Massive hike in animal cruelty fines proposed in draft Act

The new draft Animal Welfare Act, 2011 for 1,000-time increase

Published - February 21, 2011 02:19 am IST - NEW DELHI:

Animal welfare is set to get a boost with a new draft Act that includes much higher penalties than the outdated fines prescribed by the existing Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960. In a signal that the treatment of domestic animals is finally being taken seriously, the new draft Animal Welfare Act, 2011 proposes to multiply the old fines by a factor of 1,000.

The old Act recommends a fine of Rs. 10 to 50 for being cruel to animals – whether beating and kicking it, abandoning or overloading it, or even mutilating or killing it. A second offence within three years could be punished with a fine of Rs. 25 to 100 or a prison sentence of three months; hardly a deterrent in the current scenario.

Under the draft Act, similar offences are punishable with a fine of Rs. 10,000 to Rs. 25,000 or a prison term up to two years. A second offence invites a penalty of Rs. 50,000 to Rs. one lakh and imprisonment up to three years. It also allows for the government to increase these penalties at a later date.

“India has one of the most comprehensive laws on the subject of Wildlife Protection; but unfortunately, domesticated animals do not enjoy specific protections under the same,” notes the Ministry of Environment and Forests' preamble to the draft Act.

“There is therefore a need for a comprehensive and holistic legislation to address this issue.” The draft legislation is now available for comment on the Ministry website.

The draft Act also seeks to move from “a defensive position to a positive, welfare and well-being oriented approach” by strengthening animal welfare organisations and altering and enlarging the definition of animal abuse, in keeping with the times and judicial pronouncements.

For example, the old Act provided an exception for the destruction of stray dogs in lethal chambers, while the new draft law does not explicitly include any such exception. The old Act also provides an exception for “killing any animal in a manner required by the religion of any community,” which is missing in the draft law.

The earlier legislation used a “means justify the ends” argument to allow experiments on animals for scientific and medical purposes.

“Nothing contained in this Act shall render unlawful the performance of experiments…on animals for the purpose of advancement by new discovery of physiological knowledge or of knowledge which will be useful for saving or for prolonging life or alleviating suffering or for combating any disease,” it said, even as it listed the regulations for such experiments.

The new draft Act, on the other hand, starts off the relevant section by declaring: “No person or institution shall perform an experiment on animals unless permitted by the Committee for the Purpose of Control and Supervision of Experiments on Animals, established under this Act.”

Even if many of the regulations remain similar, there is a clear attitudinal change. Fines in this section have been hiked from Rs. 200 to a much more serious Rs. 20,000 to Rs. 50,000, with institutional punishments also applicable.

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