By Shambhavi Saxena:
Presently, a tensed junction exists between an Indian municipal act permitting the culling of stray dogs and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960. As a result, animal lovers and animal rights activists alike are constantly having to battle not just malicious individuals but civic bodies, Resident’s Welfare Associations, and Cooperative Group Housing Societies – they resort to anything from arbitrary (and illegal) bans, fines, threats and intimidation, and of course, straight up killing of the animals. As a society we seem to dispose off anything that isn’t in direct service to us or to the Gross Domestic Product of the nation. It’s no wonder that our central government won’t leave the ancient forest land alone, when they can serve as fuel-receptacles. And it shouldn’t be a wonder that no sympathy is shown for the condition of stray animals, when that of impoverished humans is ignored.
Culling happens on a large scale across Indian cities for a variety of reasons:
1) The most common reason stated is that stray dogs pose a threat to the safety of humans living in the same territory. Forcefully relocating noisy or aggressive strays is certainly milder in action, and by no means disorienting for a dog who cannot fend for itself in a new and often hostile environment. Culling offers a more permanent solution.
2) Concerns about disease and sanitation prompt civic bodies or individuals to order – round ups or killings as a quick fix – without considering the animal’s plight of having no care, no shelter, no treatment, and now, no right to exist.
3) Several instances show that we treat street dogs as vermin, and cull them in order to present a ‘clean’ image of the area to promote tourism. Also, photographic evidence of culling has been doing the rounds on Facebook. A working professional from Russia, Sergey Shatsky, was horrified by this news and asked, “Why? I’m a tourist and I don’t mind seeing dogs on the street!”
4) Large and unmanageable populations of street dogs and packs can be a hassle for daily life, and extermination seems to trump having them responsibly vaccinated and sterilized.
While the concerns themselves do not appear to be unreasonable, their drastic action is overkill. It has been shown that aggression, particularly in males, is considerably reduced after safe sterilization surgeries. Behaviours, such as urine marking, roaming and mounting, decline and with it the problems of exploding populations, wild packs, et al. The Animal Birth Control Rules 2001, prescribe a humane and effective sterilization program to tackle the exploding street dog populations, and it exists under the larger Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. A civic body can’t terminate the life of a street dog, and the ABC rules of 2001 specify that a certified vet may put down a terminally ill or fatally wounded dog, which is a special case.
During a conference organized by Voice of Stray Dogs, Anjali Sharma (advocate at Delhi High Court and Supreme Court, Executive Committee Member of and Legal Advisor to the Animal Welfare Board of India) walks us through the PCA Act of 1960, and what it means for animal rights activists and concerned citizens. While she maintains it is “a good talking point”, she has pointed out several problems in the act – such as paltry fines – between Rs.10 and Rs.100 – for even the most heinous offences, and poorly defined terms like allowing the “destruction of stray dogs in lethal chambers.” Even in the case of people raping animals, which violates Article 377 of the Indian Penal Code, the matter isn’t taken seriously, and one wonders why we do not extend our outrage to the suffering of these “lesser advantaged beings”, as Sharma calls them.
The anger and disappointment of compassionate individuals had resulted in the creation of a website that regularly documented instances of cruelty in Kerala, between 2011 and 2012. The stories tell of all manners of gruesome culling, from cyanide poisoning to drowning, and the campaign discouraged tourists from coming to the state until the killings stopped.
The preparation period for the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi was rife with controversy, including the mismanagement of public money and the forceful eviction of Delhi’s urban poor. This was, in addition, marked by a ‘cleansing program’ to remove stray animals from the city.
While the PCA Act tries its level best to ensure an animal’s right to life and dignity, making provisions for basic freedom of movement, access to food, and categorically prohibiting the harassment of individuals taking care of street dogs, these incidents continue because of a legal loophole. The Municipal Corporation Act 191 BA (2) gives the Municipal Commissioner the power to dispose off ‘nuisance creating’ stray dogs, following a Bombay High Court’s order, which was stayed by the apex court in 2008.
But there is good news! “In 2012, the Gurgaon Municipal Corporation was the first of its kind to issue strict notices to all CGHS and RWAs in Gurgaon, warning them not to formulate rules and regulations against pets, and that any such move is in conflict with the law” (Jaagruti). Prohibited under this is the illegal relocation of animals, the intimidation of residents who feed them, threatening and abusing said residents (Sec 506 of the IPC), and removing already sterilized dogs from their home territory.
In addition to this, a Supreme Court hearing scheduled for 25th March will be urging an examination and revision of the laws under the PCA Act 1960. Justices Dipak Misra and Prafulla C. Pant, comprise the panel of the hearing, while senior advocate, Anand Grover, will be representing the Animal Welfare Board of India. The hope remains that the upcoming hearing will consider the Animal Welfare Bill that was drafted in 2014, initiated by the Humane Society International/India, to ensure the best protection for pets and strays alike.
A very helpful document put out by the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) provides all the legal information you need, to take on cruel individuals, and it can be found here.