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The Conceptual Study Of Animal Rights Under Indian Law

India, the seventh-largest country in the world, is one of the most bio-diverse regions of the world containing four of the world´┐Żs 36 biodiversity hotspots. It is home to animals ranging from the Bengal Tigers to the Great Indian Rhinoceros and animal protection and welfare in the country has taken a prominent position over the recent years. Protection of animals is enshrined as a fundamental duty in the Indian Constitution and there exist several animal welfare legislations in India such as the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960 and the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 at the Central level and cattle protection and cow slaughter prohibition legislation at the State levels.

Provisions Of Indian Penal Code 1860 Concerning Animal Protection Rights

The Indian Penal Code (IPC) 1860 is the official criminal code of India which covers all substantive aspects of criminal law. Section 428 and 429 of the IPC provide for the punishment of all acts of cruelty such as killing, poisoning, maiming, or rendering useless of animals. The aforementioned legislation has been enacted to obviate unnecessary pain and suffering of animals and similar legislations continue to be enacted according to changing circumstances. Notwithstanding specific statutes, further protections for animals lie under general concepts such as tort law, constitutional law, etc.

Constitutional Aspect Concerning Protection Of Animal Rights

The Constitution of India 1950 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.

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.

While they are not directly enforceable in Indian courts, they lay down the groundwork for legislation, 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.

The primary sources of law in India are the Constitution, statutes (legislation), customary law, and case laws. India is a federal union divided into 28 states and 8 Union Territories. The respective States are administered by their State governments while the Union Territories are federal territories directly governed by the Central Government of India. The Parliament of India is the supreme legislative body of the country while the Indian States have their respective State Legislatures. Statutes are enacted by the Parliament for the entire country, by the State legislatures for respective States, and by the Union Territory legislatures for respective Union Territories. Central laws enacted by the Parliament can be checked and controlled only by the Constitution of India. State laws may be overridden.

In addition to these primary legislation, there also exists a vast body of subordinate legislation like rules, regulations, and by-laws enacted by Central/State governments and local authorities such as municipal corporations and Gram Panchayats (local village bodies). Given the separation of powers in India between the Legislature, Executive, and Judiciary branches of government, the three branches are vested with different functions. While the primary responsibility of drafting legislation lies with the legislature, sometimes the responsibility is given to the Executive branch to draft legislation known as delegated legislation.

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.

India is a land of wide religious and cultural diversity. Therefore, some personal laws, local customs, religious texts, and conventions that are not against statute, morality, public policy, and larger social welfare are also recognized to have a legal character and are taken into account by courts in the administration of justice.

The Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals Act, 1960:

The basic cruelty law of India is contained in the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960. The objective of the Act is to prevent the infliction of unnecessary pain or suffering on animals and to amend the laws relating to the prevention of cruelty to animals. The Act defines ´┐Żanimal´┐Ż as any living creature other than a human being.

Following Chapter II of the Act, the Government of India established the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) with some of the following functions:
  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 or 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´┐Żt have a reasonable opportunity of movement.
  6. Keeping an animal on an unreasonably heavy or short-chain for an unreasonable period.
  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 that is suffering pain due to mutilation, starvation, thirst, overcrowding, or other ill-treatment.
  12. Mutilating or killing animals through cruel manners such as using strychnine injections.
  13. Using an animal as bait for another animal solely for entertainment.
  14. Organizing, keeping, using, or managing any place for animal fighting.
  15. 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 a 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 the Experimentation of animals. The Act does not render unlawful experimentation on animals for advancement by the 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. 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.

Judicial Trend Towards Animal Protection Rights

State of Bihar v. Murad Ali Baig[1]
This case dealt with the provisions of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. It specifically dealt with the hunting of elephants and whether the hunting of elephants is justified under the provisions of the Indian Penal Code and the necessary provisions of the Wildlife Protection Act. The word, ´┐Żhunting´┐Ż has been defined under Section 2(16) of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 as follows:
Hunting means:
  1. the killing or poisoning of any wild animal or captive animal as well as an attempt to do so;
  2. capturing, coursing, snaring, trapping, driving or baiting any animal as well as any attempt to do so;
  3. injuring or destroying or taking any part of the body of any such animal;
  4. in the case of wild birds or reptiles, damaging the eggs of such birds or reptiles or disturbing the eggs or nests of such birds or reptiles.

