62 years later, will the animal cruelty laws in India be amended this Winter Session of Parliament?

Shreya Paropkari talks about the #NoMore50, a joint campaign by HSI India and People for Animals, which seeks stricter penalties under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960.
Shreya Paropkari
Shreya Paropkari

A lawyer by qualification and practice, Shreya Paropkari has been a Consultant with Humane Society International/India for over seven years. She has been advocating for policy change, capacity building of law enforcement agencies, the judiciary and grass-root activists, to tackle animal cruelty and abuse.

In this interview with Bar & Bench, Paropkari talks about No More 50, a joint campaign by HSI India and People for Animals which seeks amendments to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 to improve penalties under the law.

What is the objective of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960?

The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 (PCA Act), was enacted to replace the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1890, which was restrictive in its extent and application.

The PCA Act is a special Act, a comprehensive legislation enacted to prevent the infliction of unnecessary pain and suffering on animals. The Act, and the Rules notified thereunder, intend to alleviate suffering, regulate the use of animals, and ensure their well-being.

The PCA Act is not the only law protecting animals in India. The Constitution also provides for welfare of animals [Articles 48, 48A and 51A(g)].

While the PCA Act may have been adequate to address the situations in 1960, when it was brought forth, it has failed to protect animals for more than decades now. The penalties provided in the Act have not been revised since its enactment. The lack of severity in the penalty fails to deter animal cruelty, preventing this law from serving its purpose.

What is the #NoMore50 campaign?

In 2016, an event took place which shook the conscience of the country. During a political rally in Dehradun, an agitated MLA expressed his rage to the softest target that he could find- a police horse. He hit this horse so ferociously that its hind leg broke. The name of this horse was Shaktiman. The video of the incident was widely viewed on news channels and created outrage across the country at the mindless attack on an animal that did not even retaliate.

Catalysed by Shaktiman, we launched the campaign #NoMore50. Our campaign demands an amendment to the PCA Act. It sparked protests, petitions, and a furore. It was not the fight of the animal welfare community alone; by this time, the public supported it too.

We wrote to every single Member of the Parliament (MP), asking them to urge the nodal Ministry to move a Bill to amend the law. Some MPs brought up questions in the Zero Hour, asking for progress in the matter. Several wrote letters to the Minister of Environment; some gave us copies of their letters so we could seek accountability. Over 140 MPs, celebrities like Usha Uthup, Sudesh Bhosle, Amala and Nagarjuna Akkineni, Ronit Roy, Anup Jalota, Tara Sharma, and Arman Mallik have supported the call for this amendment. The campaign has been able to create awareness and gather public support, including lakhs of signatures online.

62 years of PCA Act, over a decade of concerted efforts to change the law, and we haven’t given up. We continue to advocate for this change.

What is the reason for revising the Act now? Is such reasoning backed by any pronouncements or judicial directions?

The revision was sought over a decade ago. The Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) is a body established under the Act having a statutory duty to advise the government on the prevention of animal cruelty. In 2013, the AWBI again submitted a revised Animal Welfare Bill, 2013 to the Central government, an updated Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960.

In the landmark 2014 judgment in Animal Welfare Board of India v. A Nagaraj, the Supreme Court held that "Parliament is expected to make proper amendment of the PCA Act to provide an effective deterrent to achieve the object and purpose of the Act and for violation of Section 11, adequate penalties and punishments should be imposed."

The importance of amending the law was noted in the judgments in various petitions for animal welfare, across the Supreme Court and the High Courts.

What are the proposed changes in the amendment?

Currently, the maximum penalty for even the most heinous form of animal abuse - including beating them, torturing them and even killing them - is a mere ₹50. After the amendment, the proposed fine is ₹5,000 for the first offence and ₹7,500 for a second offence. Certain cruelties, categorised as gruesome, may attract higher penalties and imprisonment.

We are hoping the Bill will be tabled in the upcoming Winter Session of Parliament. We’ve also launched a multi-state billboard campaign to amplify the reach and demand of #NoMore50.

Will increasing the fine be enough of a deterrent? Is further reform required?

The penalty at present fails to achieve the objective of preventing animal cruelty, as the amount is meagre. The penalties, when increased and corrected periodically, will serve as a deterrent. With the parent Act being outdated for decades, the enforcement of Rules notified under the Act also suffer.

Who has the primary responsibility of enforcing this law? What is being done to enable them to act?

The PCA Act established the AWBI for the purpose of promoting animal welfare and protecting animals from cruelty through a host of functions allocated through the Act (refer Sections 4 to 10). For regulating experimentation on animals, the Act also established the Committee for Control & Supervision of Experimentation on Animals.

Under the Act, the Rules for establishment of Societies for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) were notified in 2001. The SPCAs serve as a district-level agency to support implementation of the PCA Act. The courts of law, in their infinite wisdom, have directed the establishment of State Animal Welfare Boards, to support the functions of the AWBI at the state level. Rules notified under the Act have vested upon the state boards the duties to regulate, register and monitor use of animals.

The amendment will provide for infrastructure and systems for efficient functioning of these bodies.

How will #NoMore50 be beneficial to the society at large? 

Animal cruelty encompasses a wide range of actions and omissions, and different degrees of violence, neglect and abuse. There are multiple studies from psychological, legal and sociological perspectives which found an undeniable link between animal cruelty and other forms of violence. Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy and countless other individuals, convicted for violent crimes, have all had a past of animal abuse before graduating to inflicting the same and worse violence on other humans. Closer to home, the convict in the Jisha murder case also had a history of subjecting animals to cruelty.

Some focus on developing laws and systems to identify violent behaviour against animals can help in preventing crimes against animals and society.

Lastly, as a compassionate citizen, the onus falls on each of us. Read and understand the animal laws in India. Report cases of animal abuse and demand #NoMore50 to better address animal cruelty.

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