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Legal Entity - Status to the entire Animal Kingdom

The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated. - Mahatma Gandhi(Father of the Nation)

Since time, immemorial India has been known to be a country where animals are not as an integral part of the universe, but have also been worshipped. According to Hindu Mythology, Cow, tiger, lion, elephant, horse, bull, snake, monkey are worshipped. India has always been a country, a land that has worshipped animals for centuries, where animals have been considered to be incarnations of God.

However, on one hand where we have people mark their devotion to deities and the animals associated with them in temples, on the other hand the animals are subject to cruelty in various places. Lately, India is coming across a nation whose citizens are self-absorbed, who are complacement and no longer can differentiate between legal and illegal actions, left alone the concept of morality.

For a country, that claims adherence to ahimsa, India's treatment of its animals betrays a moral failure. Over the past year alone, there have been reports of animals being subjected to sexual abuse, acid attacks, being thrown off rooftops, and being burnt alive. A major factor that enables such violence is an inept legal framework.

Legal Framework
There are several laws under the Constitution of India, Indian Penal Code (IPC), Prevention of cruelty to Animals, (Slaughterhouse) Rules, 2001, Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, Prevention of cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 (PCA Act) to mention a few for the safety, protection, punishment in cases of animal cruelty.
  • Article 48A of the Indian Constitution provides protection and improvement of environment and safeguarding of forests and wildlife. As per aticle, the state shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country.
  • Article 51 (g) says that, it is the fundamental duty of every citizen to have compassion for living creatures', which means concern for suffering, sympathy, kindness, etc�
  • Section 428 and 429 of the IPC lay out rules against animal cruelty.
  • Rule 3 of Slaughterhouse Rules, 2001 also states that animal sacrifice is illegal in every part of the country.
  • Certain wildlife crimes were also investigated by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
  • There is a special statute enacted namely, Prevention of Cruelty Animals Act, 1961 whose main objective is to prevent the infliction of unnecessary pain or suffering on animals, it discusses different forms of cruelty, exceptions, and killing of a suffering animal in case any cruelty has been committed against it, so as to relive it from further suffering.
  • There is also the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, which was enacted mainly to protect wild animals, birds and plants.

Judicial Precedents
The Supreme Court of India has on various occasions clearly held that animals have a fundamental right against the infliction of pain and right to life and personal liberty extends to animal as well.

The Supreme Court in Animal Welfare Board of India v. A. Nagaraja & Ors. (2014) underscored that animals have a right to life and the word life is to given an expanded meaning, which includes all forms of life, including animal life. Life means more than mere survival or existence or an animal's instrumental value to human beings- it is about dignity. One of the five Internationally recognized freedoms for animals to includes freedom from hunger, thirst and malnurition. But even after six years of this judgment, there have been no changes made to the existing laws.

The Supreme Court of India in 2014 held Jallikatu as cruelty to bulls and banned the same, however, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Tamil Nadu Amendment) Act of 2017 and Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Conduct of Jallikattu) Rules of 2017 opened the gates for running the popular bull-taming sport in the name of tradition.

The Uttarakhand High Court in Narayan Dutt Bhatt v. Union of India & Ors. (2018) declared that the entire animal kingdom as a legal entity with each animal having a distinct persona with corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a living person. Vide these decisions, the courts have adopted an eco-centric view rather than an anthropocentric one.

Rising Instances of Animal Cruelty in India

A couple of cases of cruelty towards animals have come to light in the past few years which have enraged many and made ponder as to whether the laws in existence are sufficient enough to protect animals. The most recent of all incidents of cruelty that have taken place this year, are that of killing of pregnant elephant from Kerala, a pregnant cow from Himachal Pradesh and a jackal from Tamil Nadu. In all three cases, the poor animals were fed explosives covered with some kind of edibles.

Earlier, in 2019 an incident came to light where in Uttar Pradesh a tigress was brutally beaten with sticks, under a protected zone of the Pilibhit Tiger Reserve. Another inhumane incident saw the light of the day in September 2019 when a video of the nilgai (antelope) being pushed into a pit in Bihar and buried alive got viral. It is unimaginable to think that New Delhi has its very own Serial dog killer who allegedly beat, stabbed and killed three dogs and a puppy.

What is even more disheartening is that certain sadistic people are deriving pleasure out of torturing animals on social media platforms, just to increase their followers/views. A video of two children throwing a dog in a pond after trying his legs, another horrific video of a man hanging a cat from fan with a rope around her neck. Causes of gruesome violence against animals, especially stray dogs, are not uncommon. In fact, some of them are acts of utter depravity- there have been quite a few reports of puppies being sexually assaulted, of firecrackers being tied to a dog's tail, sick dogs are abandoned on roads and brutality is inflicted on the animals.

The question is whether these kinds of practices are legal under Indian Law ? Everyday animals are mistreated, slaughtered and killed with such instances of inhumanity towards animals going unattended while the majority of these cruel acts are not even reported, let alone tried and punished accordingly.

