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Animal Welfare Laws: A Critical Analysis

Author: Rushika Rabha

Campus Law Centre, Delhi University

As videos of animal cruelty disturb our collective psyche time and again, one hardly sees justice being done to the offenders for their despicable acts of cruelty. This article explores the animal welfare legislations that exist in our country and brings forth the impediments in achieving justice due to the loopholes in the laws. The jurisprudence on animal cruelty in India has also been discussed to indicate a positive growth towards honouring the rights of animals.


The Supreme Court of India opined in Centre for Environmental Law, WWF v. Union of India[i] “Ecocentrism” not “Anthropocentrism” should be the norm for foresting a sustainable future for both humans and other species. “Anthropocentrism” is the idea that humans are the most important species and consider other species instrumental to humans. This concept is in direct conflict with “Ecocentrism” which considers humans and non-humans as part of nature and both have “intrinsic value”. Therefore, humans should consider other species as having the same value as them in order to maintain a balance in nature. Yet, animal exploitation and brutality continue unabated across the country . From illegal ivory trade from wildlife reserves to torturing animals for sadistic gratification, the spectrum of animal abuse portrays a picture of abominable cruelty. This behaviour stems from the belief that since humans have evolved cognitively much more than other species thereby elevating humans to the most superior position in the food chain. However, several studies have shown that animals are capable of cognitive thought and possess intelligence[ii]. Furthermore, irrespective of empirical studies on animal emotions and intelligence the human race’s delusions of grandeur need to be ceased. The statutory provisions which are in place to protect animals, especially The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act,1960, have been criticised by many for being too lenient towards the perpetrators of animal abuse. The punishment meted out in most cases of animal cruelty is merely a petty fine, as a consequence animal abusers’ do not fear the repercussions of hurting animals.

Constitutional Provisions for Protection of Animals

As per Article 48 A of the Constitution, the state is under a duty to “protect and improve the environment” as well as “safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country”.

The citizens of this country have a fundamental duty under Article 51A to be compassionate towards animals and “protect and improve the environment including forests, lakes and rivers”

As per List II or the State list of the Seventh schedule of the Indian Constitution, the state legislature has the power to make laws to “Preserve, protect and improve stock and prevent animal diseases, and enforce veterinary training and practice.”

As per List III or the Concurrent list of the Seventh schedule of the Indian Constitution, both the parliament and the state legislature can make laws to prevent animal cruelty, “protection of wild animals and birds”.

Animal Cruelty in The Indian Penal Code

According to Section 428 of the IPC, committing “mischief by killing, poisoning maiming or rendering useless animals any animal or animals of the value of ten rupees or upwards, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.”

Section 429 of the IPC, provides that committing mischief by killing or maiming animals like camel, horse, bull, ox or any animal with a value of fifty rupees or upwards is punishable for a term which can extend to five years, or a fine or both.

These offences are bailable, cognizable offences and non-compoundable offences.

Statutory Provisions

1. The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act,1960

The most comprehensive section under this Act is Section 11 which defines cruelty towards animals and provides penalties for the same. Some acts of cruelty defined in this section, inter-alia, are beating, kicking or overloading an animal, wilfully administering injurious drugs or harmful substances, keeping the animal in a cage that is not proportional to the animal’s dimensions, keeping an animal chained for an unreasonable period, mutilating or killing an animal in a cruel manner and promoting or taking part in a shooting competition of animals.

Section 12 of the Act penalises “phooka” or “doom dev” which is performing or allowing to any operation ( including giving injections) to any cow or milch animal to increase their lactating which deteriorates the animal’s health.

Section 22 of the Act restricts the training or exhibition of any “performing animal”.

The Animal Welfare Board of India was established under Section 4 of the aforementioned Act and is a “statutory advisory body on Animal Welfare Laws.

2. The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972

This was enacted to protect and preserve the wildlife of India. It is important to note that this is not the sole Act enacted for the protection of wildlife, other wildlife protection legislation includes The Wild Life (Transactions and Taxidermy) Rules, 1973; The Wild Life (Stock Declaration) Central Rules, 1973; The Wildlife (Protection) Licensing (Additional Matters for Consideration) Rules, 1983; The Wild Life (Protection) Rules, 1995 [iii] . Under this Act, a wildlife advisory board is to be constituted in every State and Union territory, and this advisory board is under an obligation to declare areas as Sanctuaries, National Parks and Closed Areas and administer them, formulate policies for protection and conservation of wildlife and to harmonise the needs of tribals and forest dwellers with preservation of wildlife. Section 9 of the Act prohibits hunting of animals mentioned in schedule I, II, II and IV. However, this Section is subject to Sections 11 and 12 which allows hunting in some cases. The penalties under this Act are imprisonment which can extend to seven years and fine up to twenty-five thousand rupees.

Other legislation relating welfare of animals include The Animal Birth Control (Dogs) Rules (2001), Slaughter House Rules (2001) and 148-C and 135-B of Drugs and Cosmetic Rules,1945[iv].

Judgments on Welfare of Animals

The Supreme Court has reiterated in many judgments that animals are not be treated in a exploitative manner that causes suffering and trauma. Animals possess certain rights that must be preserved by humans. In Animal Welfare Board of India V. Nagaraja and Ors[v], the Apex Court of India explained the nature of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, it is a welfare legislation and “the provisions of law should be liberally construed in favour of the weak and infirm.....Court has also a duty under the doctrine of parents patriae to take care of the rights of animals since they are unable to take care of themselves as against human beings”. In N.R Nair And Ors. V. Union of India And Ors [vi] the Court held that legal rights are not exclusive to humans and “thick legal wall” between animals and humans should be broken. In Gauri Maulekhi v. State of Uttarkhand And Ors[vii] the Court observed that even for consumption “unnecessary pain or suffering cannot be inflicted” on an animal as per section 11(3) (e) of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. Concerning animal sacrifices for religious purposes, the Supreme Court observed in Mohd. Hanif Quareshi & Others vs The State Of Bihar[viii] that for Article 25 of the Constitution, a practice has to be “an obligatory overt act... to exhibit his religious belief and idea”. Thereby, the Court h