Last week, a doctor in Rajasthan’s Jodhpur allegedly tied a dog to his car and dragged it across the city. The dog has a fractured leg and has suffered bruises. The doctor, Rajneesh Galwa, faces charges under Section 428 (mischief by killing or maiming animal) of the Indian Penal Code and Section 11 (treating animals cruelly) of The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act, 1960.
If convicted under the PCA Act and found to be a first-time offender, Dr Galwa can be punished with a fine of Rs 10 to Rs 50. If it is found that this is not his first such crime within the past three years, the maximum punishment would be a fine between Rs 25 and Rs 100, a jail term of three months, or both.
Several cases of cruelty to animals have come to light recently, and while they provoke outrage on social media, the penalty for offenders has not been revised since 1960. The case in Jodhpur case once again highlighted the need for a revision in the penalty, and the debate around it.
What does The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 say?
The Act defines cruelty to animals –– including acts of overburdening or overworking it, not providing the animal food, water and shelter, mutilating or killing an animal, etc. –– and lays down punishment as “in the case of a first offence, with fine which shall not be less than ten rupees but which may extend to fifty rupees, and in the case of a second or subsequent offence committed within three years of the previous offence, with fine which shall not be less than twenty-five rupees but which may extend to one hundred rupees or with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three months, or with both.”
The Act has been criticised for being ‘speciesist’ (put very simply, the assumption that humans are a superior species deserving more rights), for its quantum of punishment being negligible, for not defining ‘cruelty’ adequately, and for slapping a flat punishment without any gradation of crimes.
Who has called for amendments and on what grounds?
Along with animal welfare organisations, several political leaders have called for the law to be amended.
In 2014, the Supreme Court, in ‘Animal Welfare Board of India vs A Nagaraja & Others’, had said that “Parliament is expected to make proper amendment of the PCA Act to provide an effective deterrent” and that “for violation of Section 11, adequate penalties and punishments should be imposed”.
In September 2020, Kishanganj MP Mohammad Jawed brought a Bill in Parliament saying that the maximum punishment be hiked to a “fine which shall not be less than ten thousand rupees but which may extend to twenty five thousand rupees or with imprisonment for a term which may extend upto one year or with both, and in the case of a second or subsequent offence, with fine which shall not be less than fifty thousand rupees but which may extend to one lakh rupees and with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than one year but which may extend to two years.”
In 2021, Kendrapara MP Anubhav Mohanty also proposed a Bill, expanding the definition of cruelty to include events where “animals are subjected to cruelty either during the sport or activity itself”, and anyone who “skins, roasts or kills for superstition or extracts parts of any live animals through a procedure which causes pain and suffering, for the purpose of getting skins, oils or other animal products; dynamites streams, rivers or other water bodies for the purpose of fishing or harming aquatic animals; or electrifies a fence, without the authority of law, whereby pain and suffering is caused to any animals.”
In 2020, a group of MPs cutting across party lines wrote to then Animal Husbandry Minister Giriraj Singh, urging that the punishment in the 1960 Act be increased.
In April 2021, the Centre proposed changes where the penalty can go up to “Rs 75,000 per animal or three times the cost of the animal as determined by the jurisdictional veterinarian, whichever is more, and imprisonment of three years which may extend to five years or both.”
In October 2021, the government said it would bring in a Bill to amend the PCA Act. Union Minister for Animal Husbandry Parshottam Rupala told PTI, “We are ready with the draft amendment Bill. We are in the process of getting the Cabinet approval.”
However, the law is yet to be amended.
How frequent are acts of atrocities against animals?
While acts of everyday stoning or beating animals are widespread and commonplace, sometimes the offence takes on grotesque and perverse forms.
In April this year, four people were arrested for carrying out unnatural sexual acts on a monitor lizard in Maharashtra.
In July 2021, the Kerala High Court took suo motu cognizance after a dog was beaten to death by three people in Adimalathura beach in Thiruvananthapuram.
In 2020, the death of a pregnant elephant that bit an explosives-filled fruit had provoked nationwide outrage. In February that same year, three men were arrested in Ludhiana for allegedly beating a stray dog with iron rods, throwing it from a rooftop and then dragging it on the road tied to an auto-rickshaw.
So who is against the amendments proposed in the PCA Act?
Some experts have pointed out that simply increasing the quantum of punishment may not be enough to stop cruelty against animals, and some already marginalised communities like ‘madaris’ (who perform with animals) and ‘saperas’ (snake charmers) may be disproportionately affected.
Others have argued that focusing on the individual act of ‘cruelty’ –– such as farmers putting up electric fences around their fields –– is an incomplete approach, and steps are needed to mitigate the larger issues of vanishing animal habitats and climate change exacerbating man-animal conflict.