Upholds national Animal Birth Control program
NEW DELHI, CHENNAI––The Animal Welfare Board of India on November 18, 2015 welcomed a Supreme Court of India ruling upholding the Animal Birth Control (Dogs) Rules, 2001, providing the legal framework for ABC programs nationwide and prohibiting killing street dogs for the purpose of population control.
The verdict, however, rendered by a two-judge panel, left many issues pertaining to dog control unaddressed; is likely to be appealed to the full Supreme Court of India bench; and is unlikely to quell movements afoot in several Indian states to repeal or amend the Animal Birth Control (Dogs) Rules, 2001 so as to allow local governments to cull dogs, regardless of whether the dogs are demonstrably rabid or otherwise suffering.
Issues left open
Among the issues involved are the frequent reluctance of local governments to fully fund Animal Birth Control programs; the failure of often mismanaged Animal Birth Control programs to effect visible dog population reductions in the cities where dogs are most controversial; the tendency of local governments to allocate dog population control contracts in exchange for financial kickbacks and/or support in political campaigning; and the language of the Animal Birth Control (Dogs) Rules, 2001, which addressed public health and safety risks from rabies, but not from dogs exhibiting dangerous behavior for other reasons.
In particular, the Animal Birth Control (Dogs) Rules, 2001 did not anticipate the uncontrolled proliferation of pit bulls and related fighting breeds which has subsequently occurred in several regions of India, and did not anticipate, either, that growing numbers of people feeding street dogs would create territorial packs tending to congregate around the feeding stations, intimidating and harassing other people passing by.
AWBI plays defense
Struggling to implement Animal Birth Control as effectively nationwide as it has long been practiced in the first several cities to embrace ABC, the Animal Welfare Board of India has yet to recognize either proliferation of non-rabid dangerous dogs or inappropriate feeding as a priority concern.
The legal validity of the ABC program was definitively upheld by the Bombay High Count in December 2008, after a decade of contradictory verdicts by lower courts. But a series of Delhi and Bombay High Court rulings left unclear when the behavior of dogs and people feeding or harboring them can become an actionable nuisance.
Since then, the Animal Welfare Board of India has interpreted a December 2009 Delhi High Court ruling as meaning that people have a defacto right to feed dogs, subject only to restrictions that the Animal Welfare Board has yet to impose.
Lynching dogs in Kerala
In Kerala state, where resistance to ABC over the years has been particularly intense, Ayavana industrialist Kochouseph Chittilapilly, founder of V-Guard Industries, has reportedly funded a Stray Dog Elimination Group, headed by one O.N. Joy, to relocate or kill dogs.
Chittilapilly and Joy are politically supported by the 57-member Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council, representing parishes including about 18% of the human population of Kerala.
The Animal Welfare Board of India responded in October 2015 by filing legal action against Chittilapilly and Joy; the Ernakulam SPCA brought criminal charges against them.
Kerala High Court chief justice Ashok Bhushan and Justice A.M. Shaffique on November 4, 2015 ordered municipal governments to obey the Animal Birth Control (Dogs) Rules, 2001, but criticized the Animal Welfare Board of India for inadequately protecting public safety.
“”There cannot be any dispute with the proposition that there has to bemore concern with the life of human beings than that of stray dogs and there cannot be any quarrel to the proposition that local authorities can exercise the power to capture and destroy the stray dogs and this exercise has to be carried out in accordance with provisions of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 and Animal Birth Control Rules (Dogs) 2001,” Bhushan and Shaffique wrote.
City stiffs Humane Society International
Earlier, Humane Society International surveyed the dog population of Thiruvanathapuram, the biggest city in Kerala, preliminary to accepting the city Animal Birth Control program. Humane Society International reported finding 5,380 street dogs, for a humans-to-dogs ratio of 178-to-one, relatively consistent with the ratios in other major Indian cities.
Insisting the Humane Society International data was wrong, and that the street dog population was closer to 50,000, which would have put the humans-to-dogs ratio at approximately that of rural villages, Thiruvanathapuram paid less than half of the cost of the survey, pending a re-survey. Refusing to do the re-survey, Humane Society International withdrew from participation, and from bidding on the Animal Birth Control contract.
Similar conflicts have erupted in recent months in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh state; Salem, Tamil Nadu state; Noida, Uttar Pradesh state; and Ahmedabad, Vadodara, and Surat, in Gujarat state.
Supreme Court ruling
Responding to the many petitions reaching the Supreme Court of India as result of the local and regional conflicts, most specifically from Kerala, Supreme Court of India Justices Dipak Misra and Shiva Kirti Singh wrote in their November 18, 2015 judgment that “The local authorities have a sacrosanct duty to provide sufficient number of dog pounds, including animal kennels/shelters, which may be managed by the animal welfare organizations. It is also incumbent upon the local authorities to provide requisite number of dog vans with ramps for the capture and transportation of street dogs; one driver and two trained dog catchers for each dog van; an ambulance/clinical van as mobile center for sterilization and immunization; incinerators for disposal of carcasses, and periodic repair of shelters or pounds.
“All the State municipal corporations, municipal committees, district boards and local bodies shall be guided by the [Animal Birth Control (Dogs) Rules, 2001] and it is the duty and obligation of the Animal Welfare Board to see that they are followed with all seriousness,” Misra and Singh continued.
“Once that is done, we are disposed to think for the present that a balance between compassion to dogs and the lives of human beings, which is appositely called a glorious gift of nature, may harmoniously co-exist,” Misra and Singh concluded.