delhi high court

Delhi High Court: A petition was filed by the petitioner challenging the constitutional validity of Rules 3, 5, 6, and 8 of the Animal Birth Control Rules, 2023 promulgated by the Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying, Government of India [‘ABC Rules, 2023’] due to purportedly arbitrary exclusion of veterinary doctors and officers from the process of animal birth control, including immunization and vaccination of animals. A division bench of Satish Chandra Sharma, CJ., and Sanjeev Narula, J., upheld the constitutional validity of the impugned Rules and held that any entity, be it a society, trust, cooperative society, gaushala, LLP, partnership, or a company, that is duly registered under the appropriate laws, can be considered as an AWO under the ambit of ABC Rules, 2023.

The Ministry of Culture, Government of India, introduced the Animal Birth Control (Dogs) Rules in 2001 [‘2001 Rules’] enabling AWOs, private individuals, and designated local authorities to sterilize and immunize street dogs. Due to laxity in the implementation of the 2001 Rules and the maltreatment of stray dogs in various States, the Supreme Court issued several directives to the State Governments to formulate appropriate measures for the execution of duties of the local authorities under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act as well as 2001 Rules. As a result of the Court’s directions, a “Module for Street Dog Population Management, Rabies Eradication, Reducing Man-Dog Conflict” (‘the Module’), was framed by the Animal Welfare Board of India [‘AWBI’] that laid the groundwork for conception and subsequent promulgation of the ABC Rules, 2023, which aim at fulfilling the vision and mandate articulated by the Module.

Rule 3 of Animal Birth Control Rules, 2023, titled ‘Project Recognition’, delineates the modalities for recognizing a project for animal birth control. Further, Rule 5, under the title ‘Prohibition without Recognition’, emphasizes that no project associated with the animal birth control programme can function, unless it receives Project Recognition as per the Rules. This serves as a regulatory measure to ensure that only approved entities partake in the animal birth control initiative, safeguarding the programme’s integrity. Rule 8(2) stresses the legitimacy of only the local authorities or AWOs acknowledged by the AWBI, to run animal birth control programmes in consonance with the established Rules. Rule 10, earmarked as ‘Obligations of the Local Authority’, enlists the facilities available in animal birth control centers, which are overseen by the local authority.

The local authority is empowered to enquire into alleged violations, and if the same is proven, to outrightly terminate or suspend any engagement based on the recommendations of the local animal birth control monitoring committee or the AWBI. This brings forth accountability in operations. As per Rule 10(5), the local authority may employ its own staff for animal birth control by creating a special-purpose vehicle. For this purpose, it shall commission contractual or full-time veterinarians, handlers, drivers, or para-veterinarians to effectively implement the programme, ensuring that the programme is not further subcontracted to any other animal birth control project/ agency. The petitioners were seeking to consider them as eligible contenders in any tenders launched under the aegis of the animal birth control programme(s) and seek directions compelling the Municipal Corporation of Delhi [‘MCD’] to grant them the authority to execute sterilization and immunization of stray dogs, in a manner analogous to NGOs and Animal Welfare Organisations [‘AWOs’], as currently outlined in the ABC Rules, 2023.

The issue under consideration is whether the ABC Rules, 2023 unjustly exclude individual veterinarians from the animal birth control programme, thereby infringing upon their constitutional rights?

The Court noted that a close examination of the ABC Rules, 2023 reveals that veterinarians are integral to animal birth control programme. Their expertise in sterilization, immunization, and animal care remains crucial and inclusive. The ABC Rules, 2023 do not outrightly prohibit veterinarian participation, instead, they advocate for a formalized, structured approach via the mechanism of Project Recognition from AWBI. Rule 3 introduces a standardized system for seeking recognition to conduct animal birth control operations. It only curtails individual veterinarians from seeking Project Recognition. This limitation has a multifaceted, welfare-centric approach. There can be no dispute that large-scale animal birth control programmes require an integrated framework, encompassing medical proficiency alongside welfare and logistical facets, which are typically associated with AWOs.

