The article was written by Anaya Tulankar, an intern at RTI Cell, iPleaders.
What is animal-human conflict?
Human-animal conflict occurs when animals pose a genuine and recurrent threat to the source of revenue or security of people, leading to the harassment of that species. Retaliation against the species responsible often results in conflict about what should be done to cope with the situation. Although this is not a novel situation, people and animals have coexisted for ages; it is becoming more recurrent, grave, and extensive.
This conflict is a worldwide threat to sustainable development, food security, conservation in urban and rural landscapes, etc. In general, the consequences of the Animal-Human conflict include: crop destruction, reduced agricultural productivity, competition for grazing lands and water supply, livestock predation, injury and death to humans, damage to infrastructure, and amplified risk of disease spread among wildlife and livestock.
Many countries are starting to specifically include human-wildlife conflict in national policies and plans for wildlife management, development, and poverty mitigation. The cross-sectoral alliance between forestry, wildlife, agriculture, livestock, and other relevant sectors is key at the national level.
In this article, we will make stray animals and their conflict with humans the main focus.
Stray animals and human conflict
Human and animal conflicts are no longer constrained to wildlife sanctuaries in countries such as India. In a fast-urbanizing world, human-animal conflicts have reached our doorsteps, literally. In an appalling occurrence in Delhi a few years back, a monkey snatched away an infant from its house and partially ate the baby’s head in front of his mother before the mother could react. In another shocking incident in 2017 in Delhi, a group of stray pigs snatched away an infant from his mother and ate him before he could be saved. Incidents of stray dogs mauling children are also not very uncommon. Similar incidents are regularly found in the media almost daily and have been reported even from abroad. Let us articulate the problem caused by ‘the strays’ one by one.
Human- Stray dogs’ conflict
The day-to-day term for dogs usually seen on the streets is ‘stray.’ Scientists prefer using the less value-loaded term ‘free-ranging’ for such dogs that are not under the direct control of a person or are not prohibited from wandering. We will use the term ‘stray’ for this article.
Stray dogs of India have coexisted with humans from the Vedic ages. The vicinities in which we live belong to them, as much as to us. In fact, they had lived in some areas long before humans moved there. So just wishing away won’t help; better is to take some action. There exists no ‘magic switch’ which, when pressed, will resolve the issue.
The most familiar difficulties concerning these dogs hinge on overpopulation and incidents consisting of barking or chasing behaviours by packs of dogs, dog bites, and inhabiting or damaging private property.
Over 90% of India’s reported human rabies cases are from rural areas, where people often do not have rapid access to vaccines or may rest on traditional and faith healers that are completely vain against this deadly virus.
The hastily rising street dog population does not only contribute to conflict with humans but is equally grim for homeless animals who undergo daily adversities and often violent human behaviour to subsist. Consequently, the solution must be one of equilibrium and impartial respect for all life forms.
India has up to 59 million street dogs and suffers roughly 20,000 human cases of the rabies virus yearly. These figures are the highest globally and intimately linked to each other as dogs facilitate over 99% of human rabies cases, largely through bites.
Mass killing or relocation of dogs makes the problem worse. Dogs are territorial animals; if they are moved from a specific area, the void formed will cause other dogs to migrate here. These new dogs may not be vaccinated or sterilized. Hence it is healthier in the long haul to sterilize all the dogs in the area than to get rid of them.
Lack of sterilization and incompetence of local and municipal authorities lead to the above hazards. As per WHO studies in developing countries, sterilization is the only scientific method for controlling the stray dog population.
In 1993 the policy of mass killing of stray dogs was discarded because it was a massive failure; not only had the incidence of rabies gone up, but the population of stray dogs had also increased. It was also terribly inhuman to mass-kill the helpless animals.
The Administration then passed the Animal Birth Control (Dogs) Rules, 2001, and as amended in 2010 and ordered the local bodies to organize the Animal Birth Control (ABC) Program to control the street/stray dog population and prevention of rabies.
The Animal Birth Control (Dogs) Rules, 2001 comprises provisions for sterilization and vaccination of stray dogs to confine the stray dog population, circumvent rabies, and reduce the human-dog conflict. But the implementation of these rules is still deficient.
Human- Stray cats’ conflict
The speedily increasing population of stray cats is resulting in needless pain and suffering to these animals. The stray cats are habitually found in Chawls, fish markets, building compounds, and even hospitals, causing trouble for the residents.
An array of problems like health risks, accidents, the nuisance of persistent noises, cat-fights, mating, and littering inside residential premises are caused due to these free-ranging cats. Stray cats are a cause of deadly diseases communicable to humans and domestic cats, comprising of rabies, scratch fever, allergies, toxoplasmosis, feline distemper, and secondary bacterial contagions. They are not sterilized and are neither managed rabies medicines nor any de-worming techniques by the municipal and civic institutions.
Therefore, there is an urgent need to circumspect the situation and try to gain control over this sorry state of affairs that is escalating for the worse.
The Animal Welfare Board of India has been repeatedly asked for authorization to include stray cats in its animal birth control program under which dogs are also sterilized.
