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Animal Rights and Cruelty to Animals Act

Four of the world's thirty-six biodiversity hotspots are found in India, the seventh-largest nation in the world and one of the most biodiverse regions in the planet. Animal protection and care have gained significant traction in the nation in recent years, and the country is home to a variety of creatures, including Great Indian rhinoceroses and Bengal tigers.

The Indian Constitution recognizes the protection of animals as a fundamental duty. Numerous laws pertaining to animal welfare are in place in India, including the Central Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1960,[1] as well as State laws that forbid the slaughter of cows and protect cattle. The official criminal code of India, the Indian Penal Code (IPC) 1860, addresses every significant facet of criminal law.

The IPC's Sections 428 and 429 punish all cruelty, including the murder, poisoning, maiming, or rendering of animals useless. The laws stated above were passed in order to spare animals needless suffering, and new laws of a similar nature are always being passed in response to evolving conditions. Additional safeguards for animals are provided by basic legal doctrines like tort law, constitutional law, etc., notwithstanding particular statutes.

The Constitution of India 1960:

The Constitution of India 1960 makes it 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 all living creatures." [2]This Constitutional duty of animal protection is supplemented by the Directive Principle of State Policy under Article 48A that:

The State shall endeavor to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country.

Both the above constitutional provisions were introduced by the 42nd Amendment in 1976[3]. While they are not directly enforceable in Indian courts, they lay down the groundwork for legislations, policies and state directives in furtherance of animal protection at the Central and State levels. Moreover, they may be enforced in courts by taking an expansive judicial interpretation and bringing them within the ambit of the fundamental Right to Life and Liberty under Article 21 which is judicially enforceable.

Sources of Law:
India's legal framework draws from various sources, with the Constitution serving as a supreme document. The country's federal structure involves States and Union Territories, each with its governance. The Parliament holds legislative authority for the entire nation, while State Legislatures and Union Territory legislatures handle regional laws.

The Constitution acts as a check on central laws. Subordinate legislation, such as rules and regulations, is crafted by different government bodies. The common law system, rooted in British influence, emphasizes judicial precedents. Notably, personal laws, cultural customs, and religious texts are acknowledged, provided they align with statutory, moral, and societal principles recognized by the courts.

This complex legal landscape reflects India's diverse cultural and religious tapestry. India follows the common law system based on recorded judicial precedents handed down by the British colony. Therefore, it places significant reliance on precedents and case laws in the development of law and jurisprudence. Judicial decisions of higher courts such as the Supreme Court of India and High Courts of different States carry significant legal weight and are binding on lower courts.

Allocation of Powers between the Centre and the States:

Article 245 of the Indian Constitution holds that subject to the Constitution, the Indian Parliament can make laws for the whole or part of territory of India. Territory of India includes States, Union Territories and other territories such as enclaves within India.

Article 246 lays down the subject-matter of laws made by the Parliament and the State Legislatures. [4]This subject-matter is allocated into three lists contained in the Seventh Schedule:
  1. The Union List: the Parliament has exclusive power to make laws with respect to the matters enumerated within this list.
  2. The State List: State Legislatures have the exclusive power to make laws with respect to the matters enumerated within this list.
  3. Concurrent List: both the Parliament and State Legislatures have the power to make laws with respect to the matters enumerated within this list. In the context of animal rights, the following matters have been allocated in the State and Concurrent List.

Item 14 of the State List provides that the States have the power to "[p]reserve, protect and improve stock and prevent animal diseases and enforce veterinary training and practice."

In the Concurrent List, both the Centre and the States have the power to legislate on:
Item 17: "Prevention of cruelty to animals."

Item 17B: "Protection of wild animals and birds."

The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960:

The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960 contains India's fundamental cruelty laws. The Act's goals are to change the laws pertaining to the prevention of animal cruelty and to stop the unnecessary suffering or pain that animals endure. According to the Act, a "animal" is any living being that is not a human.

The Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) was founded by the Indian government in compliance with Chapter II of the Act, and it performs some of the following duties:
  1. Advising the central government regarding amendments and rules to prevent unnecessary pain while transporting animals, performing experiments on animals or storing animals in captivity.
  2. Encouragement of financial assistance, rescue homes and animal shelters for old animals.
  3. Advising the government on medical care and regulations for animal hospitals.
  4. Imparting education and awareness on humane treatment of animals.
  5. Advising the central government regarding general matters of animal welfare.

The Act Enumerates Different Variants Of Cruelty To Animals Under Section 11 As The Following Actions:
  1. Beating, kicking, overriding, overloading, torturing, and causing unnecessary pain to any animal.
  2. Using an old, injured, or unfit animal for work (the punishment applies to the owner as well as the user).
  3. Administering an injurious drug/medicine to any animal.
  4. Carrying an animal in any vehicle in a way that causes it pain and discomfort.
  5. Keeping any animal in a cage where it doesn't have a reasonable opportunity of movement.
  6. Keeping an animal on an unreasonably heavy or short chain for an unreasonable period of time.
  7. Keeping an animal in total and habitual confinement with no reasonable opportunity to exercise.
  8. Being an owner failing to provide the animal with sufficient food, drink, or shelter.
  9. Abandoning an animal without reasonable cause.
  10. Willfully permitting an owned animal to roam on streets or leaving it on the streets to die of disease, old age, or disability.
  11. Offering for sale an animal which is suffering pain due to mutilation, starvation, thirst, overcrowding, or other ill-treatment.
  12. Using an animal as bait for another animal solely for entertainment.
  13. Organizing, keeping, using, or managing any place for animal fighting.
  14. Shooting an animal when it is released from captivity for such purpose.
However, the Act does not consider as cruelty the dehorning/castration of cattle in the prescribed manner, destruction of stray dogs in lethal chambers in prescribed manner and extermination of any animal under the authority of law. This Section provides somewhat of a leeway.

Part IV of the Act covers Experimentation of animals. The Act does not render unlawful experimentation on animals for the purpose of advancement by new discovery of physiological knowledge or knowledge to combat disease, whether of human beings, animals or plants. It envisages the creation of a Committee for control and supervision of experiments on animals by the central government which even has the power to prohibit experimentation if so required.

Chapter V covers the area of performing animals. Section 22 prohibits exhibiting or training an animal without registration with the AWBI.[5] The Section prohibits animals such as monkeys, bears, lions, tigers, panthers and bulls from being utilized as performing animals.

An additional leeway provided by the Act is that under Section 28, nothing contained in the Act shall render it an offence to kill any animal in a manner required by the religion of any community.

Considering the diversity of religions and traditions in India, this Section was considered imperative.

Treating animals cruelly is punishable with a fine of Rs. 10 which may extend to Rs. 50 on first conviction. On subsequent conviction within three years of a previous offence, it is punishable with a fine of Rs. 25 which may extend to Rs. 100 or imprisonment of three months or with both. Performing operations like Phooka or any other operations to improve lactation which is injurious to the health of the animal is punishable with a fine of Rs. 1000 or imprisonment up to 2 years or both. The government further has the power to forfeit or seize or destroy the animal. Contravention of any order of the committee regarding experimentation on animals is punishable with a fine up to Rs. 200.

The 42nd Amendment to the Indian Constitution in 1976 marked a significant stride in laying the foundation for animal protection. While constitutional provisions emphasize the duty of safeguarding animals, translating these principles into robust, enforceable laws is an ongoing challenge. The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, stands as a key legislation, but its penalties lack the necessary strictness to act as a true deterrent.
The legal framework remains principles-oriented rather than offering concrete enforceability in courts. The Act is not rigorously implemented, and certain provisions create loopholes for escaping liability. There is a pressing need for comprehensive reforms to establish a more robust and effective animal protection law in India.

  • Tarlton Law Library - Bluebook Legal Citation -
  • AIR Online - Legal Citations -
  • SCC Online
  • UW Law Library - Legal Citations -
  • GWU Law Library - Sci & SocSci Citations

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