The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.
~ Mahatma Gandhi
Undoubtedly, the population of stray dogs is increasing at a break-neck speed. Every day, one can hear cases of dog bites which indeed is a behaviour to control. However, in an attempt to eradicate this danger, a very shocking decision was passed by the Bombay High Court on October 20th, 2022 wherein it held that no citizen and no resident of Nagpur and areas surrounding it shall feed or make any attempt to feed the stray dogs in public places. The Court went more to hold that if any person is interested in feeding stray dogs, he shall first adopt the stray dog/bitch and register it with Municipal Authorities or put them in dog shelter homes, making it almost impossible for the ordinary feeders to feed the stray dogs, making it next to impossible for residents to feed any dog. For every breach, there shall be now a penalty of Rs. 200.
Now, the question arises that whether a blanket order prohibiting the feeding of all street dogs is an act towards a solution or rather an act of cruelty upon dogs, especially for the ones which are injured and pregnant? Is it not a passive killing of dogs?
Contrary to established principles of law
Well, it seems that the order goes directly against the Constitution and established principles in the context of human-animal interaction. Firstly, Article 51A(g) of the Constitution lays down the duty upon every citizen to show compassion for every living creature including street dogs. Most pertinently, the Apex Court in the case of Animal Welfare Board of India v. A. Nagaraja held that Article 21 of the Constitution protects the life and liberty of animals besides humans which means the animals do have the right to life with dignity. It was further held that animals have the right to get food and shelter. Apart from the Constitution, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 through Sections 3 and 11 of the Act ensures that the animals are not treated with cruelty. Very importantly, the Ministry of Personnel issued Notification dated 26th May, 2006 for dissuading animal cruelty and to allow animal lovers to feed stray animals. The Animal Birth Control (Dogs) Rules, 2001, puts duty upon the authorities and provides that all street dogs should be sterilized, vaccinated and shall be released into the same area from where they were taken.
As far as the standpoint of other High Courts is concerned, the Punjab and Haryana High Court in Karnail Singh v. State of Haryana recognised all animals as legal entities and also declared that the citizens of Haryana as persons in Loco Parentis (in place of a parent) to the animals. The Delhi High Court in Dr. Maya D. Chablani v. Radha Mittal & Ors. held that no animal should be starved to death. It was held that it is illegal for an individual, RWA or estate management to remove or relocate dogs. The Delhi High Court rather put the duty and obligation on Resident Welfare Associations and Municipal Corporations to ensure that every community dog in every area has access to food and water in the absence of caregivers or community dog feeders in the said area.
In view of the above-said laws and precedents, it is absurd that how a blanket order completely prohibiting the feeding of stary dogs can be passed in such a major city. It not only contradicts the order of Apex Court in Animal Welfare Board of India v. A. Nagaraja (supra) and other above-said laws but also indirectly inflicts cruelty upon dogs which might be injured and pregnant and may seek help from humans. It is not to be forgotten that the right to get food and shelter does include the right to get food and shelter from human beings.
It would be apposite to say that the order seems to implement the passive killing of street dogs indirectly as it makes the dogs incapable to seek help from human beings. The order comes into force immediately making it an offence to feed any street dog which may include injured dogs and pregnant bitches. Thus, not giving enough time to feeders to shift such dogs to animal welfare organisations or NGOs will leave these dogs to die on the streets. In these circumstances, it is relevant to note that the Court in Animal Welfare Board of India v. People for Elimination of Stray held that it shall be the duty of the Municipal Corporation to provide the mandatory infrastructure as provided under the statute and rules to strike a balance between compassion for dogs and the lives of the human beings and thereafter, they can harmoniously coexist in the same environment. It was held that local authorities have a sacrosanct duty to provide sufficient number of dog pounds, including animal kennels/shelters, which may be managed by the animal welfare organisations.
Thus, the Courts have always asked for affirmative action from the authorities. The Bombay High Court instead of strictly imposing duties upon authorities, has ordered for the removal of dogs completely from the vicinity of humans by letting them starve on streets which have its own repercussions. The Court completely forgot to take the view that the street dogs perform the role of community scavengers and also control rodent population in the area thus preventing the spread of diseases like Leptospirosis. Moreover, street dogs provide companionship to those residents who feed them an act as their stress relievers.
Author Albert Schweitzer has rightly said ― “Until we extend the circle of compassion to all living things, we will not find peace” It can be fairly concluded that the true solution lies in making animals live together with compassion rather than removing animals from the vicinity of humans which in turn makes it a stressful environment for humans to live. The true solution lies in removing the bad component from the human-animal interaction rather than the animal itself.
This opinion piece has been co-authored by Ms. Pritika Satyawali (a law graduate from LC-2, University of Delhi).
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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