BE KIND: Chaining an animal or the exhibition of performing animals will be deemed an offence under the new law
Abhinav Srihan, a Delhi-based animal rights activist, recently filed a case against three people who had brutally killed a stray dog. Initially the police were reluctant to even file the case. But when Srihan pointed out that it was a crime under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (PCA), 1960, the police finally agreed to register the case.
Still, Srihan is doubtful whether the guilty will be punished at all.
“I have filed scores of complaints about cruelty to animals but to no avail. Cruelty to animals is a regular occurrence in India. Unfortunately, our laws are not strong enough. Even in the latest case, the offenders will get off lightly, maybe after paying a few hundred rupees as a fine,” says Srihan, who runs a helpline for animal welfare called Fauna Police.
Srihan and other animal activists say that brutality against animals in general and stray dogs in particular has been on the rise in recent years, and in the absence of a stringent law the problem has only worsened.
“Our country was one of the first to have a law on the prevention of cruelty to animals. But we have only paid lip service to the law over the years, and now it has become irrelevant,” says Naresh Kadyan, a Delhi-based animal rights activist who has filed more than 1,000 FIRs against individuals and organisations involved in animal abuse.
Activists like Srihan, Kadyan and others now have something to cheer about. A draft of a law, the Animal Welfare Act, 2011, floated by the Union ministry of environment and forests, addresses many of their concerns and makes a genuine attempt to stop cruelty to animals and punish offenders in a meaningful way.
As opposed to the existing PCA Act, 1960, which is defined as “an act to prevent the infliction of unnecessary pain or suffering on animals” the proposed law is defined as “an Act to provide for the welfare and well being of animals, and to prevent the infliction of trauma, pain or suffering on them, and to prevent unnecessary killing of animals.”
“The existing law has a prevention-oriented approach, whereas the draft bill has provisions that are proactive, with cruelty to animals clearly defined,” says Anjali Sharma, a Delhi High Court lawyer and member of the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI).
The draft law has also expanded the duties of persons “having charge of animals”. It states: “It shall be the duty of every person having the care or charge of any animal, whether as owner or otherwise, to ensure the welfare and well-being of such animal and to prevent the infliction of trauma, pain or suffering upon such animals.”
It also lays down that all animals should have five freedoms: freedom from thirst, hunger and malnutrition, freedom from discomfort owing to the environment, freedom from pain, injury and disease, freedom to express normal behaviour for the species and freedom from fear and distress.
“The draft law clearly recognises animals as co-inhabitants of this world and that recognition is very important. This provision brings it on a par with other international laws on animals,” says Norma Alvares, an animal rights activists and a lawyer in Goa.
The bill also proposes a hefty increase in the fines for cruelty to animals. Under the existing PCA Act, a paltry fine of Rs 10 to Rs 100 is prescribed for cruelties such as beating or kicking animals or their illegal confinement and killing. The draft law, though, hikes the fines substantially — to between Rs 10,000 and Rs 25,000 or a prison term of up to two years for the first offence. For subsequent offences, the fines can range from Rs 50,000 to Rs 1 lakh or imprisonment for up to three years. The list of what constitutes cruelty has also been expanded.
“The fines under the existing law are a joke. Anybody accused of cruelty to animals can brandish a Rs 100 note and go scot free,” says Alvares.
Again, activists say that the draft law treads a more “humane” path on tests on animals. While Section 14 of the PCA Act took a fairly tolerant view of experiments on animals, in the proposed law animal testing will only be allowed with permission from the Committee for the Purpose of Control and Supervision of Experiments on Animals.
Of course, most animal rights activists want a complete ban on animal testing. “Internationally it is acknowledged that animal testing is of little use. But our government and pharmaceutical companies continue to believe that animal testing is effective,” says Kadyan.
Needless to say, members of the scientific community disagree. The pathology department head of a prominent Delhi government hospital says that this particular provision in the new law could spell trouble. “The government should trust its doctors and scientists. We cannot go to the committee every time we bring an animal into our labs. The existing law on experiments is adequate,” says the professor who did not wish to be named.
The proposed law also bans the exhibition of performing animals like monkeys, parrots and others without permission from authorities at the state level.
Another move that has been welcomed by animal rights activists is on the “decentralisation” of the AWBI and greater power being given to the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) at state levels. As opposed to a single central AWBI, every state would now have its own board authorised to file cases against offenders and recommend fines.
However, despite the many animal-friendly features of the new bill, pet owners feel that some of its provisions may have gone too far. For example, the bill deems as cruelty “any animal chained or tethered with a short or heavy chain or cord”. “I hope the government doesn’t take things too far acting on what the so-called animal activist NGOs say. It should take the suggestions of real animal lovers,” says Yashodhara Hemchandra, a Bangalore-based pet groomer and breeder.
Animal rights activists, on their part, feel that the government could have done more. “The boards should have more than advisory powers. Now they can ask the government to impose fines, but if the authorities do not implement their recommendations they cannot do anything,” says Alvares.
Still, most activists are fairly happy with the draft law and say that if passed, the incidence of cruelty to animals could actually come down. The draft law is posted on the ministry of environment and forests website (www.moef.nic. in). Individuals and organisations can mail their comments on it to the ministry at firstname.lastname@example.org before March 20, 2011.