In view of the law and established precedent, it is inexplicable how a blanket order completely prohibiting the feeding of stray dogs can be passed by a high court in a major city. It not only contradicts the order of the Supreme Court in A. Nagaraja and other legal provisions, but also indirectly inflicts cruelty on dogs who might be injured or pregnant, and may seek help from humans.
“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 in India is increasing at a break-neck speed. Every day, one hears of cases of dog bites, which indeed needs to be controlled.
However, in an attempt to eradicate this danger, a very shocking decision was made by the Bombay High Court on October 20 wherein it held that no citizen and no resident of Nagpur and areas surrounding it shall feed or make any attempt to feed stray dogs in public places. The court went more to hold that if any person is interested in feeding stray dogs, they shall first adopt the stray dog and register it with municipal authorities or put them in dog shelter homes. This makes it onerous for ordinary feeders to feed stray dogs. For every breach of the high court’s directions, there shall now be a penalty of Rs. 200.
Is a blanket order prohibiting the feeding of all street dogs an act towards a solution or an act of cruelty on dogs, especially for those which are injured and pregnant? Is it not a passive killing of dogs?
The order goes directly against the Constitution and established legal principles in the context of human-animal interaction
Also read: “Once one begins to realize that animals experience the same emotions of sorrow and grief as us, it is difficult to continue to treat them as inhumanely as we do.” Norma Alvares in conversation with Anand Grover on the importance of animal and environmental rights.
Contrary to established principles
It seems that the order goes directly against the Constitution and established legal 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 Supreme Court, in the case of Animal Welfare Board of India versus A. Nagaraja (2014) held that Article 21 of the Constitution protects the life and liberty of animals besides humans, which means that 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 (duties of persons having charge of animals) and 11 (treating animals cruelly) ensures that the animals are not treated with cruelty. Importantly, the Union Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions issued a notification dated May 26, 2006 to dissuade animal cruelty and to allow animal lovers to feed stray animals. The Animal Birth Control (Dogs) Rules, 2001 put a duty upon executive authorities that all street dogs should be sterilised, vaccinated, and be released into the same area from where they were taken.
Courts have always asked for affirmative action from the authorities with regard to animal welfare. 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.
As far as the standpoint of other high courts is concerned, the Punjab and Haryana High Court in Karnail Singh versus State of Haryana (2019) recognised all animals as legal entities, and declared 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. (2021) held that no animal should be starved to death. It was held that it is illegal for an individual, Residents’ Welfare Association (‘RWA’) or estate management to remove or relocate dogs. The Delhi high court put the duty and obligation on RWAs 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.
Also read: Delhi HC lays down guidelines for feeding community dogs; says RWA, govt authorities duty bound to ensure food, water for them
In view of the above laws and precedents, it is inexplicable how a blanket order completely prohibiting the feeding of stray dogs can be passed in such a major city. It not only contradicts the order of the Supreme Court in A. Nagaraja and other legal provisions, but also indirectly inflicts cruelty on dogs who might be injured or pregnant, and may seek help from humans. It is not to be forgotten that the right to get food and shelter includes the right to get food and shelter from human beings.
It would be apposite to say that the Bombay High Court’s order seems to implement the passive killing of street dogs indirectly as it makes dogs incapable of seeking 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. In effect, it does not give enough time to feeders to shift such dogs to animal welfare organisations or NGOs, leaving such dogs to die on the streets.
In these circumstances, it is relevant to note that the Supreme Court, in Animal Welfare Board of India versus People for Elimination of Stray Troubles held in 2017 that it shall be the duty of the municipal corporation to provide the mandatory infrastructure as provided under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act and the Transport of Animals Rules, 1978 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 executive authorities have a sacrosanct duty to provide a sufficient number of dog pounds, including animal kennels/shelters, which may be managed by animal welfare organisations.
Also read: Allahabad HC puts in abeyance its direction seeking removal of stray dogs from city precincts
Thus, courts have always asked for affirmative action from the authorities with regard to animal welfare. 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 will have its own repercussions. The court completely forgot to take the view that street dogs perform the role of community scavengers and also control the rodent population in the area, thus preventing the spread of diseases like leptospirosis, as noted by the Delhi high court in Dr. Maya D. Chablani. Moreover, street dogs provide companionship to those residents who feed them and act as their stress relievers, the Delhi high court also observed in the same judgment.
Alsatian-German/French polymath and Nobel Peace Prize laureate 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 humans and 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 solution lies in removing the bad component from the human-animal interaction rather than the animal itself.