Animal Rights in India: An Overview

By | October 5, 2020
Animal Rights in India

This article deals with the concept, origin, an overview of animal rights, laws protecting animal rights and welfare and important judicial pronouncement regarding animal rights.

Introduction

The Constitution of India is the supreme law of India which lays down the fundamental political code, rights and duties of citizens, directive principles of state policy, procedures, structures and powers of governmental institutions. It is widely regarded to be a “living document”- dynamic and constantly evolving with changing times. It is the longest written constitution in any country on earth and is divided into 395 articles (demarcated into 22 parts) and 12 schedules.

The document establishes constitutional supremacy, i.e., the Indian Parliament cannot override the basic structure of the Constitution. The Indian Constitution recognizes the sanctity of animal life and lays down the protection and treatment of animals with dignity as a fundamental duty of its citizens.[1]

History of Animal Rights in India

  • The concept of animal welfare predates animal welfare due to the fact that animals are regarded, in many laws, as property.
  • The concept of animals as property of human beings is a relic of Roman Law.
  • However, over the years there has been a lot of debate on the ethics of treating animals as property, chattel.
  • Primarily because animals are “sentient” beings in their own right –The distinction is primarily based on whether or not the being with rights can think and feel emotions.
  • This has been criticized as far too simplistic a distinction.
  • While anti-cruelty and animal conservation legislation in India is based solely on animal welfare, there has been considerable progress towards granting animals tangible rights.
  • It is clear that as the Courts continue to interpret these animal welfare laws in the context of Constitutional Rights and Duties, we are moving towards a future where it may be understood that animals also have certain rights that people cannot and should not violate without attracting criminal action.[2]

Overview of Introduction to Animal Rights in India

In light of the contemporary debates in Indian society on the necessity and extent of protecting and recognizing legal rights of animals, there is an inclination in the legal society to recognize the importance of respect and protection of animals. As per the ancient Indian culture, animals are regarded as divine beings.

Presently, animals hold various roles, such as agricultural and transportation purposes in the rural areas, pets as companions, in sports, circuses or zoos for entertainment, scientific experiments in the educational sectors in science and research etc.

Animals have a major contribution to the Indian diet. Since the inception of mankind, humans have been dependent on domestic creatures. Hence, these animals must be protected by means of law. There are various guidelines in the ancient religious scriptures of India for the protection of animals. India has some provisions in the Constitution and some acts, rules and regulations relating to the protection of animals in India.

“An Introduction to Animal Laws in India” discusses all types of laws relating to animals and their rights from wild animals to domestic animals, cattle to foreign and migratory animals. The Right to Life of animals under Article 21, animal husbandry and prohibition of cow slaughter under Article 48, safeguarding the wildlife under Article 48A, compassion for living creatures under Article 51A(g) of the constitution have been analyzed.[3]

Laws that Protect Animals in India

·      Article 51 (G) states the following:

“It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment, including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife, and to have compassion for living creatures.”

·      Laws relating to street animals

Killing, maiming, poisoning or rendering useless of any animal is punishable by imprisonment for up to two years or with fine or with both, under Section 428 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. Under Section 429 of the Code, the term is 5 years and is applicable when the cost of the animal is above 50 Rs. Section 11 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act provides that if any person allows, or himself beats, kicks or tortures, in any way, any animal subjecting it to unnecessary pain and suffering will be liable to pay a fine of up to 50 Rs.

In case of repetition of the offence, the fine will increase or imprisonment for 3 months will be granted. The Animal Protection (Dogs) Rules, 2001 provide for rules relating to pet and street dogs.

·      Laws relating to work animals/cattle

Chapter III of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act deals with “Cruelty to animals generally.”

According to Section 11, the following acts such as, anybody who employs any unfit animal, suffering from wound, infirmity, sores or an animal of old age, to work, anybody who carries any animal subjecting it to pain or suffering, keeps an animal in a cage or any other such confinement which is not sufficiently big enough as to let the animal move freely, any owner of an animal who allows his animal, affected with a contagious or infectious disease to die in any street,

any person who offers for sale an animal that is suffering from pain due to mutilation, starvation, thirst, overcrowding or ill-treatment are punishable by fines up to Rs. 25-100 and a maximum of three months of imprisonment on the repetition of the said acts.