Need of the Hour � Reconsideration in Animal Laws

The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act, 1960 punishes the most serious forms of animal violence with a paltry fine of Rs.50. There are amendment bills, social media campaigns and petitions before the Supreme Court seeking stricter punishment for animal abuse, but to no to avail. However, this is not the only issue plaguing the PCA Act. Several other aspects of this legislation need reconsideration if India is to develop a meaningful animal rights regime.

Section 11 lists a series of offences, which vary from abandoning an animal to kicking it, mutilating it or killing it, and prescribes the same punishment for all these offences. This is a clear departure from established principles of penology.

An amendment is required to grade the offences according to their severity, and specify punishments accordingly. Further, the more severe offences must be made cognizable and non-bailable. At present, a majority of the offences under the Act are non-cognizable, which means the police cannot investigate the offence or arrest the accused without the permission of a Magistrate. This facilitates police inaction, and ensures that most culprits of animal abuse go scot free.

The PCA Act creates a plethora of exceptions which significantly dilute the protections available to animals. Though Section 11 criminalizes several forms of animal cruelty, sub section (3) carves out exceptions for animal husbandry procedures such as dehorning, castration, nose-roping, and branding.

The law does not provide any guidelines for these procedures. This allows individuals to resort to cruel methods. Many farmers remove horns using hot irons, knives or wires. Nose-roping involves piercing the animal's nasal septa using a thick, blunt needle. Branding is traditionally done by applying a hot iron directly to the animal's skin to imprint an identification mark on its body. These procedures cause tremendous physical and psychological pain to animals.

Viable Alternatives
Recently, on August 10, 2020, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) India moved the Delhi High Court seeking the enactment of proper regulations for such animal husbandry procedures. The petition suggests mandating the use of anesthetics prior to castration, and the replacement of cruel practices such as nose-roping with face halters and branding with radio frequency identification. Further, as opposed to dehorning cattle, it recommended that farmers breed hornless cattle.

The exceptions in favour of animal husbandry practices need to be reconsidered as there are viable alternatives that would prevent animals from undergoing such trauma.

The PCA Act also suffers from ambiguity in definition. The law was enacted to prevent the infliction of unnecessary pain or suffering on animals. However, this phrase is not defined anywhere in the Act. This is crucial because what constitutes unnecessary is entirely a matter of subjective assessment. In the absence of a clear statutory definition, we are leaving crucial questions of animal welfare to the subjective moral compass of judges. Given that the aim of law is to achieve a certain standard of objectivity, it is essential that the expression unnecessary pain or suffering be defined.

It was commendable when the U.P government, under the leadership of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, took a step by approving draft of the Uttar Pradesh Cabinet Cow Slaughter Prevention (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020, to protect cows and prevent their slaughter, providing a maximum rigorous imprisonment of 10 years and a fine up to Rs 5 lakh. Now this ordinance calls for similar and more robust and effective measures to be taken by the Centre also.

Comparison with Other Nations
Around the world, animal abuse is treated differently in different countries. Austria, UK and Hong Kong are the top three countries that find mention on the list of countries having strictest Animal Welfare laws. Austria is regarded as one of the safest and best countries for animals in the entire world. The protection and well being of animals and that of humankind is measured on the same pedestal as suggested under the Austrian Animal Welfare Act 2004. The fines in case of violation of the laws can be anywhere from $2,420 up to $18,160 in cases to extreme cruelty.

In order to prevent such suffering , unnecessary infliction of pain, and brutal conduct towards the animals, the Indian legislature needs to amend the existing provisions to incorporate stringent punishments as compared to the mockery it is right now. More than a decade since the Supreme Court issued a directive for states to set up an Animal Welfare Board, states across India are still either yet to form a State Animal Welfare Board or, were formed, yet to support its functioning with staff and budget availability.

The rising issue of animal-human conflict and the damage on lives and property worldwide has caused several nations to create Animal Welfare Courts to recognize the need to address and redress such cases. India, too, being one of the most diverse nations, needs to formulate special forums/courts to address such issues. Times have evolved and so have the criminal designs against animals. Therefore, it is imminent that such changes be made without any delay.

It seems that only human life matters in this country and seldom do animal rights get due attention. Does the Constitution of India only guarantee rights to the citizens ? Don't we have any obligation towards our country, our community, and the environment that we live in ?

Do we, the citizens, want Mother Earth to be treated according to our whims and fancies ? Article 51A (g) of the Constitution of India clearly outlines the fundamental duty of every citizen to have compassion for all living creatures, but since our duties are not legally enforceable, the citizens do not feel their responsibility towards anything but themselves.

The Constitution requires all citizens to have have compassion for living creatures. We must seek to protect the most vulnerable among us. If this promise of the Constitution is to hold any value, our animal welfare laws need an overhaul.

The alarming rise of such instances of barbaric animal cruelty and inhuman exploitation in the pet industry makes it not only our legal duty, but also a moral obligation to respect, protect and prevent brutality towards any being.

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