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Supreme Court stays Delhi High Court order on feeding of community dogs

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The Supreme Court on Friday stayed the Delhi High Court order, which had held that community dogs (stray/street) have the right to food and citizens have the right to feed them.

This order also mentioned that while exercising this right, care and caution should be taken to ensure that it does not impinge upon the rights of others or cause any harm, hinderance, harassment and nuisance to other individuals or members of the society. 

The plea before the Apex Court was filed by NGO Humane Foundation for People and Animals, alleging that directions issued by the Delhi High Court were against the order passed in the 2009 judgement, wherein the Court had directed the High Courts not to pass any order relating to the 1960 Act and the 2001 Rules pertaining to dogs.

The High Court passed the directions/guidelines qua feeding of stray dogs with reference to The Animal Birth Control (Dogs) Rule, 2001 and The Prevention of cruelty to Animals Act, 1960.

A two-judge bench of Justice Vineet Saran and Justice Aniruddha Bose today issued notice to the Animal Welfare Board of India and the Delhi Government.

The Supreme Court has also admitted the plea by Noida residents seeking directions to strike down the Animal Birth Control Rules (Dogs) 2001 as being violative of Article 21 of the Constitution and to form an Expert Committee for the formation and implementation of a new policy on management of dog population in a humane and scientific manner. The present plea filed by Dr Priyanka Gupta and others, who are residents of Gautam Budh Nagar, and are aggrieved by stray dogs which are attacking and biting residents of societies and other areas. The plea also sought directions for removal of stray dogs from the vicinity of that society and that they be kept in animal kennels/shelters, away from peripheral areas of the buildings.

The petitioners’ counsel, Shashank Shukla, argued before the Court that they are suffering miserably due to the menace of stray dogs and despite being informed of the same, the respondent authorities are sitting tight over the issue and are not taking any effective action for the sterilization and other protective measures securing the interest and safety of the residents of “High Rise Buildings” like petitioners. The Apex Court has sought the response from the Centre, the State of Uttar Pradesh and to AWBI.

The SLP raised the question of law as to whether the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 authorised the AWBI to issue guidelines or circulars to the general public or even government authorities?

Whether in a suit between two private parties, the judgment can be extended to cover the entire country despite different contexts and ground realities, without giving relevant parties (RWAs and the like) and authorities (such as municipal corporations, police commissioners) an opportunity to be heard in the matter and thereby not following the principles of natural justices. 

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The Delhi High Court on 24th June 2021, had issued a set of directions on feeding stray dogs in the city while saying animals have a right to be treated with compassion, respect and dignity. The Court guidelines also take into account the dogs’ treatment and vaccination in a private suit between Dr Maya D. Chablani Vs Radha Mittal & Ors.

Understanding that stray dogs have the right to food and citizens have the right to feed community dogs, the single-judge bench of Justice J.R. Midha had observed, “In exercising this right, care and caution should be taken to ensure that it does not impinge upon the rights of others or cause any harm, hindrance, harassment and nuisance to other individuals or members of society.”

“Feeding of community dogs have to be done at areas designated by Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) in consultation with Resident Welfare Associations or Municipal Corporation (in case RWA is not available)”

-the Bench directed. 

The Bench pointed out that all law enforcement authorities shall ensure that no harassment or hindrance is caused to the person feeding street dog at the designated feeding spot. In addition, it also pointed out that it shall be the duty and obligation of every RWA or Municipal Corporation to ensure that every community dog in every area has access to food and water in the absence of caregivers or community dog feeders in the said area.

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Recognising every dog as a territorial being, the Bench, therefore, emphasised that the street dogs have to be fed and tended to at places within their territory which are sparingly used by the general public and residents.

Furthermore, the Bench directed that there should be no hindrance caused to persons feeding the community dogs, until and unless it is causing harm or harassment to that other person.

It placed responsibility on the AWBI to ensure that every RWA or Municipal Corporation have an Animal Welfare Committee, which shall be responsible for ensuring compliance of the provisions of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, and further, to ensure harmony and ease of communication between caregivers, feeders or animal lovers and other residents.

In addition, the Bench directed the RWA and the community residents to secure treatment of the injured or unwell stray dog by the vets made available by the Municipal Corporation and to get the dogs vaccinated against rabies, respectively.

Recognising the importance of street dogs in a community, the Bench observed,

“Being territorial animals, they live in certain areas and play the role of guards by protecting the community from the entry of outsiders or unknown people.”

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The Court also emphasised on the need to spread awareness about the fact that even animals have a right to live with respect and dignity, and directed thus: 

“AWBI shall carry out an awareness campaign in association with various Newspapers, Television, Radio Channels and Social Media platforms. AWBI shall also ensure these Guidelines are disseminated through the above-mentioned media. AWBI shall circulate these Guidelines to various Resident Welfare Associations, the Police Department, and Municipal Authorities etc.”

For effective implementation of these guidelines, the Bench constituted the Implementation Committee, comprising the following members:

(i) The Director, Animal Husbandry Department or his nominee.

(ii) One Senior Officer to be nominated by all the Municipal Corporations.

(iii) One Senior Officer to be nominated by Delhi Cantonment Board.

(iv)  One Senior Officer to be nominated by Animal Welfare Board of India.

(v)  Nandita Rao, Additional Standing Counsel, Govt. of NCT of Delhi as Convenor.

(vi) Manisha T. Karia, Advocate for Animal Welfare Board of India.

(vii) Pragyan Sharma, Advocate

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The Bench directed the Committee to hold its first meeting within four weeks, and that a copy of the court’s decision be sent to the Delhi Judicial Academy to sensitize the judges about the directions laid down by the court.

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