Gauri Maulekhi is a Trustee of People for Animals, an NGO started by Maneka Gandhi
Under fire for banning the sale of cattle for slaughter, the centre has struggled to find a convincing explanation for its order.
Three days after the rules were notified, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) issued a press note, where it referred to a Supreme Court order based on a petition filed by Gauri Maulekhi, an animal rights activist, asking the government to "frame guidelines to prevent animals from the being smuggled out of India" for a religious festival held in Nepal where large scale animals sacrifice takes place.
Ms Maulekhi is a Trustee of People for Animals or PFA, an NGO started by Union Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi.
On its website, PFA describes itself as "India's largest animal welfare organization with a nationwide network of 26 hospitals, 165 units and 2.5 Lakh members."
So why would a seemingly apolitical organisation play an instrumental role in what has been widely criticised as a politically charged decision? As more than one commentator has pointed out, the ban invokes animal cruelty laws, but bans only the sale of cattle for slaughter which, they say, indicates that the decision might have less to do with animal rights and more with the ruling party's cow-agenda.
The answer may lie in the ambiguity surrounding PFA's activism.
On its home page, alongside pictures of puppies and a tiger is a prominent banner asking for Gau daan
, or contributions to bolster the group's cow protection efforts.
This includes running a gaushala or cow shelter at the Sanjay Gandhi Animal Care Centre described as India's largest shelter for rescued animals.
But PFA also doesn't seem averse to adopting cow vigilante-like techniques. The site goes on to say "Every day brave People for Animals raiding team seize over trucks that are taking cattles (sic) for illegal slaughtering. With a courage in heart and passion in their souls, they try and rescue these cattles by any means possible."
In late April, this side to PFA's methods surfaced when their volunteers were charged with the beating of three men transporting buffaloes in Kalkaji in south Delhi. At least one of the accused, Gaurav Gupta, an activist with PFA was candid about the Hindutva motivations underpinning their actions
In a statement, Maneka Gandhi denied PFA's role, saying "whoever acted did so in his individual capacity."
Appearing on the NDTV show Reality Check earlier this week, Ms Maulekhi vigorously denied politics behind the cattle sale ban, saying that the Supreme Court-mandated committee set up in response to her petition "discovered that all these (cattle) markets are only kind of funds (sic) for organized smuggling mafia".
Except as NDTV reported yesterday
the committee's report arrives at no such conclusion.
Fauzan Alavi, Director of Allanasons Ltd, one of the country's leading buffalo meat exporters, and a co-panelist on the show said he visited Ms Maulekhi at Shastri Bhawan, at the offices of Womens and Child Ministry, over a dispute regarding a municipal slaughterhouse operated by Allanasons.
Ms Maulekhi bristled at being asked why she conducts her animal rights activism from a government office.
"I am Adviser to the Minister", she shot back. She also said she is a member of "Delhi state slaughterhouse monitoring committee", a position that has nothing to do with the Women and Child Ministry. "That is in my personal capacity", she said.
Shortly after the show, Ms Maulekhi appears to have moved the goalposts yet again by sending out this (evidence-free) tweet: "Cattle smuggling is a major source of terror funding. Facilitating smuggling thru markets, is suicide."