Kerala High Court

Kerala High Court: Addressing the issue of animal violence leading to the killing of community dogs in Kerala, the Division Bench of A.K. Jayasankaran Nambiar* and Gopinath P., JJ., expressed-unfortunate indeed are the circumstances leading up to the human-animal conflict situation that we are called upon to resolve in these proceedings.

Taking note of rising instances of dog bites in the State, the Court directed the State to provide immediate, effective, and free medical treatment to the citizen suffering injuries without prejudice to the right of the person concerned to separately seek compensation for the injuries, mental and/or physical, sustained by him/her, before the appropriate forum.

Noticeably, enraged by the huge number of cases of dog bites resulting in deaths and/or injuries in the State coupled with inaction on the part of the State, the citizens have begun taking law into their own hands and unleashing violence, bordering on massacre, on community dogs that they perceive to be dangerous.

Constitutional & Precedential Safeguards for Animal Welfare

Article 48A of the Constitution which deals with the Directive Principles of State Policy (DPoSP), speaks about the protection and improvement of environment and safeguarding of forests and wildlife. Similarly, Article 51A (g) dealing with the Fundamental Duties, obliges every citizen to protect and improve natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers, and wildlife, and to have compassion for living creatures, as also to develop scientific temper, humanism, and the spirit of inquiry and reform.

In NR Nair v. Union of India, (2001) 6 SCC 84, the Supreme Court breathed life into the aforesaid constitutional provisions by interpreting restrictions imposed in furtherance of the said provisions as “reasonable” vis-à-vis the freedoms guaranteed to citizens under Article 19. In Animal Welfare Board of India v. A. Nagaraja, (2014) 7 SCC 547, the Court interpreted the provisions of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 (the PCA Act) in the backdrop of the fundamental duties and held that animals should now be seen as having certain rights, corresponding to the duties that are prescribed for human beings. The PCA Act recognized five freedoms as inherent in all animals viz.

(i) freedom from hunger, thirst and malnutrition

(ii) freedom from fear and distress

(iii) freedom from physical and thermal discomfort

(iv) freedom from pain, injury and disease and

(v) freedom to express normal patterns of behaviour.

In the aforesaid case, the Court had held that the above five freedoms, which were recognised by the World Health Organization of Animal Health (OIE), were for animals, akin to the rights guaranteed to the citizens of our country under Part III of the Constitution.

Actions Taken by the State So Far

The report submitted by the Director of Animal Husbandry, State Animal Welfare Board, Government of Kerala indicates that the following measures are in various stages of implementation across the State:

(a) A mass anti-rabies vaccination program has been launched in relation to owned dogs. The vaccination of such dogs would be done at the camps with the cooperation of the Local Self Governments.

(b) A similar anti-rabies vaccination program is also proposed to be initiated from 20-09-2022 in relation to community dogs. To that end, the State has identified 170 hot spots where the vaccination will be administered through the Animal Husbandry Department.

(c) Total 37 Animal Birth Control centres have been identified across the State for the purposes of the Animal Birth Control – Anti Rabies program.

(d) The list of veterinary hospitals where emergency night services are available together with 24-hour facilities have been put up on the website of the Department along with the respective contact numbers.

(e) The Local Self Government Department will be constructing animal shelters/pounds for dogs and the guidelines prescribed by the AWBI for the construction of animal shelters will be adhered to.

(f) It is proposed to conduct Awareness programs on responsible dog ownership, compulsory vaccination and licensing, post-bite management and treatment, adoption etc. in Schools, residents’ associations, etc. through the Animal Husbandry Media division.

Directions to the State

Taking note of the reports that suggest that there may be dogs afflicted with Rabies among the community dogs in the State, the Court directed the State to forthwith take steps to identify dogs suspected to be infected with Rabies, and seize and remove them to a place of isolation within the limits of the local authority concerned, if need be, by resorting to the procedure of tranquilizing them under veterinary supervision. The Court also directed,

“Until concrete measures to our satisfaction are put in place by the State administration to avoid situations of human-animal conflict, on every such occasion where a citizen suffers injury, the State shall provide immediate, effective and free medical treatment to the said citizen at the Government hospitals, including those attached to the Government Medical Colleges in the State.”

In this regard, the State is directed to ensure that the hospitals concerned are adequately stocked with medicines and medical equipment required for such treatment. The Court added that the said treatment shall also be without prejudice to the right of the person concerned to separately seek compensation from the State for the injuries, mental and/or physical, sustained by him/her, before the appropriate forum. Additionally, the Court issued the following directions:

i. “The State Police Chief shall also ensure that incidents of human violence against animals, including community dogs, as also incidents of violence against persons feeding such community dogs are taken cognizance of, promptly investigated into, and immediate and appropriate action initiated against the perpetrators of such violent acts.

ii. The Station House Officer of every police station in the State shall take prompt action taking note of the Circular issued by the State Police Chief and the directions contained in this order dated 16-09-2022.”

Lastly, the Court clarified that it intends to oversee the implementation of the various measures suggested by the State administration on a weekly basis. The matter is posted on 23-09-2022 for further hearing.

[In Re: Bruno (Suo Motu) v. Union of India, 2022 SCC OnLine Ker 4644, decided on 16-09-2022]

*Judgment by: Justice A.K. Jayasankaran Nambiar.

*Kamini Sharma, Editorial Assistant has put this report together.

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