In a gruesome incident reported from Kerala’s Silent Valley forest in Palakkad district, on May 27, 2020, that outraged the sentiments of the entire country, where a 15-year old pregnant Elephant fell victim to an act of human cruelty after the fruit filled with powerful firecrackers, allegedly fed by locals, exploded in her mouth. The injured animal, then stood in the Velliyar River, with her mouth and tongue destroyed, ending with a painful death.
The Government of India had launched Project Elephant in 1992 to support the States in protecting the animal. A Similar incident like the present one came from Himachal Pradesh where also a Pregnant Cow’s jaw was blown off after some miscreants made the animal eat wheat with crackers and various other brutalities with animals like the recent incident of torturing Gangetic dolphin in Kolkata and those with stray dogs and puppies highlights that the poachers and killers are more inclined to their task than the government.
Numerous incidents of animal brutality are witnessed in India on a frequent basis, maximum of which go unreported with no complaints or arrests being made, apart from just attracting a trivial infuriation on social media for a couple of days by animal rights activists and lovers. Animal protection laws aren’t strictly enforced in India. However, for a stricter execution and implementation, it’s important to enlighten ourselves with the existing animal protection laws.
The Constitution of India: Article 48A lays down the provision for Protection and improvement of environment and safeguarding of forests and wild life: The State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wild life of the country. Article 51(g) also reiterates to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife, and to have compassion for living creatures.
The Wildlife Protection Act: It was enacted in 1972 for the protection of animals, and after an amendment in 2002, the punishment and penalty for offenses were made more stringent. The offenses draw a minimum imprisonment of three years extendable upto seven years, and a maximum fine of Rs. 25,000. The Indian Elephant is listed as “Endangered” in the Red list of threatened species of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which afford it maximum protection under Schedule one and Section 40(2) of the act. Elephant was also declared India’s heritage animal in 2010.
The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals act, 1960: This act hasn’t been amended since its inception. Section 11 of the act provides that if any person allows, or himself beats, kicks or tortures any animal subjecting to unnecessary pain and suffering will be liable to pay a fine of upto Rs. 50. However, the Vermin exception, which delegates the law in the hands of farmers to kill and destroy vermin animals at sight, keeps the culture of violence and brutal killing of animal active. This practice needs to be resolved by policy change, reforms and replacement with humane treatment of vermin animals even.
Indian Penal Code: Section 428 of IPC iterates, whoever commits mischief by killing, poisoning, maiming or rendering useless, any elephant, camel, horse, mule, buffalo, bull, cow or ox, whatever may be the value thereof, or any other animal of the value of ten rupees or upwards, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine. Section 429 of IPC increases the punishment extendable upto five years, for similar animals of the value of fifty rupees or upwards.
A Criminal Investigation has been ordered in the matter by Kerala Forest Department. The state police is also investigating the case under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 and the Explosives Act, 1884 as well as the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has formed a committee and Central Government has also sought a report from the Kerala Government. Apart from this, pleas have been filled in the Supreme Court seeking probe by CBI or a Special Investigation Team (SIT) as the incident appeared to be a “Calculated and Organized”.
In Animal Welfare Board of India v A. Nagaraja , where the case concerned itself with Jallikatu bullock cart races, the Supreme Court held that “Right to dignity, honour, privacy and fair treatment” as enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution is not confined to human beings alone, but animals as well. The Court also has a duty under the “doctrine of parents patriae” to take care of the rights of animals since they are unable to take care of themselves. It is now expected that Parliament would elevate the right of animals to that of Constitutional rights and also strengthen these archaic laws as also demanded by People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).
This article is authored by Govind Hari Lath, Final year student at Faculty of Law, University of Delhi. He can be reached at linkedin.com/in/govind-lath-