India, being the land of sages, has always believed in ahimsa and equality for all living beings. The Constitution of India itself lays down in Article 51-A (g) that Indian citizens must be compassionate towards all living creatures. In the furtherance of it, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act, 1960 was enacted along with Wildlife (Protection) (WP) Act. However, in the past few years, we, as humans, have betrayed our moral failure towards voiceless animals. The testament to this is the growing reports of animals being subjected to sexual abuse, being burnt alive, acid and pebble attacks, thrown off from the rooftop, lit crackers on their tails, and even cutting them down in marble cutter, the list is endless and horrendous. How have we stooped down so low that we are finding our entertainment in torturing voiceless beings?
PREVENTION OF ANIMAL CRUELTY
The Constitution imposes a fundamental duty on us to safeguard the wildlife and have compassion for all living creatures as a result of which the PCA Act was laid down as a measure to give rights of freedom and living to animals. The act was made in 1960 shows how little has been done since then. Unfortunately, in our country, the discussion related to animal rights revolves around political arcades, primarily cow slaughter or beef ban and protection for endangered species. Many animal lovers have been helping by rescuing and providing shelter homes, medication, and food to the tiny beings but for a collective measure, a well-executed law has to be made to safeguard the interest of animals.
The PCA Act in Section 11 defines cruelty and lists a series of offences and prescribes punishment for the same. However, the act lacks basic connotation with today’s time and needs strict amendments. Disturbingly, the punishment for treating animals cruelly is punishable with a fine of Rs 10 that may extend to Rs 50 on first conviction. On subsequent conviction within three years of a previous offence, it is punishable with a fine of Rs 25 that may extend to Rs 100 or imprisonment of three months or with both. Performing operations like Phooka or any other operations to improve lactation which is injurious to the health of the animal is punishable with a fine of Rs 1,000 or imprisonment up to two years or both and experimentation on animals is punishable with a fine up to Rs 200.
The WP Act too provides lists of species of both flora and fauna which need to the protected from increasing commercialisation of animal goods in form of trading of endangered species, uses of their skin for beauty products, selling off their horns in the black market and further being used in medical by-products. The law brings all these malpractices under its supervision. The act also controls the hunting of wild animals, protection of national parks and sanctuaries, restrict the illegal trade of wild animals, and articles. Section 39 specifies that any wild hunted animal found, killed, fed, alive, or dead shall be the property of the state government. Likewise, Section 9 of the act prohibits the hunting of wild birds.
Our legislative provisions and judicial pronouncements make an effective case for animal rights. But since no rights and laws can be absolute, regulation of animal rights is a must. Therefore, time and again judicial pronouncements have become voices of the animals and their rights.
In 2014, Supreme Court’s landmark judgment in decisions banning the bull-taming festival ‘Jallikattu’ can be described as a watershed moment in terms of animal rights. It not only recognised that animals have a constitutional right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution as well as the right to dignity and fair treatment.
In a landmark judgement of Punjab and Haryana High Court, it was observed that “entire animal kingdom including avian and aquatic are declared as legal entities having a distinct persona with corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a living person”, touching the matter of animal rights in the purview of Fundamental Rights.
The latest judgment by Delhi High Court states that stray dogs have the right to food and citizens have the right to feed them. The Court observed that “we have to show compassion towards all living creatures. Animals may be mute but we as a society have to speak on their behalf. No pain or agony should be caused to the animals. Cruelty to animals causes psychological pain to them. Animals breathe like us and have emotions. The animals require food, water, shelter, normal behaviour, medical care, self-determination.”
In 2006, the Bombay High Court passed an important ruling, wherein any film meant for public viewing in which animal is used or filmed, has to obtain a certificate from the Animal Welfare Board of India. It safeguards animals from being exploited or ill-treated during filmmaking.
In 2014, Supreme Court banned the illegal transport of cattle to Nepal for the Gadhimai festival that played a crucial role in bringing down the number of animals sacrificed that year.
The Central government has already initiated the process of amendment of the PCA Act and other viable alternatives are being made for safeguarding the interest of animals at large. Some of the observations are as under:
In the present scenario of Covid-19, when every country is researching making successful medication and vaccines to end this pandemic, millions of mice, cats, dogs, rabbits etc are the ones on whom the trial is being done. This kind of horrible environment exposes animal cruelty. Through the Drugs and Cosmetics Rules (Second Amendment) 2014, animal testing for cosmetic products was prohibited all over India. But this subject needs more attention in today’s time. The present legislation in India needs to be modified by making more stringent laws.
Over the years illegal trafficking and poaching of animals across the borders have led to overexploitation of certain species to the point that their survival has become difficult and caused further cruelty to them. Wildlife resources must be managed sustainably and conserved by the law. For which the Indian Penal Code, 1860, under sections 428 and 429 constitutes that killing, poaching or torturing animals is a cognisable offence and is required immediate FIR and rigorous imprisonment which may extend to up to five years or fine or both.
There should be finer and stricter rules implemented for the transportation of livestock in India. The amended motor vehicle rule is one such step in this direction which provides that vehicles without special licenses for such transportation should not be ply on roads and a healthy and safe environment should be provided to these animals. The excessive overloading of animals, permanent partition for transportation of individual animals, health checks up can be some of the additions.
Shelter homes are the need of the hour. An animal that has been mistreated needs support and sometimes immediate for which there should be shelter homes with viable facilities. There should be proper checks and regulations with timely inspection of these shelter homes.
There should be 24/7 medical centres for animals, especially domesticated pets.
The PETA India suggested some regulations mandating the use of anaesthetics before castration and replacement of cruel practices.
The PCA Act needs refined and stern punishment. The drafted bill has increased the fine three times the cost of animals or Rs 75,000 with the imprisonment of three years that may extend to five or both, has been proposed.
Steps should be taken for the protection of ‘’dignity of the creature’’ like the law laid down in Switzerland which deemed activities degrading to the dignity of animals forbidden by law.
In many cases reported in India, the barking of dogs has been a cause of beating them and often owners try to stop dogs from barking. This should be considered illegal and pet owners should learn how to take care of their pets.
Registration of pets has become a mandate across the country. This is a huge step for making society pet friendly. Effective implementation of registration should be done and non–compliance to register should be met with dire consequences. People too should be responsible and help the government in this.
As per WP Act, there are some wild and endangered animals not just lions and tigers but a lot of exotic animals are banned to pet or keep domesticated. The reason for this is that these animals enjoy their natural habitats and can’t survive or properly nurture at our homes. We should not play down with the rule of the land and also report such incidents to the authorities at the earliest.
The issue of animal rights revolves around the question of whether animals should be given the same protections as humans. They should be treated with the utmost respect, care, and love. Animals should not be considered helpless and voiceless beings. In a society, where we all talk about how to be civilised, we buffoon the idea that animals are meant to be caged. There are a lot of things we can do to protect animals. You don’t have to own a pet to help in the cause. Let’s all be the voice they wish they had, and make the choice they wish they could. Stop animal cruelty.
The writer is an Advocate at Punjab and Haryana High Court, Chandigarh. The views expressed are personal.