·      Laws relating to wild animals

The chief laws relating to wildlife in India are found in the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. The Act prohibits the killing, poaching, trapping, poisoning, or harming in any other way, of any wild animal or bird. It also provides for the establishment of Wildlife Advisory Boards in every State.

The Wildlife Protection Act is applicable to aquatic animals too. Protection of marine species in India is done through the creation of Marine Protected Areas (MPA).

Birds, too, are protected under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 (WLPA) and in Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (PCAA), along with land and aquatic animals.

Laws relating to zoo animals are also found in The Wildlife Protection Act.

·      Laws relating to pets

A lot of laws relating to pets are found in Section 11 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. The punishment for any of these offences is up to Rs 100, and three months imprisonment in case of repetition of the offence. No animal can be used for the purpose of entertainment except without registering under The Performing Animals Rules, 1973.[4]

Landmark Decisions

·      PETA v. Union of India

An important verdict given by the Bombay High Court stated that before using or casting any animals in films, it was mandatory to obtain a Non-Objection Certificate from the Animal Welfare Board. It was viewed as a significant move to prevent and control the exploitation of animals during filming/training on the sets of any film.

·      R. Nair v. Union of India[5]

This case could be described nothing less than a landmark, that wherein the Kerala High Court, and later Supreme Court affirmed that tigers, monkeys, panthers, bears and lions could not be used as performing animals to obtain profits. Such practice leads to the illegitimate smuggling and subsequent mistreatment of these creatures, caning, beating, whipping, etc, thus contravening Section 22 of the PCA Act, 1960.

·      Animal Welfare Board of India v. A.Nagaraja[6]

This case, in brief, dealt with “the rights of animals under the Constitution of India as well as Indian laws, culture, tradition, religion and ethology”. History testifies that the amalgamation of law and religion always leads to a tussle, inviting dire consequences. In spite of a lot of regression and protests, the Court reasoned that life meant a life full of worth and dignity, and in light of this, practices and sports like jallikattu and bullock-cart racing must be banned.[7]

·      People for Ethical Treatment of Animals v. Union of India

The Bombay High Court held that any film wishing to use an animal needs to obtain a No Objection Certificate from the Animal Welfare Board of India as a prerequisite for certification from the Central Board for Film Certification.

Right to live without pain

Every year, millions of animals are killed in India either to feed the non-vegetarian population or in laboratories for medical experiments. Cruelty against animals is a cognizable offence under Section 428 and Section 429 of the Indian penal code. There is an urgent need to implement effectively the laws made for the protection of animals. The first step towards which is educating children to have respect for animals and treat them kindly. Food and shelter should be provided to street dogs by government shelters and registered firms and NGOs to assure their safety. There is also a need to have stricter laws for the protection of animals.

Any animal attacks only if it has been molested first. No animal attacks without reason. To understand the nature and behaviour of animals, one can observe it by adopting pets. Even if one feeds stray animals on a regular basis, the strays become loyal to that individual. The fact that animals cannot speak the language humans don’t understand should be taken into consideration before torturing or abusing them. Humans are the one who needs to understand the meaning of humanity and treat animals with respect.[8]

Conclusion

Cruelty to pets is on the rise, in five years,19,028 animal cruelty cases were recorded. But there were no arrests or convictions, data compiled by the Bombay Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (BSPCA) revealed. The victims: dogs, cats, birds, goats, horses, bullocks, fowl and cattle.[9]

Animal cruelty to be considered as a federal crime, there must be stricter laws to be made. Many people know about the laws and rights for animals, if any issues arise, the people who notice have to raise their voice against it. Faster we address this issue, we can save lives or animals everywhere.


[1]Taruni Kavuri, The Constitutional Scheme of Animal Rights in India, 2020, Available here

[2]ANAND GROVER, The Legal Status of Animals in India, 2017, Available here

[3]PP.Mitra, An Introduction to animal rights in India, India law journal, Available here

[4] Wardah Beg, Animal Protection Laws in India, Available here

[5] (2001) 6 SCC 84

[6] (2014) 7 SCC 547

[7]Anushka Ganguli, Animal welfare and rights in India: An Overview, 2018, Available here

[8] Animals too have the right to live without pain, Available here

[9] Badri Chatterjee, Hindustan times, Available here


  1. Law Library: Notes and Study Material for LLB, LLM, Judiciary and Entrance Exams
  2. Protection of Environment in the Ancient Indian and Medieval Period
Author: M. Preetha

Student: Saveetha School of Law

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