In 1991, the DMK, under the leadership of M Karunanidhi, allotted 1,400 sq m of land in Thiruvanmiyur, Chennai, solely for the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) to set up their office.
“The land shall not be utilised for any purpose other than the said purpose,” said the TN government notification dated February 1, 1991, of which TNM has a copy.
The AWBI has functioned out of Chennai since it came into being in 1962. But it appears that decades of legacy mean little to the Centre, as the government is considering shifting the Board to New Delhi.
In December 2017, AWBI got a new Chairperson, SP Gupta, who hails from Haryana. On Thursday, he confirmed to TNM that the matter of shifting the AWBI office to Delhi was indeed under consideration.
A letter dated December 14, 2017 to the chairperson refers to another letter which requested information about space requirements for setting up the AWBI office in Delhi. This letter asks the chairperson to “furnish comments” on the matter “alongwith the details of space requirement, staff to be shifted for shifting the office of Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) from Chennai to New Delhi (sic).”
While Gupta told TNM that the proposal had been under consideration for the last six to seven months, the December letter refers to another one from July 2016. The latter, addressed to the AWBI secretary, informs about the proposed shift of the Board to the national capital, and asks details of the land and office space required.
TNM has a copy of both, the December 2017 and July 2016 letters.
When asked why they were considering shifting, Gupta claims that according to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (PCA) and AWBI administrative rules, the office should be in Delhi. But TNM found no such requisite in the PCA.
Meanwhile, Rule 3 of AWBI Administration Rules (1962) does say that the headquarters of the Board should be in New Delhi, but it does not mandate so. It says that the headquarters should be in New Delhi, “or at such other place, after consultation with the Board” as the Centre directs.
In this case, however, sources in the Board say that their opinion on the matter has not been taken into account. A source also told TNM that there is a possibility that the headquarters may be shifted to Haryana as well.
When asked about this, Gupta said that while their first preference was Delhi, shifting partially to Faridabad district in Haryana was a possibility.
“It depends on the availability of land. In Faridabad, the Ministry (of Environment, Forest and Climate Change) owns the National Institute of Animal Welfare. We will shift part of the office there if we don’t find sufficient space in Delhi,” he said.
Gupta added that they plan to keep the Chennai office running as a regional one, overseeing animal welfare in south Indian states.
Another source told TNM that AWBI Board members, who had been settled and working here for decades were not keen on uprooting and shifting to Delhi. But it does not seem like they would be given the option to say no, the source added.
In contrast, Gupta said that members had expressed willingness to move to the national capital.
He also maintained that there had been no final decision and that the matter was still under the Centre’s consideration.
This is not the first time something like this is happening.
Another source who has been at AWBI for at least two decades told TNM that the first time was during MC Daga’s tenure between 1987 and 1988. At the time, AWBI was functioning from a rented building in Chennai. And the second time was between 2003 and 2004 when Justice Guman Mal Lodha was the chairperson.
But after strong opposition from the DMK on both occasions, the proposals were junked. The issue was resolved internally and AWBI continued to operate from Chennai.
This time around too, the DMK is not prepared to go down without a fight. Though TKS Elangovan, Rajya Sabha MP and DMK spokesperson, said the party members were not aware of such a proposal to shift, they would oppose the move tooth and nail.
“Why do all headquarters have to be in Delhi?” he questions. “AWBI office will remain in Chennai. We will raise the issue in the Parliament and also write a letter to the Environment Minister. We are going to fight against this,” he asserts.