The death of the elephant, nicknamed Saumya, in Kerala invited outrage from many sections of the society. The wild animal, which was pregnant with a calf, had eaten a pineapple stuffed with crackers. It had succumbed to its injuries standing in a river. The incident calls for a serious discussion of the prevalence of animal cruelty in India and a relook into the efficiency of various safeguards in place to eliminate the issue.
How prevalent is animal cruelty in India?
- Acts of cruelty against animals is not a new occurrence. Mankind has been committing such horrendous acts since ancient times. The issue intensified with the expansion of human settlement- increasingly eating into the homes, feeding grounds and traditional migration routes of these wild animals.
- The increased pressure on the resources has led to competition between the species and humans have resorted to violence to claim a larger part of the pie.
- Between 2012 and 2016, more than 24,000 cases of animal cruelty were reported under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.
- The recent incident involving the death of the pregnant elephant in Kerala is not the first of its kind. The practice of stuffing fruits with firecrackers is used to kill wild boars in Kerala and Maharashtra.
- It’s not an isolated incident either. Just recently, acts of cruelty against animals- especially dogs and cats- were not only reported but also streamed by the perpetrators via social media. In another incident, a leopard was lynched to death and paraded in Assam.
- Farmers across India resort to brutal tactics to target wild animals that stray into their farmlands and poach their crops. Electric fencing, snare traps, poisoned fruits, firecrackers, etc are some of the means adopted by these communities.
- Such acts are not exclusive to the farming community and rural India. In recent years, numerous animals had to be rescued from private research labs. There have been cases of langurs and stray dogs being killed using abrasive chemicals or poisons and dumped en mass.
- Such cruel acts are mainly directed towards ‘marginal animals’ i.e. considered as alien, economically useless or vermin. However, animal rights activists have been raising concern about the mistreatment of even economically significant animals like elephants at temples, safaris, etc. and horses at ceremonies.
Why is there violence against animals in India?
- Violence against animals is considered ‘legal’ as long as it is directed against animals that are declared as ‘vermin’.
- This can be understood in the context of the state of the agricultural community in India. Agricultural losses due to climate change and inefficient policies have been added to by invasion of wild animals. Many of these affected farmers are themselves marginal.
- The cause of such violence is two-fold:
- Society has delegated the law for handling the ‘vermin category’ of animals to the farmers. They can ‘destroy’ these animals at free-will in whatever manner they see fit.
- Government policies have failed to address farmers’ distress. Agriculture has become unviable for many of these communities.
- This culture of brutal treatment of animals is kept alive by the exclusion of those animals considered ‘vermin’ from the protection of the Indian Wildlife Act.
- India has a large population of stray animals. These animals often get into conflict with the local population and end up facing violence from the people.
- The issue of animal rights in India is entangled with history, tradition and religion, making it difficult to draw a line of distinction. Eg: the efforts to ban Jallikattu in Tamil Nadu were met with large-scale resistance.
- Lax regulation of animal testing for research- ranging from the current race to develop treatment for COVID-19 (when animal rights are bound to take a backseat) to cosmetic tests.
- Animal cruelty is also a product of the commercialization of the general public’s fascination with wildlife and animals in general. Eg: abuse of elephants, horses etc. for joy-rides, safaris, circuses, etc.
- Animal abuse is a cause of concern not only to animal rights activists and conservationists but also the law enforcement agency. There is well-recognized link between animal abuse cases and other criminal behaviors. Across the world, law enforcement personnel have come to see animal cruelty as ‘signature pathology’ of violent offenders.
What are the safeguards against animal cruelty in India?
- Compassionate treatment of animals is one of the Fundamental Duties of citizens of India, according to Article 51A.
- The Indian Penal Code has provisions for punishing acts like killing, maiming, poisoning etc. of animals that are valued at 10 INR or more under Section 428 and in case of such acts against animals valued at 50 INR and above, under Section 429.
- In 2012, the centre asked life science institutes to adopt alternatives to animal dissection for teaching purposes.
- In 2014, the University Grants Commission suspended animal dissection and experimentations in life science courses and the Medical Council of India amended regulations to bring in non-animal teaching methods for teaching subjects like pharmacology and physiology.
- In 2015, India became the first country in South Asia to ban the use of animal testing for manufacturing cosmetics such as lipsticks, eye make-ups and even toothpastes.
