Producer, animal board differ on jurisdiction in SBI ad case

Producer, animal board differ on jurisdiction in SBI ad case

The producer of SBI Card’s “Golden Egg" television commercial, which got into trouble for allegedly using a chicken without a no-objection certificate (NOC) from the government’s Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI), is challenging the board’sjurisdiction.

The commercial used a chicken laying golden eggs to sell the benefits of a new SBI card and was the subject of a Mint story on 16 November.

Sudhir Makhija, a partner at Doctor Films, the firm that shot the ad, challenged the board’s authority in a 10-page letter addressed to the board. Copies of the letter were also sent to JWT, the agency behind the commercial, the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) India, a non-profit organization that lobbies for animal rights, the Advertising Standard Council of India as well as Roopam Asthana, chief executive of SBI Card.

The board, however, insists that it has the proper authority to issue such NOCs.

“We had directed SBI Card to withdraw the commercial and it has done so. As far as the producer is concerned, we will take legal action against him. We have the authority to issue NOC under the Performing Animals Registration Act," says D. Rajasekar, secretary of the board.

Maneka Gandhi, a member of Parliament and chairperson of People for Animals, a not-for-profit organization, also insists that the board “has jurisdiction. He (Makhija) should read the two Bombay high court orders."

N.G. Jayasimha, manager, legal affairs and campaigns of Peta India, also maintains that the board has the authority to issue the NOC.

“The requirement (of an NOC) had been laid down in the Performing Animals (Registration) rules. But nobody had followed it earlier. So, Peta had filed a writ petition before the Bombay high court in September 2004 against the Union of India and Central Board for Film Certification (Censor Board of India).

“The court mandated that the central board must seek an NOC from the AWBI before issuing a censor certificate," says Jayasimha.

Whether the board has jurisdiction or not, it has not been very effective in enforcing its orders against alleged errant producers of similar advertisements or companies paying for them.

Earlier this year, the board pulled up Johnson & Johnson for shooting a commercial using dogs and cockatoos to launch Savlon soap, and asked the company to pay a fine of Rs1 crore.

Very little headway, if any, appears to have been made in that case.

The board’s Rajasekar would only say that he is unaware of the case as he took over his role only on 22 October.

SBI Card producer Makhija also maintains that the board did not give an NOC even though he asked for one.