Call to enforce law to stop cruelty to animals

Published May 18, 2015
Experts  criticised the recent campaign in which a large number of stray dogs were killed with poisonous capsules. —Reuters/File
Experts criticised the recent campaign in which a large number of stray dogs were killed with poisonous capsules. —Reuters/File

KARACHI: Civil society activists working for nature conservation and animal welfare have called upon all provincial governments to ensure enforcement of a forgotten law of 1890 — the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act — under which maltreatment of any domestic and captured animals is a punishable act.

Although these experts were speaking to Dawn about inhumane treatment meted out to animals in general, they specifically criticised the recent campaign carried out in the city in which a large number of stray dogs were killed with poisonous capsules.

Take a look: 450 stray dogs put in safe shelter

The mass killing of stray dogs, they pointed out, to check transmission of deadly rabies virus to humans was not a solution and suggested vaccinating and neutering them instead.

“Presently, Punjab is the only province in the country where the Society for Prevention of Cruelty (SPCA) to Animals exists under the 1890 act and people are fined, though nominally, for maltreating animals. However, it doesn’t have a mechanism to vaccinate and neuter stray dogs and the official way to check stray dog population is to kill them,” said Dr Anwaar Hussain Rizvi, who earlier worked with the society as a senior veterinary officer.

Karachi used to have such a society in the 1970s, but right now there is no custodian of the 1890 act to implement it in Sindh.

According to Dr Rizvi, such cruel practices are prohibited under the 1890 act. Controlling stay dog population and vaccinating them against rabies to eradicate the risk of virus transmission is an achievable target and it’s just a matter of government priorities and valuing life, he said.

“The government can build facilities for this purpose or utilise the existing ones for this purpose. The private support should also be approached for help. Such an initiative would also provide an opportunity to veterinary students to learn and harness their skills,” he explained.

Regarding the operation of the SPCA in Punjab, he said that the society with an autonomous status functioned under the livestock and department. It has its office on the premises of the University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, Lahore and is functional in 17 districts with the government support.

“Unfortunately, resources, both human and financial, are limited. The total staff strength is 90 while each district has one inspector with two workers,” he said, adding that the society provided treatment to injured and diseased animals and sent the offender to judicial magistrate for further proceedings under the law.

Highlighting other deficiencies in society’s operation, he said that it was officially neglected and there was a dire need to empower the society. “We are still following the same fine amount imposed under the 1890 act that meant an offender could be fined only between Rs50 and Rs500. This also explains why the law has lost its effectiveness.”

Mr Rizvi also urged the Punjab government to enact the animal welfare law pending for approval for almost three years.

“The law suggesting amendments to the society’s act comprehensively covers all aspects of animal maltreatment. It was developed after detailed meetings of stakeholders but, unfortunately, is nowhere on government list of priorities for approval.”

Speaking about some key features of the 1890 act, Anees Jilani, an Islamabad-based Supreme Court advocate and founding member of the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child, said that the act made it a criminal offence to be cruel to animals and kill them with unnecessary cruelty that included acts like employing animals unfit for labour, baiting or inciting animals to fight or permitting diseased animals to go at large or die in a public place.

“Penalties ranging from Rs50 to Rs500 and imprisonment in some cases are part of the act. The police were given powers to search and take action under the law and provision was made to establish shelter for animals,” he said while citing clauses from the act.

The act, he said, was amended thrice by the British but successive governments in Pakistan never bothered to modify the law. “It applies to all the 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,” he noted.

According to him, the Lahore Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was formed in 1959 while the West Pakistan Prevention of Cruelty to Animal Rules were enacted in 1961.

“It’s time that all 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,” he said.

Uzma Khan of the World Wide Fund for Nature-Pakistan, however, believes that the society should be empowered and strengthened instead of involving some other department for law enforcement.

“The 1890 act specifically deals with domestic animals and it is important that provincial government updates the law according to present requirements, establish powerful societies to implement it,” she said.

Published in Dawn, May 18th, 2015

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