farming methods.  Meat production is also a serious environmental threat. It is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transport sector combined. In Britain the government is looking for ways to reduce meat. The British Public Health System has proposed meatless hospital meals as a way to cut carbon emissions. We too need political parties  to  strengthen our nation’s vegetarian traditions and encourage true Gandhigiri.

Filthy living conditions for dairy cows causes Brucellosis which spreads to humans as tuberculosis. Twice daily injections of a Schedule H hormonal drug named Oxytocin renders cows prematurely dry and leads to hormonal imbalance in humans.

Till date the government has spent over Rs 6000 crores on the unsuccessful Ganga Action Cleaning Plan. Instead of pouring more public money down the drain, we need an election promise to put an end to leather tanneries throwing untreated effluent into the river. By switching the army, central schools and other government buyers to non-leather shoes we rid the country of a major pollutant that kills both people and cows.   
Generations of schoolchildren cutting up frogs for unnecessary syllabus requirements led to mosquito multiplication causing malaria, dengue and now, chickengunya. The use of DDT and chemical pesticides has created another host of health problems. We need alternatives to both chemical pesticides and to senseless experimentation as both have put our lives in danger by threatening the ecological balance.  

Saving the tiger is not a sentimental issue. The tiger is an index species whose existence testifies to the health of the forest. Each will perish without the other. When we lose the tiger, we lose the forest, our rainfall, agriculture and  everything. Conversely when we protect the tiger, its habitat regenerates providing free water, oxygen and climate control.  It is not committees the tiger needs, it is safe habitat. We need parties to spell out protection for our forests against miners, poachers, hoteliers, tribals and developers. With just a few tigers left, their reserves must be treated as no tolerance zones.

Cruelty to animals has a significant impact on human health, economy and environment. Political parties with vision are sure to spot the link between animal and human welfare.  I see my job in politics as a means to change India for the better and in protecting animals we protect the earth and ourselves. When we no longer eat, beat,  mutilate and murder as a matter of right, we create conditions for lasting peace and prosperity.  Isn’t that what we all want and what every political party promises? I hope I am still alive to see one Indian political party, including my own, come to terms with what India needs . Not this time, alas.

To join the animal welfare movement contact gandhim@nic.in


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