Petition challenging Aquarium and Fish Tank Animals Rules, 2017 filed in Madras HC

Meera Emmanuel

A petition has been filed in the Madras High Court, by Chennai Aquarium Development and Traders Association, challenging the Constitutionality of the recently notified Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Aquarium and Fish Tank Animals Shop) Rules, 2017 (Rules).

The matter was admitted today by the First Bench comprising of Chief Justice Indira Banerjee and Justice M Sunder.

The petitioners have contended that, the Rules were drafted despite absence of legislative competency to do so. Whereas the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act provides for rule-making powers in furtherance of carrying out its primary mandate against animal cruelty, the impugned rules made under it only interfere with the trade of the petitioner, which is not within the purview of the parent Act. It was argued that there is no cruelty involved in the display of ornamental fish in aquariums. The impugned rules thereby infringe upon the Petitioners’ fundamental rights under Articles 19 and 21 of the Constitution.

The petitioners have alleged that the Rules are unscientific, impractical and unworkable, given the current realities.

It has been submitted that fish constitute a separate scientific class distinguishable from animals and birds. Therefore, it is unscientific to treat them on par with other animals in regard to rules relating to confining/caging/transport/breeding/feeding them etc.

The vague definition of the term “aquarium” in the rules also brings private offices, homes etc. within the purview of the Act. If the rigorous licensing and registration requirements are made applicable to such entities as well, the aquarium industry is likely to suffer, the petitioner has submitted.

The introduction of concepts such as total fish length and fish tank scale index to regulate the size of fish containers is impractical, particularly given that fish have to be stored in various transition points before they reach the end user.

Provisions mandating that the source of fish displayed be identified and that the physical, genetic and behavioural characteristics of the fish be monitored, have also been challenged as impossible, given the prevailing realities.

In this context, it has been submitted that the powers vested in the Animal Welfare Board of India with respect to licensing, certification, registration and inspection amounts to unnecessary harassment and intervention in the trade of the petitioner organisation.

The petitioner has also referred to the letters submitted by the Central Institute of Fisheries Technology (CMFRI) and the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Welfare pointing out the defects of the impugned rules and requesting that the same be withdrawn and reconsidered.

The petitioner has further contended that the impugned Rules were framed without consulting the State government and other stakeholders. As per the information received by the petitioners under the RTI Act, the Rules are yet to be laid down before the Parliament. However, it is expected to be implemented with effect from August 23, 2017.

On these grounds, the petitioner has prayed that the Court declare the impugned rules as arbitrary, unreasonable and unconstitutional.

On hearing the initial submissions, the court today posed a preliminary question as to whether there is a difference between the concepts of aquarium and fish tank, given that they have been distinctly referred to in the Rules. If that is the case, it would imply that households and private offices would not fall within the purview of the licensing, registration and other allied requirements within the rules. In other words, the rigour of regulation would only apply to commercial aquarium shops and the like.  

The Court proceeded to issue notice to the Centre. The matter is will now come up for hearing on August 22.

Read copy of Affidavit filed on behalf of the Petitioner below.

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