(Read guest column on PCA we were asked to write in the Logical Indian)
This PCA amendment draft has been a long time in the making. There have been attempts before this via a private bill etc but this is the first time that the government has taken a concerted strong view and collective action on updating the cruelty fine as well as quantum of punishment. I sincerely hope it is passed. It is hopelessly overdue.
Let’s look at this from a few perspectives.
One - most people who are fair and definitely those who are animal lovers will welcome this draft law as being the equitable thing to do, and something that has been done way past it’s action date.
Two - by throwing it open to public consultation, I am sure that some of the more minor issues can be discussed, ironed out and incorporated it into the final law.
Three- given the current situation where there is also legal slaughter of animals, the exact breath of animal cruelty, ie what constitutes it, what is the evidence that is needed etc would be critical. These laws will only work if all the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed. The mechanism for cruelty implementation in critical as is the leadership, guidance and strong umbrella of the AWBI. Luckily the AWBI had made setting up of the state animal welfare board mandatory on all the chief secretaries via their circular dated 2013 and once again remind them of the need for SPCA at the district level in another circular dated December 2018. Many states still have not, but Karnataka recently has. We are lucky that due to petitions be organizations like ours and CUPA following up on setting up a Karnataka a Animal Welfare Board, it was finally formed in November 2019. After another year’s follow up, the district SPCA for Bangalore Urban has also come up couple of months ago. I mention this for a very specific reason because without the structure of the national, state and district level animal welfare boards, the implementation of the PCA law becomes very sketchy indeed.
Four, what about the police, single largest partner as far as animal cruelty is concerned – there will be increased need for training , sensitisation and managing of workload. Again by a circular dated August 2018 the AWBI Secretary sent a circular to the DGPs in all states of India to specifically ensure both knowledge and sensitization of the laws as well as support to animal lovers on issues around animal cruelty, filing of a FiR etc., knowing full well that this stakeholder was the most critical in ensuring a case of cruelty Reached its final destination of fine and/or jail time. The sad thing of course is that this is more in the letter then in the spirit and most police stations in India are extremely dismissive, indifferent and ignorant about animal cruelty laws, forget support to those who filed.
Considering the increased complexity for both alleged perpetrators as well as victims it becomes important define cruelty across the population so people are aware and take the right corrective action. Examples would include transporters of cattle who may not know it is illegal transport in a particular fashion, home breeders who may not understand that they have to be registered by the state animal welfare board as a breeder in order to breed their own dogs, many pet shops or small breed fanciers (which are actually puppy Mills) would be guilty of cruelty under the act. Of course it is said that lack of knowledge of the law does not absolve one of the crime, but it's still incumbent when there has been sweeping change in the fine to ensure that enough information and advance notice. Similarly for people in the animal welfare space or lay people who may or may not know what constitutes cruelty or not, having a set of very clear faq's , escalation matrix or helpline would be of enormous help. Most critically, implementers in the system which is police , SPCA, veterinary officers Indian Veterinary Association Kennel, Club of India and so on must be informed on the nitty gritty and implementation via clear circular.
As a go forward, it becomes increasingly incumbent on us to thrash out every detail across various combinations, across various types of animals and discuss the recognition of cruelty, the action complement the partnership from citizens and animal lovers as well as a strong legal system that allows this to go through. A basic SOP and a set of FAQ’s is needed for the animal lover, police and the lay person. It is interesting to note that the Madras High Court has just passed a strong order on the issue of dogs in the IIT campus, stressing collaboration of species , of living together, of respect for animal rights as well as ensuring the animal laws of the country are clearly and unequivocally delineated.