IHC hints at criminal proceedings against minister, officials over caged animals

Updated 08 Jul 2020

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In May, the court had declared that the lone elephant Kaavan and all other animals were kept in confinement at the zoo illegally. — Dawn/File
In May, the court had declared that the lone elephant Kaavan and all other animals were kept in confinement at the zoo illegally. — Dawn/File

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Tuesday hinted at initiating criminal proceedings against Climate Change Minister Zartaj Gul and members of the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board (IWMB) for not setting free the solitary elephant and other animals confined in Marghazar Zoo in miserable conditions.

Chief Justice Athar Minallah on May 21 had ordered the release of caged animals to their respective sanctuaries since mismanagement at the zoo posed a serious threat to them.

The court on Tuesday noted: “Kaavan and all other animals confined in the zoo continued unnecessary pain and suffering, the members of the wildlife board, which include the minister in charge of the climate change, appear to have exposed themselves to criminal proceedings under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1890 besides initiation of proceedings under the Contempt of Court Ordinance 2003.”

In May, the court had declared that the lone elephant Kaavan and all other animals were kept in confinement at the zoo illegally and that their condition and incarceration amounted to subjecting these living beings to unnecessary pain and suffering.

On May 21, court ordered release of animals caged in zoo to their respective sanctuaries

“It has been further held that the minister in charge of the Ministry of Climate Change and members of the board shall be jointly and severally liable for the welfare and wellbeing of each animal till their relocation to their respective sanctuaries,” the court order stated.

Subsequently, the court directed the chairman and each member of the board and Ms Gul to submit their respective affidavits explaining why they may not be proceeded against for delaying implementation of the judgement dated May 21.

The court directed the registrar’s office to issue notices to the chairman of the board. Further hearing was adjourned to July 11.

In pursuant to the order of May 21, the IWMB notified an expert committee, with WWF Senior Director Programme Pakistan Rab Nawaz as its chairman and biodiversity specialist Z.B. Mirza as the co-chairman.

As per the terms of reference of the expert committee, it would examine establishing a sanctuary in Pakistan which meets the behavioural, social and physiological needs of Kaavan.

While deciding a petition of the IWMB against the Metropolitan Corporation Islamabad, the verdict regretted that Kaavan had been treated cruelly by subjecting him to unimaginable pain and suffering for the past three decades and the continued captivity of the animal would expose the authorities to criminal consequences.

Kaavan was gifted by Sri Lanka in 1985 when he was a year old and for more than 30 years has been kept chained in a small enclosure with inappropriate conditions required to meet the physiological, social and behavioural needs of this extraordinary species.

In the landmark judgment, Justice Minallah held that like humans, animals also have natural rights which ought to be recognised, and that it was a right of each animal, a living being, to live in an environment that meets its behavioural, social and physiological needs.

Published in Dawn, July 8th, 2020