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Being human towards animals

Disturbing trend: “There is a never-ending list of animal abuse cases that have come up just in the recent past.” Bhadra, the dog who was thrown off a terrace in Chennai, being treated at the Madras Veterinary College in Chennai.  

Mahatma Gandhi famously said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” Looking at the defunct laws against animal cruelty in the country, it seems like we have failed him, and the nation, miserably. There is a disturbing and never-ending list of animal abuse cases that have come up just in the recent past: a stray dog was burnt alive in Nizamuddin Basti in Delhi; another was tied up and beaten with lathis in Sector 48 in Chandigarh; puppies were stabbed in the Green Park metro station in Delhi; puppies were burnt alive in Hyderabad. In Chennai, a video that showed a man throwing off a hapless dog from the terrace of his building went viral and caused a lot of outrage. He and his companion were caught, but shockingly got bail within minutes. The dog, Bhadra, is safe and in good hands. But the larger malaise, that laws against animal cruelty are obsolete, remains.

Valuing other lives

The main law pertaining to cruelty to animals is the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 (PCA Act), which has not been amended even once since its inception to keep up with the times. The most glaring anomaly is that punishment for killing any stray animal is a paltry fine of Rs.50 and no jail term. If all an offender has to do if he kills a stray dog is pay Rs.50 and go scot-free, this begs the question, how much do we value lives that are not human?

Other forms of cruelty include what takes place in the pet shop industry, for instance. This is a burgeoning industry, worth thousands of crores of rupees, and is especially rampant in smaller towns. Abuse, including clipping the wings of birds, ripping off with plyers the claws of cats, or cutting off the beaks of birds with hot knives, is unchecked. There is forcible incestuous mating of “pedigree” dogs so that their “looks” are kept intact. The result of this mating are dogs that have severe genetic deformities and that die with congenital complications. Moreover, it is not just animals but even human beings who are at risk when, say, the solid waste from these pet shops is allowed to mix with regular municipal waste, thus polluting groundwater. Dead animals are sometimes thrown in garbage bins. Such practices can lead to the spread of deadly diseases like bird flu. All this is in gross violation of Article 21 — the right to a clean and disease-free environment — without which no society can ever sustain itself let alone develop.

Three rules

To regulate these practices, the Animal Welfare Board of India (a statutory body constituted under the PCA Act to protect animal rights) made a set of three rules: Pet Shop Rules, 2010; Dog Breeding, Marketing and Sale Rules, 2010; and the Aquarium Fish Breeding and Marketing Rules, 2010. These were then placed before the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF) in 2010. However, no action has been taken by the MoEF yet. The AWBI even requested the Law Commission of India to look into whether the MoEF is authorised under the PCA Act to notify such rules. The Law Commission in its 261st report (2015), under the chairpersonship of Justice A.P. Shah, stated: “It appears that the provisions of the law are violated with impunity by pet shops and breeders. In these circumstances, the Commission recommends that the Central Government must seriously take cognisance of the issue and regulate the trade in pet shops... and the MoEF has authority to make these rules”. It added: “The Commission recommends that the rules be notified and implemented at the earliest”.

Amending the PCA Act

The Law Commission is not a binding body, but the recommendations and the gravity of these horrors that play out everyday in the pet shop industry cannot just be brushed aside by the MoEF. Even the Supreme Court in its famous Jallikattu judgment, Animal Welfare Board of India vs. A. Nagaraja (2014), exhorted Parliament to amend the PCA Act. The court said: “Parliament is expected to make proper amendment of the PCA Act to provide an effective deterrent to achieve the object and purpose of the Act and for violation of Section 11, adequate penalties and punishments should be imposed.”

It does not behove a civilised society and the world’s largest democracy to not have legal protection for the voiceless, especially given the extent of cruelty perpetrated against them. It flies in the face of our constitutional duty under Article 51A(g), which enjoins us to have compassion for all living beings and not just humans, to act immediately.

Prashant Bhushan is a PIL activist and co-founder of Swaraj Abhiyan. Siddhartha K. Garg is a lawyer who runs Angel Trust NGO for stray dogs in Delhi.

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Printable version | Dec 3, 2020 10:29:51 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/Being-human-towards-animals/article14626571.ece

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