Wildlife Protection Act
- The Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 is concerned not only about wildlife conservation but also covers the issue of animal cruelty to a certain extent. Teasing, disturbing and even feeding of animals in zoos is a punishable offence in India. Such acts invite a 25,000 INR fine or a prison term of up to 3 years or both.
- Section 9 of the WPA makes capturing, baiting, trapping or poisoning of wild animals and even attempting to do such acts punishable with 25,000 INR fine or a prison term of up to 7 years or both.
- The Section recognizes disturbing/ destroying eggs and nests of birds and reptiles, cutting down of trees bearing such nests and even attempts to do so as ‘hunting’. It is punishable with fines and a prison term of up to 7 years or both.
Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act
- The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1960 is the most prominent animal cruelty prevention law in India. Section 11 is its most significant part with respect to punishing animal cruelty.
- The Section renders acts that cause unnecessary pain and sufferings- such as beating, torture, kicking, over-loading, over-riding, etc.- to any animals as punishable offences.
- The Section makes abandoning any animal as an offence punishable with a prison term of up to 3 months.
- It has provisions for punishing negligence such as denying sufficient food, water, shelter, and exercise with a fine or a 3 months prison term or both.
- Organizing, participating in and inciting animal fights are a cognizable offence (no need of a warrant for arrests).
- Animals like bears, bulls, monkeys, tigers, lions and panthers cannot be trained and used for entertainment purposes.
- Various rules have been put in place to safeguard animals from cruelty- such as:
- Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, (Transport of Animal) Rules, 2001 makes transport of animals (especially in livestock sector) in a manner that causes them pain, suffering or discomfort a punishable offence.
- Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, (Slaughterhouse) Rules, 2001 prohibits the slaughtering of pregnant or sick animals. The animals cannot be slaughtered in any place other than a slaughterhouse. The rule applies even to the poultry industry.
- There are also specific rules for pet shops, dog breeding and marketing, animal birth control, etc.
Animal Welfare Board of India
- The Animal Welfare Board of India is a statutory body established in 1962 under the PCA Act, 1960 for the promotion of animal welfare in India.
- It is an advisory body that functions under the Union Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying.
- Constantly study and advise on amendments to laws concerning animal welfare. The body also advices on the making of rules under the PCA Act.
- To take steps for enabling animal welfare- such as providing for construction of sheds, water troughs, veterinary assistance, etc. wherever necessary.
- To advice government and local authorities on matters concerning slaughtering of animals to make it as humane as possible.
- To take steps to ensure that the destruction of ‘unwanted animals’ is done in an instantaneous manner or after being made insensible to pain/ suffering.
- Encourage the establishment of rescue homes, sanctuaries, animal shelters, etc. by provision of financial assistance to shelter animals.
- To provide advice and financial assistance, whenever necessary, to animal hospitals for medical care of animals.
- To create awareness about humane treatment of animals via books, lectures, posters, exhibitions, etc.
What are the shortcomings of these safeguards?
- There is an issue of contradictory classification under the WPA of 1972 with respect to elephants. While the law protects these pachyderms as wildlife, administrative policies allow for a loophole in the form of ownership exception. The elephant is the only wild animal that can be owned in India.
- These elephants that are held captive or are owned may be revered (such as in temples) but are subject to forced labor under inhumane conditions and torture. India has the highest number of captive elephants with the 2019 census estimating a whooping 2,675 elephants.
- These captive elephants are of 3 categories:
- The smallest percentage is owned by the government through the zoos and forest departments
- The quickly disappearing section of elephants for entertainment purposes
- The largest percentage is under private ownership– especially under the custody of temples for various ceremonies and processions
- This ‘artificial administrative dichotomy’ has inadvertently allowed for illegal capture of elephants from the wild- thus removing them from the protection of WPA and consequently exposing them to the risk of cruelty.
- Apart from this, the insensitivity towards these owned elephants can be seen from the decision to transport elephants for the Jagannath Rath Yatra in 2019 from Assam to Gujarat- a journey of over 3,100 km in the midst of drought-like conditions and prevailing heatwave– via train that was not climate controlled.
- The PCA Act is yet to undergo a significant amendment. The fines specified for conditions in the 1960s are still followed for penalizing offences in 2020.
