After juggling with contradictory opinions and changes in the administrative ministry, a parliamentary panel has said the election of parliamentarians to the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) may not be construed as holding an office of profit.
The AWBI had requested the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Office of Profit in December 2018 to examine whether the election or nomination of lawmakers to the board amounted to holding an office of profit, thus leading to their disqualification as members of Parliament. The committee, chaired by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Satya Pal Singh, has asked the Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying to take steps to include the AWBI, a statutory body that helps in the implementation of animal welfare laws, in the exempted category of the Parliament (Prevention of Disqualification) Act, 1959.
Six members of Parliament -- four from the Lok Sabha and two from the Rajya Sabha -- are elected or nominated to the AWBI. But no representation has been made since 2007, the report of the committee noted. When the matter was referred to the law ministry for its opinion, the Department of Legal Affairs had opined that the election of members of Parliament to the AWBI "may not be considered as an 'office of profit' and may not incur disqualification in terms of Article 102(1)(a) of the Constitution of India".
The Legislative Department of the law ministry gave a contradictory opinion, saying the election of Lok Sabha members to the AWBI "may attract disqualification from the angle of 'office of profit'," as the board has the powers to disburse funds to animal welfare organisations. Earlier, the AWBI came under the purview of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, but the administrative ministry was changed to the Ministry of Agriculture in 2019 and later, to the Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying.
The changes in the administrative ministry were conveyed to the committee by the environment ministry when its views were sought on the contradictory opinions of the Department of Legal Affairs and the Legislative Department. The Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry, and Dairying informed the committee that the parliamentarians elected or nominated to the AWBI did not receive any honorarium or grants, but were entitled to daily allowances for attending meetings of the board in accordance with the Salary, Allowances, and Pensions of Members of Parliament Act, 1954.
"After hearing the views, the Committee concluded that the Office of AWBI should not be construed as an Office of Profit as it is basically for the welfare of animals," it said. On the issue of the powers of the AWBI to disburse funds, the committee observed that the funds were given for pinjarpoles, rescue homes, animal shelters, and sanctuaries.
"Financial assistance is provided to the Board to extend assistance to animal welfare organisations functioning in the local area and to encourage the animal welfare organisations in the local area, which shall work under the overall supervision and guidance of the Board," it said. The committee recommended to the administrative ministry to take steps for the inclusion of the AWBI in the exempted category of the Parliament (Prevention of Disqualification) Act.