‘These are small animals. It does not matter if they die.’ When a lab technician of India’s premier medical research institution says that, you don’t quite know what to say. The news report published in this paper on Monday exposing the fact that animals — monkeys, rabbits, sheep and rats — used for medical experiments at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) are sick and dying is yet again a shocking indictment on regulatory practices in this country. Using animals for medical research is permitted under Indian law. Scientists using animals to come up with incremental breakthroughs is not something we are against. But breaking ‘rules of engagement’ to protect animals from abuse is a different ball game.
According to the Ministry of Environment and Forests’ Committee for Purpose of Control and Supervision on Experiments on Animals guidelines, no animal should be used for experimentation for more than three years, unless justified. But many animals held captive at AIIMS have clocked their time behind cages well past that period. The guidelines also state that animals should be observed for illness, injury or abnormal behaviour on a daily basis. This norm, too, has been flouted.
The regulations for using animals for research purposes have been twisted out of shape. It is the lack of any implementation of rules or reprisals that has made India a happy hunting ground for companies testing their products.
Animal activists have been crying hoarse for a while about this rule-bending. This time we have proof. If one cannot stick to procedures, one runs the risk of being forced to throw away the baby (testing on animals, in this case) out with the bath water (flouting norms). It’s one thing to allow tests being conducted on animals for the benefit of man. It’s quite another to cut corners and make the animals suffer as a result of criminal neglect.