For the welfare of animals

Several aspects of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act need reconsideration

Updated - September 18, 2020 12:45 am IST

Published - September 18, 2020 12:15 am IST



For a country that claims adherence to ahimsa , India’s treatment of its animals betrays a moral failure. Over the past year alone, there have been reports of animals being subjected to sexual abuse, acid attacks, being thrown off rooftops, and being burnt alive. A major factor that enables such violence is an inept legal framework.

The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act, 1960 punishes the most serious forms of animal violence with a paltry fine of ₹50. We’ve had amendment bills, social media campaigns and petitions before the Supreme Court seeking stricter punishment for animal abuse, but to no avail.

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However, this is not the only issue plaguing the PCA Act. Several other aspects of this legislation need reconsideration if India is to develop a meaningful animal rights regime.

Classification of offences

Section 11 lists a series of offences, which vary from abandoning an animal to kicking it, mutilating it or killing it, and prescribes the same punishment for all these offences. Severe offences are treated on a par with less severe ones. This is a clear departure from established principles of penology.

An amendment is required to grade the offences according to their severity, and specify punishments accordingly. Further, the more severe offences must be made cognisable and non-bailable. At present, a majority of the offences under the Act are non-cognisable, which means the police cannot investigate the offence or arrest the accused without the permission of a Magistrate. This facilitates police inaction, and ensures that most culprits of animal abuse go scot free.

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The PCA Act creates a plethora of exceptions which significantly dilute the protections available to animals. Though Section 11 criminalises several forms of animal cruelty, sub-section (3) carves out exceptions for animal husbandry procedures such as dehorning, castration, nose-roping, and branding.

The law does not provide any guidelines for these procedures. This allows individuals to resort to cruel methods. Many farmers remove horns using hot irons, knives or wires. Nose-roping involves piercing the animal’s nasal septa using a thick, blunt needle. Branding is traditionally done by applying a hot iron directly to the animal’s skin to imprint an identification mark on its body. These procedures cause tremendous physical and psychological pain to animals.

Also read | Animals also entitled to accident compensation, says Supreme Court

Viable alternatives

On August 10, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) India moved the Delhi High Court seeking the enactment of proper regulations for such animal husbandry procedures. The petition suggests mandating the use of anesthetics prior to castration, and the replacement of cruel practices such as nose-roping with face halters and branding with radio frequency identification. Further, as opposed to dehorning cattle, it recommended that farmers breed hornless cattle.

The exceptions in favour of animal husbandry practices need to be reconsidered as there are viable alternatives that would prevent animals from undergoing such trauma.

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The PCA Act also suffers from ambiguity in definition. The law was enacted to “prevent the infliction of unnecessary pain or suffering on animals”. However, this phrase is not defined anywhere in the Act. This is crucial because what constitutes “unnecessary” is entirely a matter of subjective assessment. In the absence of a clear statutory definition, we are leaving crucial questions of animal welfare to the subjective moral compass of judges. Given that the aim of law is to achieve a certain standard of objectivity, it is essential that the expression “unnecessary pain or suffering” be defined.

The Constitution requires all citizens to “have compassion for living creatures”. We must seek to protect the most vulnerable among us. If this promise of the Constitution is to hold any value, our animal welfare laws need an overhaul.

Parth Maniktala is a final-year law student at the Faculty of Law, University of Delhi

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