An advisory was issued from the AWBI (Animal welfare board of India) in 2018 with rules and methods relating to the sterilization of stray cats. Even after the issuance of such an advisory, the municipal bodies have not started to take this problem seriously, and the statistics of unhygienic environment, accidents due to cats, rabies are only increasing.
Human-Stray cattle conflict
India has over five million stray cattle, as per the 20th Livestock Census released by the Union Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry, and Dairying in January 2020. Cows and buffaloes wandering the streets and eating from garbage bins are common in nearly every part of India. Stray cattle account for 21% of cases of road accidents in India.
Even though there have been multiple government interventions, the problem persists. The abandonment of cattle is unfortunate as they are quite an important resource, contributing to nutritional security and solidification of local livelihood.
Numerous lives have already been lost, and many have been injured due to accidents involving stray cattle. The root cause of the problem is the unplanned dairies inside and around the city. The owners, after milking the cattle, leave them loose so that they can graze outside.
Free-roaming or wandering stray cattle come from illegal or unlicensed roadside dairies and cattle sheds. These cattle dose on busy roads, block traffic, and cause traffic jams and accidents. This menace is never taken seriously. The corporation leaders are hesitant to rein in the strays, and the cattle catchers are fearful and disinterested in their work.
Statutes in India relating to Stray animals
- The Constitution of India:
Article 51A(g) of the Constitution of India says:
“It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers, and wildlife, and to have compassion for living creatures.”
Along with the above duty, animal protection is supplemented by the Directive Principle of State Policy under Article 48A, which lays down that;
“The State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country.”
- The Animal Birth Control Rules, 2001:
The Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) has developed a set of guidelines for all municipalities directing the implementation of the Animal Birth Control (ABC) program, also referred to as ABC Rule. These rules provide for sterilization and vaccination as a means of stabilizing/reducing stray dog populations and eliminating the risk of rabies (Section 3). The ABC rules lay down guidelines for the carrying out of local Animal Birth Control programs (Section 7). They also prohibit the relocation of stray dogs (Section 7).
The Animal Welfare Board of India is implementing the Central Sector Scheme of Birth Control and Immunization of stray dogs by providing grants-in-aid to the Animal Welfare Organizations registered with the Board and Local Bodies which are implementing the ABC program and applying to the Board.
It is said by the Ministry of Home Affairs that the constancy in dog population is attained when 70% of their population is disinfected. Rabies could be cleaned out & Human-Dog conflict contained if the ABC Rules are adhered to in letter and spirit.
This act also referred to as the PCA, prohibits any person from inflicting, causing, or if it is the owner, permitting, unnecessary pain or suffering to be inflicted on any animal. The Act makes it a crime to beat, kick, torture, mutilate, administer an injurious substance, or cruelly kill an animal and provides for fines and imprisonment. Following are sections in the PCA that relate to stray animals:
- Street dogs are safeguarded under the PCA, and rules formed under Section 38 of the Act.
- It is a criminal offense to poison street dogs under Section 11 of the PCA.
- It is illegal to relocate stray animals under Section 11(1)(i) and Section 11(1) (j), PCA.
- Indian Penal Code:
The Code also makes it illegal for cars to intentionally injure or kill dogs, cats, and cows on the street. Punishment is a fine of Rs 2000 and/or a jail term of up to five years.
The case branches from a Bombay High Court verdict that had permitted municipal authorities in Maharashtra to kill street dogs generating “nuisance.”
Through the progression of the case, the Animal Welfare Board had in 2016 presented the ‘implementation framework for street dog population management, rabies eradication and reducing man-dog conflict” before the Court.
The Board submitted that the Animal Birth Control (Dogs) Rules, 2001, propose the procedure for street dog population management, guaranteeing rabies extermination, and decrease in human-dog struggle resting on scientific research and commendations of the World Health Organization.
But the fact of the matter is that the application of the rules in most States was insufficient, disorganized, culminating into failure to attain the anticipated outcome.
After the Animal Welfare Board’s submission before the Supreme Court, that lest the term “nuisance” was clearly defined, the order of the High Court could not be executed, the court stayed the High Court’s order and gave a verdict saying that culling was permitted as per the Rules and Act. The Court said that there should be a humanitarian way of killing dogs.
- Animal Welfare Board of India and another v. Ombudsman for Local Self Government Institutions and others (2006 KHC 561)
This is a Division Bench verdict of the Kerela High Court for Local Self Government Establishments and others (2006 KHC 561) where the Division Bench decided that there has to be higher concern with the life of human beings than that of stray dogs. The right to live as preserved under Article 21 of the Constitution of India is a fundamental right, and it would take primacy over Dog Rules.
The method to solve this problem is not by doing away with dogs or dog-feeders, but by having designated feeding spots and times and regular ABC drives subsidized by the state through municipal corporations.
The ineptitude of sterilization and vaccination drives has made both stray animals’ and human lives miserable. This is an issue of liability that should be addressed at the ministry level. If India is to meet the WHO’s goal of being free of diseases spread by the ‘strays’, then citizens will have to come together unanimously and humanely to claim satisfactory funds for effective sterilization drives.
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