I am really sad that Sanjeev Balyan has been moved out of the Animal Husbandry department which he headed as MOS Agriculture for the past two years. He is a vet himself and an excellent administrator. For the first time in my life I will tell you about a Minister’s achievements.
The first thing he did was to change the Veterinary Council and put two outstanding people as the heads – Sharma and Gurdial Singh. The secretary, who was the worst officer in the history of India and had destroyed the entire institution, was made accountable for all the cheating he had done for years, and left in a panic.
What was the situation that Balyan and this government inherited: a totally useless veterinary council that had no control over the quality of veterinary colleges or the behaviour and knowledge of vets – in fact, it was totally unaware of how many vets there are in the country and what they did. The syllabus was outdated and there were no courses for wildlife, ophthalmology, or any specific organ. No vets were taught how to castrate (crushing the testicles between two stones is the normal practice), dehorn or follow any hygienic methods of insemination – leading to sweeping diseases of foot and mouth and bovine leukaemia. No vet ever studied to increase his knowledge after he got his initial degree.
In the last two years, Balyan worked at changing the veterinary syllabus, making standards for veterinary practices, making it compulsory for all vets to attend a refresher course every year or have their licences cancelled, and making an all India register of vets and where they were practicing so that anyone who needed a vet could find out immediately.
Veterinary education and practices in India have undergone sweeping changes. The new veterinary syllabus of 2016 will stop the use of live healthy animals as subject for veterinary teaching and training. It will, instead, ensure the use of ethically-sourced cadavers for anatomical studies and simulation methods for students to acquire better clinical skills, before handling and treating animals under supervised clinical training.
Veterinary students and teachers had often protested about using live animals to teach veterinary science, since all over the world this has been replaced with technology. Numerous studies have proved that the learning generated by non-animal teaching methods are better than those achieved by animal use. Non-animal teaching methods do not cause students psychological trauma, or force them to be a part of something that they consider to be cruel and abusive. The new curriculum also makes students undergo internship programmes at animal welfare organisations so that they learn animal welfare.
The new veterinary practice regulations, once implemented, will ensure that minimum standards of veterinary services are made available to animals through static and mobile veterinary clinics. These facilities will be well-equipped with man power, essential veterinary medicines, instruments, diagnostic facilities, and waste disposal system and will function on Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) and humane veterinary practice protocols. The protocol on humane veterinary practices mandates that animals must be given anaesthesia before invasive and painful procedures, such as castration, and that when euthanasia is required, such as to alleviate suffering from terminal illness, it must be done in a painless manner by a veterinarian. New modern courses have been introduced, especially in the area of wildlife and birds. We finally have a syllabus that is on par with foreign colleges. Now all we need is a type of student who likes animals, rather than aiming to simply get a ‘Doctor’ in front of his name so that his dowry rates go up.
Continuing veterinary education is not a new concept. Doctors need to learn the latest knowledge whether they are in government or private practice. Each vet will participate in one training course per year. To bring a mechanism for compulsory CVE programme for veterinary practitioners in India, VCI will set up a credit-based system of certification for compulsory knowledge upgradation of practitioners.
For the first time, online registration will be made compulsory with VCI, for veterinarians, to practice anywhere in the country. The animal husbandry sector needs about 2 lakh veterinarians – as of now there are only 63,000. The VCI has increased the number of seats in colleges from 60 to 100 seats and made it easier to start new colleges.
Balyan also banned the commercial import of dogs for breeding. Thousands of diseased and unsuitable dogs were pouring into the country, being bought illegally by breeders. The notification from Director General of Foreign Trade came in consultation with the Agriculture Ministry. India has an unregulated pet trade, growing at a rate of about 20 percent per year, and these imported breeds are responsible for 90 percent of the dog bites and zoonotic diseases. Animal shelters like mine are crowded with pedigrees that have been thrown away by owners a few months after they buy them.
Balyan has gone to the department of water preservation. There are hundreds of issues still pending – from amending the sizes of battery cages for chickens to making minimum standards for all the hideous rotting government veterinary hospitals in the country. From banning exotic skins and meat to reforming slaughterhouses. The most important step in conserving animals and people is to ban oxytocin and remove antibiotics from farm animal feed, and this should be the topmost priority of his successor. Let me keep my fingers crossed that we get someone who understands the importance of animal welfare.