- There is a dearth of proportionality between the offences and penalty under the PCA Act. The proportionality doctrine basically means that the punishment should fit the crime. The proportionality in imposition of punishment should satisfy 2 purposes:
- Fairness towards the society
- Fairness towards the offender
- Currently, the penalty can be as low as 50 INR and the prison term is dependent on the ‘monetary value’ of the victim animal. This is often criticized as ‘little more than a slap on the wrist’.
- The lack of proportionality between the crime and punishment has failed to bring in the desired deterrence effect. People continue to commit such violent act with impunity.
- While animal cruelty prevention laws see better success in punishing poachers, tracing offenders who make use of snare traps and poisons to kill animals in agricultural fields is much more difficult- let alone their being brought to justice.
- The role of the AWBI as an advisory body has limited its role in protection of animal welfare. This is evident from how the centre had shot down the AWBI’s attempts to get the Supreme Court to stay the government’s order allowing Jallikattu (against a previous SC directive banning the controversial bull-taming sport).
- There is also the conflict between cultural rights and animal rights in India. The former often takes precedence as seen from the Jallikattu case.
- Though the use of animal testing is banned in India for manufacturing cosmetics, the marketing of animal tested products that are manufactured abroad is yet to be banned.
- The efforts to address animal cruelty is compounded by ‘speciesism’e. discrimination based on species.
What is the way forward?
- Mass awareness and sensitization campaigns are needed to make the general public alert to the animal cruelty issue. Though the Animal Welfare Movement in India is gaining currency with more animal enthusiasts stepping up to provide assistance to animals in need, efforts are still lacking. Even the current uproar on social media is late in coming given that at least 25 elephants have died in the same manner in the same region since 1998. There is a need to carry the momentum to solid changes in the way we tackle the issue.
- Farmers have been moving away from measures like electric fencing to more humane methods to protect their crops. Eg: Farmers in TN are making use of the Italian honey bee– a natural elephant deterrent.
- The manner in which the states address the man-animal conflict in the forest fringes and other areas shared by people and animals must be tailored to address the local challenges.
- There is a need for wide spread adoption of early warning systems to reduce man-animal conflict in the areas bordering forests inhabited by elephants and other wild animals.
- The agriculture and forest departments must cooperate and share the burden of distribution of compensation for crop lost to raids by wild animals. The dispensation of this compensation must be speedy to reduce resentment.
- Provision of sufficient financial assistance to initiatives like the Animal Birth Control Program of the AWBI that humanely address the issue of stray dog population. The ABC program makes use of sterilization and vaccination rather than outright killing to control the issue of dog bites and the spread of diseases like rabies.
- It is high time that the PCA Act is subject to amendments and the penalties must be made proportional to the crimes to have an actual deterrent effect.
- It should be noted that such an amendment is still pending not because of lack of new bills in the Parliament. In 2011, the AWBI introduced a bill in the Parliament to shift the focus of the PCA Act from a ‘defensive position’ to a more positive position focused on a ‘welfare-oriented approach’ that called for expanding the definition of animal abuse and strengthening the welfare organization. It also called for multiplying the penalty for repeat offenders by a factor of 1,000. Following this, the Animal Welfare Bill was introduced in 2014 and in 2016, a Private Member Bill was introduced. None of these bills have been passed till date. Political will is the need of the hour.
- Private owners of elephants must be held responsible for well-being of the animals. There must be accountability for mistreatment of these animals.
- Nearly 19 million animals can be saved each year by adopting alternative teaching and training methods in UG and PG courses in life science.
- Marketing and use of imported products developed by animal testing should be banned. Israel imposed such a ban in 2010 and the EU banned them in 2013. Its high time India follows suit.
- Phasing out traditional animal testing has become easier with the increasing viability of techniques like computer modeling (in silico models), cell cultures (in vitro methods), lab on a chip, etc.
India is noted for its traditional worship of nature and wildlife and hence should be the last place on earth to have an issue like animal cruelty. It should be a mainstream issue- not something that is discussed only when another animal gets subjected to unimaginable cruelty and catches the social media’s attention. The level of our very civilization is reflected from how we treat our voiceless- a sentiment shared by Gandhi when he said ‘the greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated’.
Practice Question for Mains
It’s been 60 years since India brought in legislation to prevent animal cruelty. Yet incidents like the recent killing of a pregnant elephant in Kerala continue to occur. Discuss. (250 words)