What is the legal position with regard to cruelty to animals in India? Who ensures that the law is enforced?
The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, specifies various forms of cruelty against animals, which include “beat[ing], kick[ing], over-rid[ing], over-driv[ing], over-load[ing], tortur[ing] or otherwise treat[ing] any animal so as to subject it to unnecessary pain or suffering”; “wilfully and unreasonably administer[ing] any injurious drug or injurious substance to (any animal)”; transporting, confining or chaining an animal, causing it suffering; denying it water and food; “mutilat[ing]… or kill[ing] any animal (including stray dogs) by using the method of strychnine injections, in the heart or in any other unnecessarily cruel manner”, etc.
Under Section 4 of the Act, the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) was established in 1962 as a statutory advisory body on animal welfare laws, and to promote animal welfare in the country. The Board consists of 28 Members with a term of office of 3 years. Subsequently, the central government notified Rules under which every state government was asked to establish a society in each district to function as a Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) in that district. SPCAs are supposed to aid the government, AWBI and the local authority in enforcing provisions of the The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.
But are the offences listed under the PCA Act cognizable, i.e., ones that can lead to arrest without a warrant?
Of the 15 offences specified under the PCA Act, only 4 are cognizable. The AWBI has listed them out: (i) “Mutilat[ing] any animal or kill[ing] any animal (including stray dogs) by using the method of strychnine injections in the heart or in any other unnecessarily cruel manner”; (ii) “Organis[ing], keep[ing], us[ing] or act[ing] in the management of, any place for animal fighting or for the purpose of baiting any animal or permit[ting] or offer[ing] any place to be so used or receiv[ing] money for the admission of any other person to any place kept or used for any such purposes”; (iii) “Promot[ing] or tak[ing] part in any shooting match or competition wherein animals are released from captivity for the purpose of such shooting”; and (iv) “Perform[ing] upon any cow or other milch animal the operation called phooka or any other operation, including injection of oxytocin given by dairies to their milch animals in order to induce milk, which is injurious to health”.
These cognizable offences are not uncommon in the country. Dog fights are held in Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan, dairy farmers often inject cattle with chemicals, and stray dogs are often poisoned.
And what is the punishment for a person caught violating the Act?
It is very little — which to a large extent explains violations. As per the 1960 Act, a first offence is punishable with a “fine which shall not be less than ten rupees but which may extend to fifty rupees and in the case of a second or subsequent offence committed within three years of the previous offence, with fine which shall not be less than twenty-five rupees but which may extend, to one hundred rupees or with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three months, or with both”.
Also, under Section 429 of the Indian Penal Code, “whoever commits mischief by killing, poisoning, maiming or rendering useless, any elephant, camel, horse, mule, buffalo, bull, cow or ox, whatever may be the value thereof, or any other animal of the value of fifty rupees or upwards, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to five years, or with fine, or with both.”
So what allows offenders to go unpunished even in recent horrific cases like the one involving medical students allegedly throwing a dog from a two-storey building in Chennai, or boys burning puppies alive in Hyderabad?
Offences under Section 429 are bailable. The conviction rate in animal cruelty cases is almost zero. There are no records of a second offence, which can lead to imprisonment for 3 months. Police often prefer booking those caught a second time transporting animals in poor conditions under the Motor Vehicles Act, which carries a bigger fine. No consolidated official data exists on crimes against animals. Animal NGOs and activists try to tackle cases within their abilities and limitations. While they claim to get hundreds of complaints every day, these cases rarely transform into police complaints or FIRs. A rising population of stray dogs across India has been blamed for both the increasing incidents of dog bites, and the cruelty these animals face.
And what steps have activists, lawmakers and civil society groups taken to remedy this situation in the years since 1960 when the PCA law was enacted?
In 2011, AWBI had submitted a draft Bill to the Ministry of Environment and Forests to replace the PCA Act with an Animal Welfare Act. The same proposal was re-submitted in 2014, but the matter has not progressed. For the past several years, activists have been demanding an “animal registry” to record all cases of cruelty against animals. They have also been using letters, online petitions and campaigns to demand amendments to, and an increase in, the penalties under the PCA Act. Humane Society International (HSI/India)’s recent campaign #NoMore50 is one such example.