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To Kolaba fort,a cruel ride

Horse owners in the popular holiday destination of Alibaug believe it is an innocuous way to earn their livelihood.

Written by Aakriti Vasudeva | Mumbai | Published: February 23, 2012 3:45:07 am

Horses at Alibaug beach navigate their way through waist-deep seawater to ferry tourists to the fort

Horse owners in the popular holiday destination of Alibaug believe it is an innocuous way to earn their livelihood. But animal lovers describe it as cruelty in the garb of tourism and have lodged a complaint with district authorities of Raigad,leading to an inquiry. Horses at Alibaug beach are being forced to ferry tourists through waist-deep sea to and from the Kolaba fort.

After receiving a tipoff from some tourists,the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO) wrote to authorities,along with photographic evidence showing two horses at Alibaug beach pulling a cart full of people from the beach,navigating their way through waist-deep seawater to reach the fort. “The current abuse of horses at Alibaug is absolutely unethical and cruel. Such activities are detrimental to the promotion of tourism in the country,” Arpan Sharma,convenor,FIAPO,said in the letter,seeking an immediate end to the activity.

When Newsline visited the spot,30 to 40 horse carts — each with two horses — were found to be operating on the Alibaug beach stretch. Built in 1600s,Kolaba Fort — once a chief naval station during Shivaji’s time — lies in the sea at a distance of over a km from the beach. The retreat of water during low tide makes the fort accessible by foot.

Activities at the beach begin around 2 pm,when the low tide sets in,and go on till dark. “For many years,since Chowpatty came up in 1984,tourists crossed the sea on foot to reach the fort because the water does not go above the waist during the low tide. These rides started only about five to six years ago,” said Gharat Kalsi,who has been riding horse carts for 15-20 years.

The wobbly ride to the fort lasts about 15 minutes,during which horses are whipped periodically as they try to make their way through the seawater,which at one point,reaches dangerously close to nape of the horses’ neck.

Horses make an estimated 10 such trips a day,earning the owner Rs 150 per person for a return ride. Drivers insist that they ply no more than five people at one time but Newsline witnessed many violations of this self-imposed rule,with a child or two ‘extra’ on each cart. Though boats are available,the horse ride seems to be more popular among the tourists.

Experts say horses are good swimmers and take naturally to sweet water but not saline. “The salt water cause dryness of the hoof,resulting in cracks on their wall and subsequently rendering the horses lame,” Dr Manilal Valliyate,director of veterinary affairs,PETA said.

Additionally,horses panic when they cannot see the path in front of them. “When they are forced to walk through water they are unable to see the depth and height of the ground. A misjudgment by the horse may result in fatal injuries,” Valliyate said. External injuries to the horses can also cause laminitis,a foot condition causing acute pain.

Thane Society of Prevention of Cruelty to animal’s equine expert,Dr Suhas Rane,who visited the spot,said,“The health of the horses is not up to the mark. According to preliminary observations,some horses showed signs of the beginning of a skin infection due to the saline water. Also,from what I gathered from speaking to the horse owners,the animals are not getting proper nutritious diet,which the cart owners cannot afford.”

Rane observed that although the horses did not show signs of acute distress or disease,the activity must be put to stop. “Entering the sea water regularly can be detrimental to the horses. Also,carrying such heavy load into the water is an abuse,” he said.

The complaint weighs heavy even from a legal stand point,say experts,with FIAPO rightly pointing out that it is in contravention of Section 11 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act 1960.

Anjali Sharma,legal advisor to the animal welfare board of India (AWBI),argued that cruelty to animals does not only mean denying nourishment or causing phsyical abuse but also mental trauma.” The tenet of the law is that every animal should be allowed to express itself and do what comes naturally to it. This is not natural. Why do something so peculiar when other options like boats are available? In trying to offer a novel experience,horse owners are exploiting the animals,” she said.

Taking cognisance of the complaint,Raigad district collector H K Jawale has initiated an inquiry. “The complaint has been officially forwarded to the animal husbandry department,chief executive officer of the zilla parishad as well as the superintendent of police to investigate,” resident deputy collector Jagannath Veerkar said.

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