We now have some 60 million stray dogs
More street dog rules, more dog attacks and deaths also
Meghna Uniyal, Gurugram
A four-year-old child was surrounded and killed by stray dogs in Hyderabad. An infant was bitten to death in a hospital in Rajasthan. Yet, no measures are taken to remove stray dogs roaming wild in our cities. Why has the stray dog become such a highly protected animal?
Until 2001 dog control was implemented under State Municipal & Police Acts (removal/euthanasia of unowned and dangerous dogs) and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (sheltering/euthanasia of unowned dogs).
In 2001, the Ministry of Culture under Maneka Gandhi — a ministry that has nothing to do with animal or disease control or public health and safety — passed the Animal Birth Control (ABC) Rules that mandated the opposite of dog control. Stray dogs were to be released and maintained on streets, outside schools and hospitals, in and around markets and public parks and even airport premises, regardless of whether they had attacked or killed citizens.
Officials of the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI), who are equally responsible for coming up with and promoting the ABC policy, also started to promote the idea that wherever animals like dogs are found, it is their “territory”, laws and Constitution be damned. Not surprisingly, there has been complete mayhem and conflict between people and dogs for over two decades thanks to this policy.
Instead of taking cognizance of the complete failure of the ABC Rules in tackling the issue of stray dogs, the AWBI has doubled down on its callous attitude towards a critical public health and safety issue. It has decided to introduce the ABC Rules 2022, an ‘updated’ version that was needed because, by its own admission, “The board has been receiving complaints on rampant cruelty in carrying out the ABC programme including the imperfect surgical procedure carried out by the incompetent veterinarians and para-veterinarians engaged by the Animal Welfare Organizations.”
Strangely though, the draft ABC Rules 2022, aim to address and resolve the problem of stray dogs that have attacked or killed citizens by simply renaming them “community animals” that have to necessarily be maintained in a state of homelessness in public places.
Clearly, being aware of the fact that the new ABC Rules would still be in contravention of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, something that the AWBI will be required to explain to the Supreme Court in the coming months, the Board decided to amend the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act as well. The strategy and logic applied is — since the ABC Rules have failed in controlling stray dog populations, remove the word “stray dog” from the rules altogether, since the ABC Rules contravene the parent Act, change the Act itself…and so on.
The AWBI was set up as a statutory body under the PCA Act to further the Act by playing an advisory role to the Central government. Over the last few years, the AWBI and NGOs have voiced concern over the insufficient monetary fines for animal cruelty and this lacuna was to be addressed in the amendments to the PCA Act. However, the 61 proposed amendments are essentially clearly an attempt to completely modify the goals, intent and objectives of the principal Act.
Perhaps the most dangerous part is how AWBI members are recommending an overarching, supervisory and executive role for themselves as well as NGOs, with extra-judicial authority over citizens and even Constitutional bodies like municipalities and the police. These include the power to levy fines, penalties, confiscate animals for any reason and merrily play judge, jury and executioner, sidestepping constitutional procedures like due process and rule of law.
The proposed amendments are replete with illegal and unconstitutional provisions including that “causing the death” of an animal, even in an accident or in self-defence, is to be considered deliberate cruelty, resulting in massive fines and a jail term.
Even more concerning is the fact that the Ministry of Animal Husbandry, that has inexplicably been given the task of handling the critical issue of animal control and therefore public health and safety, and under which the AWBI functions, remains both clueless and mum on the issue of such brazenly illegal acts of endangering public health and safety and subverting the Constitution.
The actions of the AWBI can no longer be taken lightly in view of how it has corrupted the very ideals of the Act it was set up under. It’s also high time public officials, who mess around with Constitutional provisions, leading to attacks, diseases and even the killing of citizens, do not get to remain nameless, faceless entities behind government boards and ministries but are held directly liable and culpable for the consequences of their policies on citizens.
Someone also needs to explain why crores of the taxpayers’ money has been spent on keeping unowned dogs roaming the streets, while managing to neuter only 2 percent of the stray dog population in 10 years and ending up with a staggering 60 million stray dogs! In courts, what the AWBI refers to as “a few” incidents every year, are actually over 10 million stray dog attacks on citizens, 25,000 official human rabies deaths and crores spent on accidents and man hours lost every single year.
Crimes Against Humanity (CAH), as defined by the UN, include an attack against a civilian population, that may be widespread and/or systematic in nature, including acts intentionally causing great suffering or serious injury to mental or physical health. A crime against humanity can occur when there is no armed conflict and to be considered so, must be committed “pursuant to or in furtherance of a State or organizational policy to commit such attack” and requires that the State or organization “have knowledge of and actively promote or encourage such an attack against a civilian population”.
Thus, the mutilation and killing of Indian citizens by stray dogs via official government policy, pushed and funded by the AWBI and foreign and domestic NGOs, thereby violating the Fundamental Right to Life as guaranteed to citizens under Article 21 of the Constitution, is the definition of a Crime Against Humanity and must be treated as such.
Meghna Uniyal is Director & Co-founder, Humane Foundation for People and Animals