In the early hours of the morning, Joyita sets out of the comfort of her home with a freshly cooked pot of rice and chicken to feed around 150 stray dogs in her vicinity. A daily pro bono affair, done solely in pursuit of her compassion towards the homeless animals, Ms. Joyita, a resident of Sushat Lok in Gurugram, says that she has to be cautious each time she goes out to feed the dogs. Not from any sort of aggression or fear from the stray dogs, but of “angry, educated residents”.
Ms. Joyita and several other stray dog feeders in Delhi-NCR are at the cross-section of the perennial man-dog conflict where they are often accused of being part of the problem.
However, 51-year-old housewife Komal Gupta, a resident of Dilshad Garden, don’t want people to feed the stray dogs. She said the stray dogs continuously bark and don’t let people enter the colony. “But we can’t do anything about it because our society is also divided on this matter,” Ms. Gupta said.
She recently had an argument with 25-year-old Sanya Dhingra, a marketing executive with a private firm in Noida, over feeding biscuits to stray dogs in a local park. The size of the man-dog conflict can be gauged from the fact that the 2016 dog census of the Capital, which is used to arrive at targets for sterilisation, put the figure of stray dogs at 1.9 lakh.
Animal rights activist Gauri Maulekhi, however, believes that the dog feeders are actually a crucial part of the solution. “Since these animals are there, the feeder actually plays an important role in conducting animal birth controls surgeries,” Ms. Maulekhi said.
She elaborates that if the animals are unfamiliar with people and they are not being fed, they become uncatchable. Since catching them is important for their sterilisation, feeders play a very important role. Legally also, there is a specific instruction of the Delhi High Court that no feeder can be prevented from feeding the dogs. “The maximum that can be done is, where there is a conflict, through consensus a particular place in the colony can be designated for dog feeding,” she said.
Apex court ruling
The Supreme Court is currently seized of a case aptly titled ‘Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) vs People for Elimination of Stray Troubles’. The case stems from a Bombay High Court judgment which had allowed municipal authorities in Maharashtra to kill stray dogs causing “nuisance”.
The apex court had on January 23, 2009, stayed the High Court’s order after the Animal Welfare Board appealed that unless the term “nuisance” was clearly defined the order of the High Court cannot be implemented.
During the course of the litigation, the Animal Welfare Board had in 2016 submitted the ‘implementation framework for street dog population management, rabies eradication and reducing man-dog conflict”.
The Board had noted that the Animal Birth Control (Dogs) Rules, 2001, prescribe the methodology for street dog population management, ensuring rabies eradication, and reduction in man-dog conflict based on scientific studies and recommendations of the World Health Organization.
However, it submitted that the implementation of the rules in most States was inadequate, haphazard, and poorly planned, resulting in not achieving the desired result.
One of the reasons it cited was lack of coordination between the Centre and the State governments, and between local authorities, implementation agencies, and other stakeholders within the States. Most States have not created any budget head for animal birth control of street dogs, the Board added.
In an affidavit filed in the case, the Central government had admitted that the involvement of various agencies/departments at the Central and State level, more particularly at the State-level, was required for the proper and effective control and management of stray dogs as per ABC rules implemented by the AWBI. The State governments have already been advised by the Central government to set up State-level Animal Welfare Boards, which should be the nodal mechanism to perform this task.
Civic bodies’ challenges
Ravinder Sharma, director of the veterinary department in South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC), says civic bodies face several challenges in keeping a check on stray dog population. This, he said, included the physical catching of dogs, dealing with residents who oppose releasing them in the same area, opposition from animal activists and even financial constraints.
NGOs with whom SDMC has a tie-up to carry out sterilisation have not been paid since March of this year, Mr. Sharma said.
According to data from the three municipal corporations, this year at least 19,436 dogs have been caught and sterilised so far. Last year, a total of 86,765 dogs were sterilised in the Capital.
No master plan
Ms. Maulekhi said that East Delhi Municipal Corporation does not have any animal birth control facilities, so they depend on NGOs to create the facilities. She said that as per the Supreme Court guidelines, the corporations have to create the facilities and involve NGOs in doing animal birth control work.
But it is not being followed in Delhi at all, she remarked accusing the civic bodies here of running a “shoddy programme ridden with corruption”. The payment for sterilisation to the contractors is done through organ counting. When a female dog is sterilised, the ovary and uterus is removed and when the male dog is sterilised the testicles are removed.
“The organ counting itself is a very flawed exercise as it is not monitored. Some of these contractors are collecting testicles of goats from the slaughterhouses and getting them counted as dog organs,” Ms. Maulekhi claimed.
This is one of the reasons why results are not available on the ground, she said. “Some of the NGOs are doing a sort of slipshod operation of taking out the organ and the dog finally dies on the road. That is not the idea. If the dog dies on the road, its territory becomes vacant and other dogs fight to get the territory and bites increase,” Ms. Maulekhi explained.
The idea is for the dog to go back hale and hearty and not procreate any further so that conflict decreases. This has not been done in Delhi at all, she remarked.
An idea of shelter homes for stray dogs or ‘dog zoo’ was also mooted before the Supreme Court. However, the Centre responded that there cannot be a concept of ‘zoo’ for stray dogs under the Animal Birth Control (Dogs) Rules, 2001.
“There is no end to the number of animals that people are growing intolerant towards. But there is also a statutory provision for resolving such conflict and it cannot be done on the whims and fancies of the elected representatives,” Ms. Maulekhi said.
It has to be done in a manner which is scientific and sustainable.
She narrated that three High Courts – Bombay, Himachal and Karnataka — had asked for dogs to be exterminated way back in 2009. Finally, the issue reached the Supreme Court, which stayed all such orders of the High Courts.
Culling not the answer
Ms. Maulekhi stated that in neighbouring countries — Bangladesh and Pakistan — there is no bar on the killing of these animals. “They kill them regularly, still they have not got rid of the problem,” she said.
She stressed that killing the animal is not the solution. The only solution, she said, is to follow the October 2016 Supreme Court’s implementation framework.
She stated that the State- monitoring committee has not been formed in Delhi, while other States such as Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh are doing a fantastic job. “Lucknow now boasts India’s biggest animal birth control centre, which is opening at the end of this month,” she added.
“Even Jharkhand and Bihar has it. How can Delhi not have its animal birth control centre,” she argued.
While the animal birth control has been happening in the Capital for last 15-20 years, it has not been effective. “The only way it can be effective is if large birth control facilities are made and a very high put-through programme is made to cover at least 70% of the dog population within a span of two to three years,” she highlighted.
Running a small programme over a decade is not going to solve the problem. Because by the time you do, more dogs have procreated, she said. “You cannot empty an ocean one teaspoon full at a time,” Ms. Maulekhi concluded.
(With inputs from Soibam Rocky Singh, Hemani Bhandari, Sidharth Ravi and Aarushi Aggarwal)