The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960: Prolonged Injustice

By Mishi Aggarwal [1]

INTRODUCTION

The greatest privilege that comes with freedom of speech is using your voice for those who don’t have one.”– Ricky Gervais

The purpose of the law is to keep human actions in check in order to make sure that every being is not just alive and surviving but also living with dignity and liberties. Even though only mankind is competent to be aware of the laws in place and act upon them, the law also offers protection to other entities that constitute a society such as animals. Animals are defined as living organisms that are not human. [2] However, what makes humans and animals alike is the ability to perceive certain senses. Animals are sentient beings which means they are capable of feeling pain and other sensations. This brings about a need to understand that their rights need to be protected too. However, mere laying down of rights is not of much advantage to these voiceless beings since they lack the ability to fight for the same. Thus, a more constructive way to ensure the protection of animals would be to lay down laws for someone capable of understanding the duties and reverberation of one’s acts.

It would be fair to say that despite the existence of multiple provisions of the law under different legislations relating to these animals, none of these are truly effective in achieving the goal because the punishments for offences committed now are based on several decades-old legislation. A law is only as useful as its implementation and no reformations in a 60-year-old law demonstrate how the subject of animal protection is far from getting the kind of significance the subject deserves.

The issue of animal cruelty does not happen in isolation with respect to animals. It is concerned with human behaviour. Studies have shown that a person who is likely to execute any kind of animal cruelty is likely to have behavioural issues and has the potential of hurting fellow human beings. The actions of a person in one regard reflect the behaviour of the person in all regards. This implies that an offender under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act is not just a threat to animals but also society as a whole and deserves to be held liable accordingly.

Additionally, a great deal of cases of animal cruelty do not even see the light of the day because these matters are either hushed up or go unreported since animal lives are not protected adequately under the current provisions. The parliament has protected them by way of certain legislations but has not acknowledged the need for updating of the same. This reveals that the cost of the ineffectiveness of the parliament in enacting appropriate legislation on the matter is borne by the voiceless beings in countless ways.

CURRENT STANCE OF LAW

There is nothing unknown about the greed of the human race and its potential to exploit nature for its advantage. The plight of animals is just one such instance. It is believed that even the smallest of human wants is superior to the basic needs of other non-human living organisms. This is termed speciesism. Speciesism is the idea that being human is a good enough reason for human animals to have greater moral rights than non-human animals. Regarding the life of one species as more valuable than others leads to exploitation of the inferior one, which yielded the enactment of the PCA Act. However, after almost 62 years, it is safe to say that the PCA, 1960, is falling short in achieving the objectives that it was enacted for. The Act reduces the status of an animal to a thing because it is based on the concept of ownership of an animal and the penalty for any untoward act of cruelty against them attracts fines ranging from Rs. 10 up to Rs. 50 including beating, kicking, torturing, starving, overloading, overriding, and mutilating, all of which are done to animals. [3]

The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, 1960 is the principal welfare legislation that was enacted to protect the animal population of the country. It dictates instances that are classified as cruelty and also prescribes the punishment in case of commission of the offences mentioned thereunder. Section 11 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act deals with instances that are termed animal cruelty. It provides for direct physical harm like beating, kicking, torturing, and inflicting unnecessary pain along with passive means of harm like administering any injurious substance to any animal. The section clearly provides for other cases, which are also termed cruelty. These can include confining an animal in an unreasonable space for an unreasonable time, abandoning it without reasonable cause, or employing it for any unsuitable work. This implies that the drafters of the legislation did not aim to protect merely the survival of animals but also to make sure that they are treated properly and their lives are valued as that of other living beings.

In addition to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, the Criminal Code of India and the Indian Penal Code, 1860, also dictate punishments for acts of animal cruelty. They also make space for criminal intimidation if there is any kind of threat or abuse being experienced for taking care of the animals. The Criminal Code, being comparatively firmer in its approach, has made the acts of killing or injuring any animal cognizable, thus reflecting on its sturdy stance.

Furthermore, the protection and compassion towards animals is also a constitutional goal under Article 51A(g). The Supreme Court was of the view that the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act must be read in conjunction with article 51A(g) of the Constitution of India. [4] Even though these prescribed duties cannot be enforced in a court of law, it acknowledges the need for the equitable treatment of animals.

The law of the country is the pedestal on which the entire system works. It stands as a backbone as all the other administrative and government bodies work as per the word of the law. The existing Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act does not, in any way, deter or punish the offender for the wrongdoing. Rather, the Act sides with the offender, who willingly chooses to bear with the fine which is based on a 60-year-old law.

ATTEMPTS TO AMEND

Although the provisions for the protection of animals were provided under three different legislations, the lack of accomplishment of the goal has been clear for a long time now. Hence, quite a few attempts were made to bring the legislation at par with its objectives.

