By Lakshmi Kailasan, Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies, New Delhi.

Prevention of animal cruelty is not merely about debating over whether one is a vegetarian or a non-vegetarian and neither is it about determining an animal’s right on the basis of its religious relevance. In the wake of the inhumane acts committed against these creatures, is there a need to strengthen the previously existing legislations? Article 48A of the Indian Constitution provides that the State shall endeavor to protect and improve the environment, and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country. Article 51A(g) of the Indian Constitution imposes on the citizens the fundamental duty to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife, and to have compassion for living creatures.

The sad truth about the plight of animals is our ignorance and indifference towards their suffering.  The majority is unaware about the existing laws and for those who are aware, there is no efficient recourse for animal rescue. Thankfully, the existence of animal rights activists and organizations ensure that these animals do not suffer in silence. We also have a few legislations in place including The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 (which was amended in 1982) and The Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, with proposed amendments in line. The (Draft) Animal Welfare Act (DAWA) of 2011 and The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Amendment) Bill, 2016 are pending for approval.  Majorly, the proposed amendment provides for the imposition of higher penalty in the form of increased fines and term of imprisonment. There are, however, various other aspects of The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, hereinafter referred to as the Parent Act, which need to be modified and revised.

For instance, the exceptions provided under clause 3 of Section 11 are unnecessary and include the insensitive use of the term “destruction of any animal”. This term has been used in various places in the Act. The term also exists in the DAWA, 2011 but it has successfully replaced the word with terms such as “euthanize” in certain places. The proposed amendments should take into account the use of a more sensible and sensitized word for living creatures. The DAWA, 2011 also provides that the exception in the case of dehorning of cattle, nose roping of cattle or castration of any animal should be specifically carried out by a veterinary surgeon.

The other major features of DAWA, 2011 include the prohibition of experiments on animals, except with permission from a Committee set up under the Act and the inclusion of offences committed owing to the unauthorized use of animals in films or broadcasting. DAWA, 2011 also expands the scope of animal welfare organizations responsible for the treatment, care, custody of the affected animal. It brings into purview Animal Welfare Organizations, Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, gaushalas and pinjarapoles apart from infirmaries.

Certain aspects of the Parent Act are subject to scrutiny, such as the subjective interpretation of the term disposal of an animal and the discretionary power of the Court to determine the same. Further, how efficient are the infirmaries mentioned under Section 35 for the treatment and care of animals? Why is there a limitation period of three months from the date of commission of the offence, an offence which is criminal in nature? Lastly, why has one not been given the right to appeal against the order of a Magistrate against the “destruction” of an animal?

A reading of sub clause (e) of clause 3 of Section 11 could also be interpreted as a contradiction to Section 28 of the Act of 1960 which exempts the killing of any animal in a manner required by the religion of any community. Sub clause (e) of clause 3 of Section 11 provides for an exception to the commission or omission of any act in the course of the destruction or the preparation for destruction of any animal as food for mankind unless such destruction or preparation was accompanied by the infliction of unnecessary pain or suffering. Slaughtering of animals as per the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Slaughter House) Rules, 2001 is only allowed in a slaughterhouse recognized or licensed by the concerned authority. However, during such religious sacrifices, animals are slaughtered in public with other animals in sight, by untrained people, hence contravening Rule 6 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Slaughter House) Rules, 2001. Section 28 thereby stands contradicted by the infliction of unnecessary pain and suffering as mentioned under sub clause (e) of clause 3 of Section 11 as these animals are not slaughtered as per the prescribed procedure. The question here is not whether the ritual sacrifices should be carried out or not; the question is why can’t these rituals be carried out in accordance with the existing rules to ensure that these creatures suffer the least possible pain?  

We have all been hearing about the horrifying acts committed against stray dogs, such as sawing off their limbs, their ears, tying them up and beating them up brutally, acts of bestiality etc.; we are quick to consider the psychological state of a person who commits such an act on fellow humans, but is it so different when the same act is being committed against a voiceless being? Is it not an indicator of an even worse mental state wherein a human finds pleasure in torturing an animal that cannot retaliate? An ignorant person may ask, “How does it matter to us what people do to animals?” For us humans, who are mostly concerned about the threat to other fellow humans, the answer is quite simple. Such an act reflects upon a psychopathic tendency on part of the perpetrator and develops in him an absence of fear of punishment for his acts. Is he morally any different than a murderer or a rapist that we are relatively more alert about?

Also on the rise is the problem of herds of cows that have been let loose onto the roads by their owners who are either incapable of looking after them or are willfully neglecting them. Their exposure to roads with traffic poses a threat to their lives. These herds which are left to starve and fetch their own food in garbage dumps, accidentally consume plastic covers, injure themselves with razors, glass and other harmful objects lying around. As a result of being undernourished and vulnerable to diseases they tend to die at an early age.

Despite provisions for forfeiture of neglected animals to the government and their transfer to infirmaries for proper care and treatment, why are the animals in our country in such a deplorable state? More importantly, what can be done for their betterment? Few suggestions include establishment of well-funded farms or shelters in each State by the Government where all such abandoned, vulnerable and diseased animals can be cared for, by appointing qualified veterinarians and maintenance staff. Imposing stricter punishment and cancellation of medical license of veterinary doctors for medical negligence will also be an important step. There have been numerous cases of doctors portraying negligence but escaping scott-free. A weekly or monthly inspection of varied areas for keeping a check on the abandoned or stray animals who can then be picked up by the authorities and rehabilitated in shelters and organizations from where they can be adopted by eligible caretakers, will prove to be a colossal stride for bettering these animals’ lives.

In the words of George Elliot, “Animals are such agreeable friends—they ask no questions; they pass no criticisms.” The least we can do for them is ensuring that they are treated fairly.