Animal rights are the idea that the interest of animals should be afforded with the same interest as that of human beings. The history of animal rights can be traced back to the time of Ashoka who banned the killing of animals in his regions. Animals from the inception have been symbols of epitome in many areas like courage, patience, hard work, etc. But as society advanced we became more and more insensitive towards the welfare of other species existing on this planet.
The need for animal rights was soon realized and with a view to protecting them the Prevention of Cruelty Towards Animal Act, 1960 and the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 were passed along with several other legislations. Coupled with this, many NGOs devoted towards the welfare of animals emerged like People for Animals, Sanjay Gandhi Animal Care Centre, PETA India, Wildlife Trust of India, etc. Despite the best intentions of the legislature, the existing laws have failed to serve the purpose to the fullest. With time the laws have become obsolete and they need overhauling. The essay aims to analyze the reason for the failure of animal welfare legislation and suggest measures to achieve desired ends.
Prevention of Cruelty Towards Animals Act, 1960
The Act aimed at keeping a check on the atrocities towards animals has failed to keep with the time and has become archaic. Most of the violations under the act are a non-cognizable offense that is the police cannot arrest without warrant. They are bailable too at the same time which means that the violator has a right to be released on bail and it is not the discretion of the court. To make the scenario even worse, the amount to fine which ranges between Rs 50 and Rs 100 has become fairly insufficient as it has not been changed since the inception of the Act. It was meant to act as deterrence but on the contrary, it has made it a cakewalk for the violators who can simply get off by paying a nominal sum of money. Countries like the USA have listed animal cruelty as a felony along with crimes like rape and murder.
Wildlife Protection Act, 1972
The Act prohibits injury to any wild animal. In the Act, the definition of animals includes amphibians, birds, reptiles, and mammals. The eggs of reptiles and birds are also included. The Act does not prohibit the hunting of all animals, but only their unlicensed poaching. Except in preserves that is sanctuaries and national parks, many animals can be hunted on the license. The act ideally should have imposed an absolute ban on the hunting of animals.
Biodiversity protection requires money. We start a project and then expect quick and ideally long term results. But things fall apart once the funding stops. You cannot throw dollars in the short term at complex problems and expect long-term success. And when funds are provided, they are not evenly distributed towards a certain group of animals. Apart from funding, another problem with Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 is its vast objective including the prohibition of hunting, setting up of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries and control of trade and commerce in wildlife and wildlife products.
Every year as per the Act, new protected areas are chalked out and these protected areas are designed to exclude local communities. Excluding local people from conservation effort is increasingly becoming a recipe for failure in the long run. Cooperation from the local community should be taken while setting up protected areas. They have a history with that place and are emotional, at times religiously connected too. They might come up with better and more constructive ways to protect and preserve the existing flora and fauna.
Indian Penal Code
To kill or maim any animal, including stray animals, is a punishable offense under IPC Sections 428 and 429. However, the problem still remained uncured. Any crime is composed of two basic things that are mens rea (guilty mind) and actus reus (guilty act). Both elements need to be established to prove any criminal offense. It has been observed that trials falling within the purview of section 428 and 429 are usually unsuccessful and result in acquittal of accused; as it is tough to prove the mens rea even though the act appears apprehendable on the face of it. Furthermore, the offense is bailable in nature meaning thereby that any person committing such offense can easily obtain bail.
Constitution of India
Animal welfare objectives were incorporated in the constitution of India from its inception in 1950. Article 48 included a prohibition on slaughter of cows, calves and other milk and draught animals. Article 51A which was included in 1974 makes it a fundamental duty of each and every citizen to protect and improve the natural environment including forest, lakes, rivers, and wildlife, and to have compassion for living creatures. Some other provisions are there in article 243G, 243W, etc. These provisions under the constitution of India also could not curb the animal right violation. The main reason behind this is that none of the provisions mentioned in the constitution is of a mandatory nature. They are not enforceable. If they are not adhered to by any citizen or authority then one cannot approach the court for relief. Owing to this, not one actually takes them seriously and the bitter truth is that animal rights and suffering are still not equated with that of humans in India.
Rule 3 of the Slaughterhouse Rules, 2001 prohibits Animal sacrifice in every part of the country and as per section 268 of IPC killing of an animal in a public place amounts to public nuisance. Despite such provision, animal sacrifice is a common practice which is accepted by masses. Though conveying or carrying animals whether in or upon any vehicle, in any manner or position which causes discomfort, pain or suffering is a punishable offense under two Central Acts. Section 11(1)(d) Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, (Transport of Animal) Rules, 2001 and Motor Vehicles Act 1978 but still, acts contrary to this provision can be easily seen. The authorities are many times oblivious of such animal rights and ignore vehicles carrying them.
Animal welfare legislations are not codified in one place. Layman is not aware of the numerous statues prevailing for animal protection. Henceforth animal rights violations are not usually reported in our country as citizens are not aware of animal rights in the first instance. The safeguards provided go in vain when not utilized Samaritans.
Indian judiciary has many times played a pro-active role in protecting the rights of animals. It was affirmed by the Supreme Court that the right to dignity and fair treatment is, therefore, not confined to human beings alone, but to animals as well. It was further held in the case of State of Gujrat v. Mirzapur Moti Kureshi Kassab that one of the objectives sought to be achieved by the parliament is to ensure that the spirit of the message of Articles 48 and 48A is honored as a fundamental duty of every citizen. The Supreme Court dealt with the question of a ban on cow slaughter which offended the Muslims in the case of State of West Bengal v. Ashutosh Lahiri.