Monday, March 4, 2024

Unenviable Record

India has the largest street dog population and the number of dog-bite deaths in the world, but there is no set criteria for compensation to victims. By Rakesh Dixit

Nearly four years ago, the Supreme Court of India had asked the state governments to specify the criteria for granting compensation to dog bite victims, especially when someone bitten dies. The criteria are still elusive.

As a result of this, victims of dog bites are confused which forums they should move to for compensation. Should the state government be liable to pay compensation in such cases? Or, should the local bodies be held accountable? More importantly, what is to be the exact compensation?

The case of a girl, who died of dog-bite in 2016, has moved the Madhya Pradesh Human Rights Commission (MPHRC) to seek the MP High Court’s advice. When the commission first took up the case of the death of the girl from Khargone district due to dog bite in 2016, it was surprised to discover that there was no provision of financial assistance in the Revenue Book Circular (RBC) of the revenue department in case of loss of life due to animals.

When the lacuna was communicated to the state government, the revenue department replied to the rights body that there were no such provisions in other states such as Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh too.

The enormity of the menace in Madhya Pradesh can be gauged  from the fact that every two hours a person is bitten by stray dogs in Bhopal, according to recent data.

As per district health department estimates, over 4,800 cases were reported in 2017 and there could be well over 10,000 cases, if all the hospitals had reported, said a senior health department official.

In its petition to the High Court filed on February 21, the rights body has expressed concern that the victims of dog bites have been struggling to get compensation for the past four years. The court has issued summons to the state government in the case and posted it for next hearing on March 16.

MPHRC Chairman Justice (retd) Narendra Kumar Jain says the commission had passed an order in May last year, recommending the formation of a Dog Bite Victim Compensation Scheme (DBVCS). It also recommended amendments to the RBC within three months to provide for compensation to victims.

According to sources in the MPHRC, absence of clear guidelines for compensation to victims amounts to a violation of their human rights. Many high courts have dealt with cases of dog bites and awarded different amounts as compensation. But state governments are not serious about adequately compensating the victims.

In July 2016, the Supreme Court had posed the question as to which forum the victim should go to seek compensation in dog bite cases, especially in cases of death of the victim. A bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra was hearing a petition filed by one Jos Sebastian whose wife, an MGNREGA worker, died after she was bitten by a stray dog. Appearing for the petitioner, advocate VK Biju argued that it was the State’s responsibility to look after its citizens. He complained there was no department to look into the grievances of dog bite victims.

Acknowledging the enormity of the menace, the Supreme Court directed forming of a committee headed by former Kerala High Court judge S Siri Jagan to hear dog-bite victims, examine the severity of their injuries and inspect the medical treatment meted out to them.  The committee had awarded a total of Rs 1.73 crore as compensation to dog-bite victims by December 2017.

However, the Kerala government found the compensation awarded to dog bite victims by the committee overly generous.

The Pinarayi Vijayan-led government approached the Supreme Court in Janu­ary 2018, saying that the committee had been awarding “exorbitant amounts” in dog bite cases. It said that the compensation suggested by the committee was as high as Rs 20 lakh in some cases.

The Kerala government informed the court that the Justice Jagan Committee had been considering and deciding the claims of victims of dog bites, and so far 154 such claims, out of a total of 752, had been decided and 18 compensation claims settled.

Calling for a “balance”, the state government filed an affidavit in the top court, urging it to cap the committee’s ability to grant compensation at Rs 5 lakh since that is the amount that the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund pays to victims of tragedies.

However, the Supreme Court was not impressed by the state government’s pleas. In May 2018, a bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud directed the committee to file a report in four weeks after it was alleged that dog bite victims, despite being awarded the compensation by the panel, had not been paid by the state government.

The Kerala government filed a report as directed by the Supreme Court but confusion over the amount to be paid as compensation persists. Kerala’s is not an isolated case when it comes to lack of uniform rules in awarding compensation.

Bombay High Court had ordered the Maharashtra Government and the Municipal Corporation of Sangli to compensate the parents of the deceased, Tejas, who died on December 23, 2013. The court ordered the civic authorities and the state government to compensate the parents with an interim relief of Rs 50,000 out of the sought compensation of Rs 2 lakh by the petitioners.

Tejas, a five-year-old boy, along with his father, was returning home after watching a cricket match when he was attacked by a group of stray dogs.

The court observed that sufficient powers are vested in the authorities under the provisions of the Animal Birth Control (Dogs) Rules, 2001, to prevent dog attacks. It also stressed that under Article 21 of the Constitution, whose scope had been widened by the Supreme Court in various judgments, the state is responsible for the protection of citizens and for providing them with a dignified life, and it had failed to do so in the case of the parents of the deceased.

In February 2018, the Chhattisgarh High Court held that if the state or a local body failed to control strays or rabid dogs, resulting in the death of an individual, they must pay Rs 10 lakh compensation to the victim’s family. Petitioner Shobha Ram, from Balod district, had moved the High Court in 2017, seeking compensation from the state government for the death of his wife, who contracted rabies after being bitten by a stray dog.

Allowing his appeal, Justice Prashant Kumar Mishra pointed out in his order that the law obligates gram panchayats to “detain an unclaimed dog and destroy it after three clear days”. “In this case, the gram panchayat failed to perform its statutory function. For its failure, the gram panchayat, jointly with the state government, would be liable to compensate the petitioner,” the order said.

In the case, Shobha Ram’s wife was bitten by a rabid dog when she was on her way home. She was admitted to three hospitals but there was no improvement in her condition, and she died in June that year. Her husband sought compensation from the collector, but nothing came of it.

Justice Mishra noted in his order that the petitioner’s plea for compensation was not processed at the collector’s office because of a memo issued by the tehsildar, Gunderdehi, that there is no provision under the RBC for awarding compensation on account of a stray dog bite.

In June 2018, in the aftermath of the death of a one-and-a-half-year-old due to multiple dog bites, the Chandigarh municipal corporation framed a policy under which victims of stray dogs will be granted compensation. As per the policy, the corporation will give Rs 3 lakh in case of death and Rs 1 lakh in case of permanent disability.

The Uttarakhand High Court in the case of Ajay Singh Rawat v. Union of India in April 2015 directed that in a case of dog bite, the victim shall be paid compensation of Rs 2 lakh by the concerned local body and Rs 1 lakh by the state government, within a week from the date of the incident.

Apart from the high courts, district courts and human rights bodies have also adjudicated on cases of dog bites resulting in either injury or death. But they have dealt with the cases as per their perception of the severity of the matter rather than on clear-cut guidelines, as was desired by the Supreme Court in 2016.

The Court had also expressed concern that, “India is a nation with substantial fatal rabies cases, mainly due to stray dog bites. There have been incidents of stray dogs chasing, attacking and biting schoolchildren, aged persons, pedestrians, morning walkers and two-wheeler riders”.

It’s been four years since, but nothing seems to have changed.


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