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Where India stands in protecting its animals:

Image credit: By Augustus Binu, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=74260685

A report released by the World Animal Protection Index earlier this month speaks about how poor animal welfare practises in the trade and farming of wild animals and livestock, are being followed worldwide. Such practises, as per the report, then provide a breeding ground for new viruses to emerge and mutate - a situation we are seeing currently. Governments across the world are failing to protect animals and human beings by not improving animal welfare laws, which then leads to the widespread outbreak of diseases.

The Animal Protection Index (API) is a global ranking of the animal welfare policies in 50 countries, which are amongst the world’s largest producers of beef, poultry, pork, sheep, goat, milk and eggs. The ranking shows where countries stand with regards to animal welfare policies and regulations. Countries are ranked from A (highest) to the G (lowest score). High ranking countries such as the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Sweden and Denmark have scored B, while Algeria, Iran and Belarus are at the bottom end, scoring a poor G. India has improved its ranking and is rated C, a ranking it shares with Spain, Mexico, France and New Zealand.

The Index looks at 10 indicators, grouped into four goals, with factors such as whether a particular country has any formal laws against causing animal suffering, whether animal sentience (the capacity of being able to have emotions and feelings) has been taken into account and the government’s commitment to animal protection through the allocation of responsibility, accountability and resources within the government to protect animals.

What India has got right

According to the API, the principle of ahimsa, or the recognition of animal sentience is recognised in the Constitution. The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960, which is the main piece of animal welfare legislation in India, recognises that animals can suffer physically and mentally and mandates all citizens of India to have compassion towards animals.

Various rulings have also been formulated over the years which have taken into consideration the concept of animal sentience. In 2018, the Uttarakhand High Court had ruled that members of the animal kingdom have distinct rights and had accorded animals living in the state a legal ‘person or entity’ status. This was to ensure the protection of and avoid the exploitation of animals.  The Punjab and Haryana high courts passed a similar order in 2019, declaring animals as having legal rights and human beings as ‘persons in loco parentis’ or as being responsible for protecting animals.    

Further, in 2013, the Ministry of Environment and Forests had also banned dolphinaria in the country in a bid to protect marine animals and with the view that dolphins are highly intelligent animals.

India has also done a good job when it comes to banning the testing of cosmetics on animals. In October 2014, India also became the first country in South Asia to impose a ban on the import of cosmetic products tested on animals. The University Grants Commission (UGC) has also banned the dissection of animals in zoology and life sciences courses in Universities, while schools are not allowed to kill and dissect any animal.

 Challenges and recommendations

Where the country lags is in the OIE Animal Welfare Standards goal, where it has been awarded an ‘E’ grade. The standard focuses on the transport, slaughter, production systems (beef cattle, broiler chickens, dairy cattle and pigs), stray dog population and the use of animals in research and education. Certain areas of India’s legislation does not follow international legislative approaches with regards to certain areas in animal husbandry such as dehorning and nose roping and culling of stray dogs. Section 28 also exempts religious slaughter from the requirements of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960. Further, animals used in scientific experiments are also exempt from the Act.

There is also a lack of regulations with regards to rearing farm animals, while the welfare of dairy animals are not governed under any law. Despite the fact that India is the largest milk-producing country in the world and there are a lot of urban dairies being set up, there is not much focus on welfare standards. The country also does not ban the hunting of endangered animals for purposes such as collecting specimen for zoos and museums.

The Animal Protection Index recommends that the Government of India ban fur farming completely, outlaw the culling of stray dogs and instead implement spray-and-neuter campaigns as a means of controlling the stray population. It also suggests the Government mandate the humane slaughter of animals by ensuring that they are unconscious prior to slaughter. It also recommends a ban on using any animal for entertainment - currently, only wild animals are banned.