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January 17, 2016

No country for animals


January 17, 2016

Life is getting from bad to worse for almost everyone in the country but imagine the plight of those creatures that are helpless to do anything about it – animals. They cannot flee the country, except for a few birds, and thus end up either on our tables as meals, or pass their time as the wretched of earth and await their eventual death.

Nobody appears to care about them. I do not know their fate prior to the arrival of the British in India but they must have been doing fine as their numbers were far more than they are now. While the human populace from the time of British India has gone up from a mere 270 million in 1900 to around two billion, the animal population of almost every species has dwindled, some becoming extinct.

The British contributed to this process by extensively hunting many of the animals but they at least introduced an idea that was perhaps unheard of prior to their arrival: prevention of cruelty to animals. In 1860, the Indian Penal Code was enacted which made it a criminal offence to be cruel to certain animals. And then in 1890, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act was passed by the Indian Council.

The British India was a vast empire and this act was thus adopted and implemented at the provincial level. A novel method was devised to enforce and implement this act by establishing societies in each province. These societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals (SPCA) were given grants by the provincial governments and entrusted the task to get the act enforced. A society, modelled after a similar society in the UK, had been established in Karachi in 1878 by a group of animal lovers who used to convene meetings at the Frere Hall gardens. After independence, these societies lost most of their members as many left the country, and they gradually lost their momentum.

The 1890 Act applied to any domestic or captured animal. In other words, it did not cover wild animals as it must have been thought at the time that humans cannot be cruel to wild life. The act made it a criminal offence to be cruel to animals, and killing animals with unnecessary cruelty or selling the latter; overloading them; for performing upon any cow or other milch animal the operation called phooka or doom dev which was defined in the act to mean any process of introducing air or any substance into the female organ of a milch animal with the object of drawing off from the animal any secretion of milk; or employing anywhere animals unfit for labour; or baiting or inciting animals to fight; or permitting diseased animals to go at-large or to die in a public place.

Penalties ranging from Rs50 to Rs500, and imprisonment in some cases were part of the act. The police was given power to search and take action under the law, and provision was made to establish shelters for the animals.

The act was amended by the British in 1917, 1923, and 1938 but the rulers in Pakistan have not bothered to modify the law since Independence. It applies to all four provinces, and to Gilgit-Baltistan since 1959; and to Islamabad since 1981. The penalties, however, remain the same and the law has thus lost its deterrent effect.

The only time a government tried to do something about the issues dealt by the Act was during the early days of the Ayub military regime when the Deputy Commissioner Lahore asked Begum Jalil Asghar to form a society to reorganise the SPCA’s work in Lahore. The Lahore Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was thus formed in August 1959 and the government was asked to entrust SPCA’s work to this new Society which was done to the extent of Lahore. In 1960, President Ayub issued two directives to the West Pakistan Provincial Government, as there was one-unit then, to strictly enforce the 1890 Act as cruelty to animals was on the rise.

In January 1961, Martial Law Order No 75 (Zone B) was issued which abolished the Lahore Society, and the SPCA in West Pakistan, and all their assets, movable and immovable, were transferred to the former and its name changed to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, West Pakistan. This Society now continues to exist in all four provinces. The governor of the province was made the patron of the Society.

In July 1961, the West Pakistan Prevention of Cruelty to Animal Rules were enacted, which dealt with over-loading of animals and draught hours for buffaloes. It also briefly mentioned the gear for animals like bits and harnesses. It also stated that no person shall carry on the business of a farrier (trimming and balancing of horses’ hooves) without obtaining a license issued by the SPCA.

This is how things are moving at least in Punjab since the 1960s. In August 1973, the then Punjab governor Mustafa Khar dissolved the governing body of the Society and formed another one. Till the College of Veterinary Sciences in Lahore becoming a university in June 2002, its principal used to be the honorary secretary of the Society. It changed after this date but the SPCA continues to remain on its premises.

The Society is placed under the Punjab Livestock & Dairy Department which gives it an annual grant of Rs20 million which is all consumed in the salaries of its staff. The Society even lacks a vehicle to transport injured or other animals. The highest official has a grade 16 position and there are 17 inspectors for the whole Punjab province, including one for the whole of Lahore.

A miracle cannot be expected from the Society in these circumstances. It is about time all the provincial governments, including the one in the Punjab, enact a new law and entrust its enforcement to either the Wildlife or Livestock Department. The Society should be delinked from the enforcement mechanism. Once this is done, one can hope that foreign donor agencies and philanthropists within the country can come forward to help the law’s implementation. The agony of animals in Pakistan must end, and the sooner the better.

The writer is an advocate of the Supreme Court. Email: [email protected]

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