The Court further noted that the ABC Rules, 2023 envision AWOs as inherently philanthropic entities. AWOs, possessing the requisite logistical support and charitable orientation, collaborating with veterinarians thus ensures a comprehensive approach and individual practitioners are not entirely excluded. The justification for insisting upon organizational set-up stems from empirical data which divulges that private players did not adhere to the essential requirements for carrying out animal birth control programmes, and inflicted pain and agony upon the animals. The lack of requisite infrastructure, leading to failure to adopt best practices, jeopardize the larger interests. By systematizing the approach and entrusting only recognized bodies, the ABC Rules, 2023 are framed to achieve better efficacy of the animal birth control programme. Thus, differentiation between veterinarians and AWOs is purpose-driven, not arbitrary and grounded in sound rationale.

The Court opined that the Petitioners’ understanding that the ABC Rules, 2023 are exclusionary and curtail their rights is fundamentally premised on the interpretation of Rule 2(f), which is too restrictive as it creates a niche for AWOs, thereby sidelining individual veterinarians or groups that might not fit into this stringent definition. However, an AWO by the very essence of its definition, is designed to serve a specialized role. Rule 2(f) stipulates two primary criteria: registration and recognition. An “Animal Welfare Organisation” must be a registered entity under the Societies Registration Act, 1860 or any corresponding law, and it must also gain recognition from the AWBI, in line with AWBI’s current policies. The stipulation of registration of an AWO implies a formal and legal structuring. This is intended to ensure that the organization has defined objectives, accountability mechanisms, and is amenable to legal oversight. The requirement for recognition by the AWBI arguably adds a layer of expertise and oversight.

The intent of Rule 2(f) is to ensure a formal structure and accountability of organizations engaged in animal welfare. The emphasis is not on the nature of the entity (i.e., whether it is a society or trust), but rather on registration and adherence to recognized standards of animal welfare. However, it is also essential to strike a balance between creating specialized entities and ensuring inclusivity of veterinarians. After all, such doctors’ role is crucial. The purpose of Rule 2(f) might be to establish a high standard for animal welfare initiatives, but it is also necessary to ensure that the ABC Rules, 2023 do not unintentionally marginalize competent professionals and entities.

The Court remarked that while Rule 2(f) does create a specialized bracket for AWOs, with an emphasis on registration and recognition, but, while delineating the requisite criteria for an “Animal Welfare Organisation”, the provision does not specify the structural and operational make-up of AWOs. The absence of express guidelines concerning the constitution of AWOs could be potentially misused. An entity, even without direct involvement or expertise of veterinary professionals, could theoretically form an AWO, merely associating its name with a veterinary doctor for the sake of legitimacy. Such a setup, devoid of active participation from veterinary professionals, stands in stark contradiction to the very essence of the animal birth control programme’s objectives. Thus, a nuanced approach, considering both the letter and spirit of Rule 2(f), is essential for an equitable and effective implementation.

Thus, the Court concluded that Rule 2(f) must be interpreted as inclusive in its spirit, aiming to ensure quality and accountability in animal welfare activities rather than excluding any specific professional group. It is incumbent upon veterinarians and other stakeholders to recognize the broader scope of this provision and engage proactively within its ambit. Thus, at this juncture, considering the respondent’s clarified stance in their additional affidavit, individual veterinarians can either align with existing compliant entities or form their own organizational structures, such as societies, trusts, cooperative societies, LLPs, partnerships, etc., and get them registered under the applicable laws.

The Court held that any entity, be it a society, trust, cooperative society, gaushala, LLP, partnership, or a company, that is duly registered under the appropriate laws, can be considered as an AWO under the ambit of ABC Rules, 2023. Such entities, desirous to partake in tenders of this nature, must also secure recognition from the AWBI, underscoring their commitment to AWBI’s standards and norms, subject to satisfaction all additional criteria related to their credibility and experience, as set forth in the ABC Rules, 2023.

[Anubhav Khajuria v Union of India, 2023 SCC OnLine Del 6388, decided on 06-09-2023]

Advocates who appeared in this case :

Mr. Siddharth Gupta, Mr. Abhikalp Pratap Singh, Mr. Lovekesh Choudhary, Ms. Yamini Singh and Ms. Avanit Arya, Advocates for petitioner

Mr. Rajesh Gogna, CGSC with Ms. Priya Singh and Mr. Vikram Chandravanshi, Advocates for UOI. Ms. Supriya Juneja, Ms. Esha Dutta and Ms. Shaalini Agrawal, Advocates for Impleader Gauri Manlekhi, C.M. No. 41076/2023.

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