In the year 2011, the draft of the Animal Welfare Act was sought to be passed to replace the current Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960. The act attempted to make the provisions of animal protection more comprehensive and effective, taking into consideration the changes that have taken place since the enactment of the original Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. Post the Supreme Court’s acknowledgement of the fact that the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act needed to be amended, a new Animal Welfare Bill was introduced in the year 2014, with a view to incorporate adequate penalties and punishments. Unable to spot any action being taken for the welfare of animals, the citizens of the country came together with the hashtag #Nomore50 in order to push the government to make the necessary changes to the age-old legislation. This led to the introduction of the Amendment Bill of 2016, which not only sought stricter punishments but also sought to change the status of offences under the PCA act from non-cognizable to cognizable.

The proposed amendments have talked about placing the life of an animal over religious practices and have called out traditions that involve animal sacrifice or animal cruelty in any other way. It is yet to be accepted by the Parliament and is a major reason for the non-passing of the new bills.

The introduction of three Amendment Bills post the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, demonstrates that the Parliament recognises the need for changes to the Act but the non-passing of any of these bills shows how the subject is not a priority. The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act deals with the life of living beings and the way they are treated, the injustices that they face, which means that this delay does not only show the ineffectiveness of the Parliament but it also demeans the value of a living organism’s life.

JUDICIAL APPROACH

The Indian judiciary has time and again taken stands that reflect upon the conscience of the judicial system of the country. Even though the work of the judiciary is to implement the laws that are already laid down by the legislature, the Judiciary has, in multiple cases, recognised animal rights. The Supreme Court of India held that in a scenario where an animal has been used to shoot a movie, the makers of the film must ensure that the animal is well taken care of during the shooting. The Court laid down the need to obtain a certificate from the Animal Welfare Board of India to adhere to the prescribed rules. This demonstrated how the judicial system values the life of an animal and does not just consider it as property.

However, the adequacy of judicial interference in the matters of animal cruelty is still in question. During multiple cases, the courts have stood on the other side of the suit. For instance, the Madras High Court, on receipt of a case under Section 11 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, wherein it was alleged that the chopping of the tails and ears of certain dog breeds amounts to cruelty, sided with the stand that chopping of dog ears and tails does not subject them to any sort of cruelty under the legislation and is the sole discretion of the owner of the dog. [5] In another instance where the issue of animal sacrifice in the name of religion arose, the Court gave a curious judgement by stating that it was crucial to uphold the faith and religious ceremonies of each religion and that animal sacrifice for religion does not amount to animal cruelty since it has been allowed by the legislation itself. [6] This is an indication of the fact that even though the Judiciary can exercise discretion in the interpretation of a case, the Judiciary cannot go beyond the word of the law and absolute justice cannot prevail until there is a change in the legislation itself.

CONCLUSION

Legislation is the centre of the system commanded by the sovereign. In its absence, concerned institutions are unable to function. These institutions are required to follow the word of the law, which is why it becomes pivotal for the legislation to be adequately equipped. The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 lays down a wide range of instances that are contemplated as cruelty against animals but fail to take requisite steps for its prevention.

The Delhi High Court noted that despite the clear position of law in prohibiting cruelty to animals, including stray dogs, there is an increasing tendency among citizens to defy it. This means that the Parliament has succeeded to understand the vital factors of a living being that needs protection but has largely failed to implement the same. Mere prescription of law and assigning of rights is of no use until the same is being implemented in the court of law whenever such a case arises.

The punishment prescribed by law does not help the victim against whom the offence is committed, but it deters the same from happening in the future, which calls for stricter laws. The amended provisions included changes like the shift of the burden of proof onto the accused, prohibiting any kind of animal sacrifice, making such offences cognizable, and limiting the use of animals in the field of research. Making an offence cognizable means regarding that subject as one which needs immediate attention. A suffering living being should certainly be a priority, and thus, the offences under the PCA Act should be made cognizable. In a diverse country like India with multiple religious beliefs and traditions, there is a boatload of vengeance when it comes to making any amends, especially those which conflict with the pre-existing beliefs and cultures.

But these attempts to amend are futile if these draft bills just sit in cold storage. The Judiciary has, on numerous occasions, reflected upon the dire need for amendments alongside citizens who have attempted to fight using hashtags. Hence, the Parliament needs to pierce through these cultural and supplementary barriers to ensure that the objectives of the Act are fulfilled and animals are well protected.

[1] 9th Semester, School of Law, Christ (Deemed to be) University, Bangalore.

[2] The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, § 2 (1), Acts of Parliament (1960).

[3] The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, § 11, Acts of Parliament (1960).

[4] State of Gujarat v. Mirzapur Moti Kureshi Kassab Jamat, 8 SCC 534 (2005).

[5] Kennel Club of India (KCI) v. Union of India, AIR 2013 (NOC) (Supp) 1439 (Mad.).

[6] Varaaki v. Union of India and others, Writ Petition (C) No. 689 of 2015.

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