After months of speculation and forecasting, the 2018 budget of the current Indian government has finally been presented. As the Union finance minister began his speech, it was clear that more than economic agenda, it was political acumen that was at the heart of the budget. In its effort to woo farmers and rural masses, and eyeing the upcoming 2019 elections, the latest budget announced by the government seems to be about agriculture, agriculture and agriculture.
The new budget’s allocation of a dedicated fund of 10,000 crore rupees to develop fisheries, aquaculture and animal husbandry sectors and increase animal rearing and production begs the question of what this all means for the animals in India. In the absence of strong laws and regulation of the farming sector, the increased funding will only result in growth and commercialization with no concern for animal welfare, exacerbating problems for animals, consumers and the environment at large.
Currently, there are negligible laws protecting farmed animals in India. Dairies are often illegal, fisheries are largely unregulated, illegal slaughter is rampant despite the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, and food safety rules and production guidelines are openly flouted. About 200 crore rupees have already been set aside for an artificial insemination drive to increase the nation’s cattle population. This allocation will bring about a 15% increase in artificial insemination and a jump in milk output valued at 15,000 crore rupees. This is a clear indicator that the government of India, already the nation with the highest milk production in the world, is only concerned with increasing output.
But there may be a silver lining. Out of the 4,000 gaushalas [Indian cow sanctuaries] that are functional, only a few are in good condition, with many suffering from the problems of overcrowding, insufficient feed, inadequate medical attention, and communicable diseases being spread to healthy animals through contaminated air, water, or feed. With the strong cow protection agenda of the current government, we are hopeful that at least some funds from the 10,000 crore rupees allocated for fisheries, aquaculture and animal husbandry sectors will be set aside for better maintenance of gaushalas, backed with strict standards and laws to deal with the growing population of these gentle bovines.
It will also be interesting to note how the government will address the excessive commodification of fish, one of the most neglected groups of animals, whose lives are measured in tons instead of numbers. Due to various schemes to promote ‘animal industrialization,’ more than half of all the fish consumed each year are now raised on fish farms. Many farmed fish suffer from parasitic infections, diseases, and debilitating injuries due to being bred in captivity. Those who survive are starved before they are sent to slaughter, in order to reduce waste contamination during transport.
With an exponential increase in animal exploitation in India, there is an immediate need to address the welfare of all animals in the budget. Varda Mehrotra, Director of Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO), has urged the government to allocate special funds for running animal birth control programs for dogs, regulating slaughterhouses, better maintaining gaushalas, and setting up and operating State Animal Welfare Boards. Mehrotra has also called for increased funds for street animal care, through the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI), and funding for the establishment and maintenance of animal shelters throughout the country.
For all the commotion surrounding the budget, animals are entirely absent from the conversation. This serves as a stark reminder of how insignificant their sentience is in the Indian government’s decision making on economic growth and reform. We at FIAPO sincerely hope that the Indian government will take notice of the over-exploitation of animals, and will pass regulations and reforms to significantly improve animals’ conditions.
Featured image: A cow eats hay at Visakha Society for Protection and Care of Animals (VSPCA). Credit Kim Bartlett – Animal People, Inc.