Punjab and Haryana High Court according legal person status to animals a step forward to stop cruelty against them

Earlier this month, the Punjab and Haryana High Court ruled that animals are legal persons in India, and citizens their guardians.

Interestingly, the ruling was given by Justice Rajiv Sharma who had given a similar judgment in July 2018, when he along with Justice Lokpal Singh (as part of the Uttarakhand High Court Division Bench) declared that animals were required to be accorded the status of legal person in order to promote their welfare. The Uttarakhand High Court had observed that “they [animals] have ad distinct persona with corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a living person.”

 Punjab and Haryana High Court according legal person status to animals a step forward to stop cruelty against them

Representational image. AFP

The aim behind the bestowal of the status of ‘legal person’ on animals is the prevention of animal cruelty.

This case arose from the inhumane treatment meted out to 29 cows which were piled onto two trucks in a brutal manner to be transported from Haryana to Uttar Pradesh. In his recent judgment, Justice Sharma reportedly directed the Haryana government to ensure that during the transportation of animals, they are fed regularly (by providing food with every four hours and water every two hours).

There were additional directives such as those related to the number of people that can be accommodated in animal-drawn vehicles, and the quality of the rope to be used to tie animals during their transportation.

In his judgment, Justice Sharma further declared the people of Haryana as in loco parentis (responsible for a child in parents’ absence) as the human face for the welfare/protection of animals.” This is in line with the constitutional mandate for environmental protection in the country.

According to Article 51A (g) of the Constitution of India, the citizens of India have a fundamental duty “to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wild life, and to have compassion for living creatures.” India also has in place the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, Section 11(1) of which prescribes the punishment for acts of cruelty to animals which include the act of conveying or carrying “…whether in or upon any vehicle or not any animal in such a manner or position as to subject it to unnecessary pain or suffering.”

It is worth noting that other states in India have also been taking pro-active measures to prevent animal abuse.

Soon after the Punjab and Haryana High Court’s judgment, K Raju (the Minister for Forests, Animal Husbandry, Dairy Development and Zoos in Kerala) reportedly stated that the Kerala government would be amending rules to ensure that elephants in captivity in the state are taken care of and provided with the required diet and rest.

Additionally, it would be ensured that the prescribed guidelines are adhered to when using elephants as part of festive occasions and public functions. The move seems to be coming in the wake of the finding that the Supreme Court’s prescribed directive of registration of captive elephants (which are paraded at festivals) has not been followed by most temples in Kerala.

The implications of parading elephants in Kerala’s temple festivals gained media attention last month when it was reported that factors including inhumane methods used by the mahouts to control elephants have led to elephant-related tragedies during festivals. Moreover, the rule that elephants ought not to be paraded continuously for more than five or six hours was also flouted on festive occasions such as Kerala’s Thrissur Pooram.

The Punjab and Haryana High Court’s decision thus comes in a timely fashion and highlights that animals are not to be treated as chattel (property) but as living persons having rights. It would be interesting to see the kind of cases related to animal cruelty that come up before courts in future, and the kind of judicial activism that judges are likely to practise in the interest of animal welfare.

It is pertinent to note that discussions related to the property status of animals and the grant of legal personhood to them have been taking place in various parts of the world. While there has been a demand for recognition of legal personhood of chimpanzees in the US, there has been a call for grant of legal personhood to dolphins in Romania. A lesser known fact is that as early as 2013, India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests took the stand that the legal personhood of dolphins should be recognised, and even recommended to the state governments that they should ban dolphinariums and similar establishments which were built for the purpose of keeping cetaceans (such as dolphins and whales) in captivity and using them for commercial entertainment.

Keeping in mind that several animal species are becoming endangered and facing the threat of extinction today, the high court’s ruling becomes especially relevant to protect wildlife. Due to the interdependence of living organisms, this will ultimately have an impact on the human species as well.

Updated Date: Jun 14, 2019 14:44:41 IST