“The issue here is not, Can they reason? Nor, can they talk? But, Can they suffer?”
From the fables of Panchatantra to the stories of Jatayu and Ganesha, the Indian folk is intertwined with lovable animal characters that have gone to teach us morals and values. While some of the animals have become the symbol of ferocity and courage, on the other hand, some of them have become silent ambassadors of companionship and unyielding loyalty.
India has a rich history of respect towards animals, and now there has been an inhumane treatment towards animals all over India. Humans are placed in a higher position over other species because of the evolution of the intellectual faculties. The ability to reason as a human has very little to do with the fact that humans’ suffering lies on the same footing as to those of animals surrounding us. This similarity casts a moral obligation upon the human to alleviate the suffering of the animals which is being caused by the human action itself.
Recently, several incidents pertaining to cruelty being inflicted on animals have come to light, including the incident of death of a pregnant elephant in Kerala, a jackal in Tamil Nadu, a cow injured in Himachal Pradesh and the hanging of a cat that had surfaced on social media. Hence these terrifying incidents have raised an issue whether an amendment to the present Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 is indispensable.
In India today, animals occupy a non – human status, wherein they are being treated as a commodity or property. There has been a tremendous rise in the number of cruelty incidents towards animals. We as a country undoubtedly are excelling in all the fields including job growth, economic growth of the poor sector, international trade relations and many more. But, there is one hole in the country`s legislation governing – Animal Cruelty Prevention Laws. The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 (hereby referred to as PCA), was enacted with the object to prevent the infliction of unnecessary pain and suffering caused to animals. It has been 60 years since the act has come into force, but the penal provision of the act has yet not been amended. Since, the act was framed several years ago, envisaging a sentencing policy and penalties that were probably adequate during those periods. But now, it certainly needs a change. However, considering the fact that PCA is the primary legislation in India dealing with animal welfare, it is important, while discussing why and how the PCA is ineffective, that we deal with the scope and application of the Act.
The PCA lists several offences and penalties for the harm caused to the animals, under Section 11 of the PCA is the provision which punishes instances of cruelty by listing specific offences. It renders beating, kicking, overdriving, overloading, torturing, or any act which causes unnecessary pain or suffering to any animal is punishable. The very section was being interpreted by the Hon’ble Court in the case of Bali Parida v. Nira Paridato mean that beating an animal as such is not punishable under Section 11(1) of the Act. According to the case, the provision requires a nexus between the action of cruelty and unnecessary pain or suffering, with the main emphasis being on the latter.
The subjection of an animal to any of the acts, specified under Section 11(1) (a) to (o) of the Act, makes the offender liable to pay a fine that may extend to only fifty rupees. In the case of a second offence or a subsequent offence committed within three years of the previous offence shall be made to pay a fine of not less than twenty – five rupees, the quantum of which may also extend to one hundred rupees or the offender may be imprisoned for a term which may extend to three months or both. Further, in the case of a second offence, the offender`s vehicle is to be confiscated and shall be barred from keeping any animal again.
It is very pertinent to note that the laws in our country, which have been enacted like that of PCA for the protection and safety of animals, are ineffectual and toothless, considering the meagre penalties prescribed, that is neither proportional to the gravity of the offences committed nor are enough to prevent such offence. The degree of the punishment levied by these laws is no match for the gravity of the crimes that offenders commit against animals. A fine of fifty rupees is not adequate punishment when it comes to offences which may result in death or severe injury to the animals. Consequently, the offenders get away easily; have suffered no major consequences for their reprehensible actions. Section 11 lists several grave offences that may cause extreme discomfort and severe pain to animals, and sometimes even result in death. The consequences of such minor sentences and fines for such grave and serious offences are the recurring incidents of animal abuse.
Certain amendments are essential to ensure effective prevention of cruelty against animals. These amendments can be broadly segregated into two types: (1) Increase in the monetary penalty imposed and (2) differentiating between the various offences listed under Section 11 of the Act based on their severity, such that the graver offences are made non – cognisable and non – bailable in nature.
There is a need to increase the penalty to the extent it can be deemed as sufficient. Reference can be given to Draft Act, 2011 which states the penalty to be of ten thousand rupees to a maximum of twenty – five thousand rupees, this could be possibly considered to be an ideal benchmark for the imposition of criminal liability.
3.Differentiating the offences under Section 11 of the PCA
Only four offences are listed under the provision which is considered to be cognisable, viz. Section (1) (l), (n) and (o). To address the flaws of the PCA, differentiating between offences under Section 11 of PCA can be done for achieving a two-fold purpose; providing a higher penalty for graver offences and recognising graver offences as cognisable and non – bailable offences. Achieving this two-fold purpose primarily involves segregating the offences enumerated based on their intensity.
Several laws in the ambit of criminal law jurisprudence employ a standard of “differential punishment”, wherein punishment and status of the offence vary according to the gravity of the offence. Like that of the difference between simple hurt under section 323 of the IPC, 1860 and grievous hurt under section 325 of the IPC, 1860, the former is considered to be non – cognisable while the latter is considered to be cognizable due to the greater intensity of the crime.
Presently, under Section 11 (1) (a) of the PCA, for instance, a vague language of “beating, kicking, overriding, overdriving, over p loading, torturing, causing unnecessary pain and suffering to any animal” being punishable is used. This language of the provision can include a wide range spectrum of offences. It would include the mild beating of an animal as well as beating it to death. But irrespective of the difference in the gravity of the two offences, both will be similarly punishable and would be considered to be on a similar footing. Therefore, in furtherance of the concept of proportionality, there needs to be a provision under Section 11 of the PCA as per which the offences are differentiated with respect to penalty, recognisability and availability based on their degree of intensity.
These amendments vis –a – vis the PCA in the form of higher penalties and differential treatment of offences could probably result in changes in the criminal liability.
“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress is determined by the way its animals are treated”
– M.K. Gandhi
India has some good laws for animal protection but these need an urgent and immediate overhaul. In an order to curb out the cases of cruelty against animals, there is an urgent need for stringent laws with a higher degree of punishment. Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act has been framed in the year 1960 and hence the penalties in the act have not been revisited ever since. The penalty must be commensurate with the gravity of the offence provided under the Act. Three amendments to the PCA have already been proposed. However, they are yet to be passed by parliament. The very purpose of the need to revisit the act is to strengthen the enforceability and administration of the Act and also to ensure that sanction imposed continues to be in line with the expectations of the community.
 Bali Parida v. Nira Parida, 1969 SCC OnLine Ori 129.