CHENNAI: After the arrest of three men for the gruesome killing of five dogs on a university campus at Pallavaram, animal activists’ calls for bringing into effect the Animal Welfare Act (2011) have become shriller. With a spate of such incidents reported in the past six months in Chennai, the increased attention has ensured that arrests have been made in seven cases of ‘clearing’ stray dogs and cats. However, activists and members of animal rights organisations feel that the arrests are a scant form of punishment, because the law under which they are prosecuted - The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (1960) - offers offenders a bail option for as low as Rs 25 or a night in prison.
P Rajamanickam, president of the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) - Madras, says, “When the POCA Act was passed five decades ago, Rs 25-100 for bail was a valued amount. However, today it is just nothing.” According to police sources, this is a drop in the bucket for these men, who are paid over Rs 2,000 to ‘rid a property of its stray dog or cat nuisance’. The rise in cases is reflected in data available with the SPCA, which reveals that from 1,338 cases registered in Chennai between April 2010 and March 2011, there have been 680 cases in the present year (April - Oct 2011). This represents a rise of over 17 per cent during the corresponding period last year. Weak penalties and the lack of proper law enforcement is the root cause of these numbers, he adds.
However, the new draft Animal Welfare Act that was published by the Ministry of Environment and Forests this February might be the answer. With harsher penalties (Rs 10,000-one lakh) and longer jail terms (1-3 years) for people who kill or mutilate animals, the law is being pursued by rights organisations to curb such acts of cruelty against animals. “This new Act is the answer and we have been hoping that it will get enacted very soon,” says Sathya Radhakrishnan, joint secretary of the Blue Cross of India. A source close to the Ministry has affirmed that even if the Act is passed in Parliament in the winter session, the earliest it can come into effect will be July 2012.
Chennai can take heart from the fact that such acts of cruelty are reported faster. “Youngsters in schools and colleges regularly call us when they find such killings,” adds Sathya, something that Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations convenor Arpan Sharma concurs with.
“This shows that some cities like Chennai have more sensitivity than others when it comes to animal killings,” Sharma says. Despite such timely complaints, these organisations charge that law enforcement authorities in Chennai do not take these killings seriously. “Police officials are often unaware of the animal protection laws in our constitution,” cites General RM Kharb, chairman of the Animal Welfare Board of India.
However, a police inspector who handled an animal killing case recently said, “Animal activists often take the law into their own hands. They go to the site without intimating us and then bring the perpetrators to us expecting action.” Even he agrees that with a “harder” animal protection Act, they will not be able to consider animal cruelty cases on par with normal crimes.