अहमात्मा गुडाकेश सर्वभूताशयस्थित: | अहमादिश्च मध्यं च भूतानामन्त एव च || I am seated in the heart of all living entities. I am the beginning, middle, and end of all beings. Bhagavad Gita: Chapter 10, Verse 20
Animal rights are under law to be treated with compassion, respect and dignity. Animals are sentient creatures with intrinsic values and thus, protection of such beings is the moral responsibility of each and every citizen, including governmental and non-governmental organizations. Recently, some cases of violent dogs have heated up the debate among people about the problem of dog feeding and the excessive increase in the numbers of stray dogs.
Animals may be mute, but we as a society have to speak for them. No pain or agony should be caused to them. It is important for every citizen to know about the rights of animals. Stray dogs have been given their own rights and duties to humans in various provisions and judicial pronouncements.
Duty to Stray Dogs
In Narayan Dutt Bhatt vs Union Of India And Others 2018, the Uttarakhand High Court held that the entire Animal Kingdom has a distinct persona with corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a living person.
We as citizens of India have certain duties laid down to us by the Constitution of India under Article 51A.
Article 51A(g) provides to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife and to have compassion for all living creatures. This idea should become part and parcel of every Indian citizen’s thoughts and actions. This should also be part of the educational system in the country.
Under Directive Principles of State Policy, Article 48A provides for the duty of state to protect and make all endeavors to safeguard forests and wildlife.
In Ashoka Kumar Thakur Vs Union of India 2008, Justice Dalveer Bhandari stated that the State is all the citizens placed together and hence, though Article 51A does not expressly cast Fundamental Duty on the State, the fact remains that duty of every citizen of India is collective duty of the State.
Article 246 read with 7th Schedule of the constitution imposes power on Parliament and State to make laws on cruelty to animals and protection of wildlife.
Article 243W read with12th Schedule of the constitution imposes power on Municipalities to make laws for cattle and prevention of cruelty to animals.
These Constitutional provisions and various Judicial decisions serve as founding pillars of our duty to protect and prevent cruelty to Animals, including Stray dogs.
Animal Rights (Rights of Stray Dogs)
Article 21 of the Constitution which gives the Fundamental right of life and personal liberty to every citizen of India extends to animals also.
In Animal Welfare Board V. A. Nagaraja and Ors 2014, it was observed that Article 51A(g) is Magna Carta of Animal rights which extends to the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution.
The rights of any animals, including stray dogs are statutory rights and are important for every citizen to know.
Indian Penal Code 1860
Section 428 penalizes whoever commits any mischief by killing, poisoning, maiming or rendering any animal of value ten rupees or upwards with two years of imprisonment or with fine or both and Section 429 penalizes the same for any animal of value fifty rupees or upwards with
five years of imprisonment or fine or with both.
Section 39 of Wildlife Protection Act 1972 prohibits injury to any wild animals or trees and penalizes for any offence, as such, with 3 years of imprisonment or with 5 thousand rupees fine which can be increased to 5 years imprisonment and 10 thousand rupees fine on second offence.
Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960
Section2 (a) defines animals as any living creature other than human beings.
Section 11 defines cruelty by providing for various grounds of cruelty which inflicts any unnecessary pain and suffering on animals and penalizes with ten to hundred rupees fine or three months of imprisonment or both.
Sub-section 2(l) provides for killing of any animal, including stray dogs in any cruel manner which is a cognizable offense where a police officer can arrest without the order of a magistrate.
Animal Welfare Board of India
Section 4 of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals,1960 , act establishes the Animal Welfare Board of India, for the protection of animal welfare generally and for purpose of protecting animals from any kind of cruelty. Section 17 of the said act imposes power on the board to make rules regarding the safekeeping of animals. Various notifications have been published in regard to protection of animals including stray dogs and feeding them.
Feeding Stray Dogs : Animal Rights
There is no law that prohibits feeding street animals and citizens who choose to do so are in fact performing their duty cast upon them by the Constitution of India. People who interfere with the efforts of animal feeders or display aggression can be held liable under Section 503 and 506 of Indian Penal Code 1860 for Criminal Intimidation. In various notifications giving guidelines many times, the Animal Welfare board have said that anyone can feed animals without any harassment.
In Urvashi Vashist and ors V. Resident Welfare Association and ors 2021, Delhi High Court held that animal feeders shall not be harassed, and reiterated guidelines by Animal Welfare boards on stray dog feeding rules, like feeding should be done in designated areas with no unnecessary nuisance to society. The Court also observed that since dogs are territorial animals they have to be fed at places within their territory. The Honorable Supreme Court in Human Foundation for People and Animals V. Animal Welfare Board 2022 of India and ors upheld the observations and decision of the Delhi High court.
In Dr. Maya D. Chablani V. Radha Mittal and ors 2021 the Delhi High Court observed that feeding animals has for time immemorial been considered a good deed in all religions. These findings are also mentioned in Vedas and puranas and are considered as a way to absolve the sins of a person.
Animal Rights V Human Rights
Animal rights are effectively defended by our Statutory and Constitutional provisions. However, no right is absolute, just as one can act in self defense to save himself from any animal attack which, though, cannot exceed the danger apprehended.
An increase in the number of stray dogs and cases of dog attacks have led to the formation of Siri Jagan Commission in Kerala appointed by the Apex Court for compensation claims for dog attacks and problem with the increasing number of stray dogs.
Nevertheless, all life forms must co-exist to prevent an unbalance, to be caused in our ecosystem. Some dogs may turn ferocious due to disease or lack of food, we cannot paint all stray dogs in the same color based on a few incidents.
Dogs are loyal, easy to train and have a high level of perceptiveness. We rely on domesticated dogs for our private protection, love and emotional support. But this is not the same with stray dogs who are discriminated. The reason could be that they are considered uncouth, unhygienic or even dangerous. This is largely passed to us by Britishers who discriminated against indigenous dogs of India to be inferior to other breeds brought by them. But in a positive view, stray dogs perform the role of community scavenging and controlling rodent population, which helps in preventing diseases like leptospirosis. Stray dogs also provide companionship for those residents who feed them.
Campaigns like dog sterilization and “Don’t Shop: Adopt” could be one of the solutions to the increasing number of stray dogs.
Animal Birth Control (Dogs) Rules 2001, provides that all street dogs should be sterilized and vaccinated.
An NGO in Kerala gave a solution that the increased number of strays could be brought to isolated shelter homes with necessary food and medicines.
We can conclude that there is no inadequacy in laws defining the rights of dogs and safeguarding their interests. The problem is with the lack of implementation and awareness and compassion among people. We should love them for we are in loco parentis to them.