Qila Raipur Rural Olypmics – Bullock Cart Races Ban - 24/02/2012

Dr. Anjani Kumar,
Animal Welfare Division
Ministry of Environment and Forests
8th Floor, 
Jeewan Prakash Building,
25, K.G. Marg, 
New Delhi-110001

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Dear Dr Kumar

Qila Raipur Rural Olypmics – Bullock Cart Races Ban

I write to protest against the above captioned matter. As MLA for Qila Raipur, and as Chairman of the Grewal Sports Association (“GSA”), organisers of the famous Qila Raipur Games, I am most disappointed about the ban on the star event of this rural “Olympiad” by your Ministry. Whilst I have the utmost respect for any measures to prevent cruelty to animals I find the ban placed on Qila Raipur was both selective and ill advised.

The path to this ban has been a curious one. The GSA were given no prior notification, despite this being an annual, well-known and well-publicised event, and no chance was given to the GSA to reply or to make changes to satisfy the Animal Welfare Board or the Director of Animal Husbandry. The ban was handed down only on the eve of the Games by way of a letter from the Animal Welfare Board of India’s S. Vinod Kumaar to various Punjab authorities with a copy to Mr Grewal of the GSA. Upon the ban being challenged by the GSA, the Punjab & Haryana High Court directed the DC, Ludhiana, Mr Rahul Tewari to make a decision on whether the ban should be lifted. Mr Tewari delegated this decision to Punjab’s Department of Animal Husbandry. This ensured that any decision would not be in time to save the bullock cart races at this year’s Games.

The Notification in your name in the Gazette of India, on which this ban has been based, refers “...shall not be exhibited or trained as performing animals...”. There is, however, a clear distinction between a “sports” or “competition” animal and a “performing” one, as any horse or dog race aficionado would testify. I question why bullocks for racing are not considered more akin to competition horses and dogs than to performing bears and their ilk who certainly need the protection of this legislation. Clearly cruel training methods for dancing bears and other “performing” animals needs to be curtailed and I strongly endorse this. I do not and cannot however endorse the selective ban on competition / sports bullocks, especially when this ban is only in force at Qila Raipur. I would also expect that Major General (Retired) Dr Kharb, AVSM, especially should be aware of this difference due to his vast experience and I would invite him to Punjab to witness these races first hand.

To my knowledge there is in fact no legislation pertaining to bullocks and oxen and they have been clubbed with a legislation which was designed originally to protect circus and other performing animals in this case due to some misrepresentation or misunderstanding. In fact, the Animal Husbandry Department of Punjab itself conducted bullock cart races in Muktsar in 2011, introducing strong anti-cruelty guidelines with vets stationed every 100m down the track, a ban on whips etc and even went so far as trimming the nails and removing the rings of jockeys. I sense that in the case of this ban on the races at Qila Raipur the AHD was in fact under some external pressure.

The GSA could, in fact, work closely with the AHD to ensure that new rules, a state level umbrella body and stringent anti doping and registry of racing bullocks is put into place among other measures if there is any concern whatsoever about racing bullocks. But the overriding issue is the fact that bullocks should not be included in the GSR 528(E) Notification of 11 July 2011.

Even allowing for the serious question of definition above, I strongly feel that if there is to be a ban on such races, this needs to be carefully evaluated with inputs from senior Animal Husbandry officials in Punjab who are familiar with the sport, and all participants to see if there is an alternative to a total ban. There needs to be careful consideration as to whether, if certain conditions were met regarding use of whips etc, the races would be able to continue without concern to the welfare of these competition animals.

I also contend that these well bred sports animals are possibly some of the better kept bovines in Punjab, well fed and cared for, unlike other animals left in the streets, grazing from garbage dumps etc. or many working beasts of burden such as donkeys and horses pulling overloaded carts which legislation appears not to protect so aggressively.

If any such ban is to be imposed, I firmly believe it should also be across all rural games, pan Punjab. In this case, other bullock cart races have been held in villages near Qila Raipur, during these same days, whilst a ban was only placed on the event at Qila Raipur and racing pairs were easily spotted. All villages are known to have these events at this time of year and I question the singling out of the Qila Raipur Games and the Grewal Sports Association for this ban.

I humbly request that an investigation be made into this ban, and to how it came about. I would also like to understand how the Qila Raipur Games and the Grewal Sports Association were the only recipients of a notification of a ban whilst other bullock cart races continued unhindered in other nearby villages at the same time. The Grewal Sports Association are, I would contest, the best equipped organisers to implement animal welfare provisions such as on-site veterinary cover, and to apply strict guidelines to bullock cart racers with provision for fines and bans for violations and could in fact lead the way in this.

Additionally, a panel of bull owners and jockeys have said that they are more than happy to self regulate regarding use of any encouragements to the bulls to race which may fall foul of animal welfare standards, and to change their methods accordingly. The fact of this strong buy-in by racers, to ensure there are no accusations of cruelty, shows a willingness to adapt and evolve which, I contest, should be considered favourably by the Animal Welfare Board, the Ministry of Environment & Forests and the Punjab and Haryana High Court.

I therefore ask you to arrange an investigation of this matter along with a clarification on the difference between performing animals (bears, dancing horses) and competition animals (race horses, sports horses, bullocks, greyhounds).

Yours sincerely

Jassi Khangura
MLA, Halqa Qila Raipur
Chairman, Grewal Sports Association
cc: Smt Jayanthi Natarajan
Minister of State (Independent Charge)
Ministry of Environment and Forests
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