The case further dealt with the provisions of Section 9 of the Act which lays down that:
No person shall hunt any wild animals specified in Schedules I, II, III, and IV except as provided under Section 11 and 12 of the Act.

Emphasis was laid upon the provisions of Section 11 and 12 of the Act, which provides a Schedule. Schedule I of the act contained a list of animals, amphibians, reptiles, fishes, birds, and insects, e.g. Himalayan Brown Bears, Black Bucks, Cheetahs, elephants, crocodiles, pythons, whale sharks, sea horses, vultures, etc. Schedule II of the act covered animals like the Bengal Porcupine, wild dogs, chameleons, etc. Schedule III of the act covered animals like the barking deer, hog deer, hyenas, etc., however, Schedule IV covered under its scope hares, polecats, Indian porcupines, and a lot of other species of birds like the cranes, the cuckoos, and the bulbuls.

The Supreme Court, in this case, held that since the elephant was an animal that fell under the scope and list of animals provided under Schedule I, it can be assumed that the hunting of elephants is prohibited. The Court was also of the view that the offense of, ´┐Żhunting´┐Ż as defined under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, is not the same as the offense which is committed under Section 429 of the Indian Penal Code (which provides for the punishment for killing, poisoning, maiming, etc.

Of any elephants, camel, horse, and other animals, the list of which is provided under the ambit of the said section.) The Supreme Court was of the view that the ingredients of the offense provided under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 is quite contrary to the ingredients of the offense provided under the scope and ambit of the Indian Penal Code and hence the two offenses are not the same.

Tilak Bahadur Rai V. State Of Arunachal Pradesh.[2]

In this case, the accused shot and killed a Tiger. It was held by the court that while deciding with regards to whether the accused acted in good faith or not when he killed a wild animal, it is imperative to understand the nature and the dangers that lurked around the accused and under what circumstances did the accused kill the animal. After due deliberations and arguments put forth by both the parties, the Court was of the view that the accused shot the tiger that charged at him in good faith and as a means to protect himself.

The Court was of the view that if the accused hadn´┐Żt shot the tiger which was charging towards him, planning to attack him, then the accused would have been dead. Therefore, to protect himself, he shot the tiger and this can be amounted as self-defense and was, therefore, justified. It was also clarified in this judgment that if any animal is killed or wounded as by an individual as a means to protect himself, then such animal is the property of the government. The individual who has shot or killed or injured the animal has no claim on such an animal.

Naveen Raheja v. Union of India[3]
In this case, the Supreme Court dealt with a gruesome issue. The issue was with regards to the skinning of a tiger in a zoo in Andhra Pradesh. The Supreme Court was in utter shock and dismay when it first heard the facts of the case. The Court was utterly tormented at the fact that such a gruesome act was indulged into by humans, rendering the voiceless animal helpless and in sheer pain and agony. The tiger received no protection from those whose duty it was to protect it and look after its well-being.

The Top court of India, therefore, was of the view that it was extremely necessary to summon the chairperson of the Central Zoo Authority to appear before the court in person and to elucidate on what steps and measures were being taken to protect and preserve the tiger population in zoos and reserved forests. The Supreme Court then passed appropriate orders in the said issue and gave the necessary orders with regards to the protection of tigers.

The Supreme Court elucidated that the Central Zoo Authority must take cognizance of this issue and take the necessary steps to protect the plight of these voiceless creatures as the situation in which they are is quite distressful and far from satisfactory.

The 42nd Amendment to the Indian Constitution in 1976 was a progressive step towards laying the groundwork for animal protection in India. The constitutional provisions establishing the duty of animal protection have resulted in the enactment of animal protection legislation both at the central and state level, most notable of which is the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960. Furthermore, over the years Indian courts have developed a growing legal jurisprudence in animal law.

However, there is still a long way to go in truly developing a solid foundation for animal law in India. The provisions for animal protection in the Indian Constitution remain principles instead of concrete law enforceable in courts. The penalties under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960 for cruelty against animals are simply not strict enough to truly deter crimes against animals. The law is not strictly enforced and contains several provisions which provide leeway through which liability can be escaped. Extensive reforms need to take place in this regard to provide a stronger animal protection law for India.

  1. AIR 1989 SC 1
  2. 1979 CR. L.J. 1404.
  3. [(2001) 9 SCC 762]

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