Who’s looking after the animals of India?

  • State Animal Welfare Boards (SAWBs) are either yet to be formed or are non-functioning in most states and union territories across India.
  • Recent responses to applications filed under the Right to Information by an animal welfare activist reveal that while some states are yet to constitute the SAWBs some have constituted them but not allocated required budget or manpower.
  • The activist Gauri Maulekhi has now filed a writ petition with the Supreme Court of India to highlight the dismal state of affairs and sought directions for the constitution and functioning of SAWBs.

More than a decade since the Supreme Court directive for states to have an Animal Welfare Board was issued, states across India are still either yet to form a State Animal Welfare Board (SAWB) or, where formed, are yet to support its functioning with staff and budget availability.

In May 2019, animal rights activist, Gauri Maulekhi, filed applications under the Right to Information with every state government seeking details about the constitution of SAWBs, the budget allocated to them and officers deployed for them. 

In subsequent months, she received replies from states across India. The replies showed that while the SAWBs have been established in some states like Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Laskhwadeep, they are not in a functioning position with one or more issues like no officer appointed to the board, no budget allocated, no meeting of the board conducted, no staff and other shortcomings. 

Additionally, some states and union territories like Karnataka, Bihar and Puducherry are yet to form or reconstitute (till the time of their reply under RTI) the state animal welfare board. According to the writ petition, states like Assam, Goa, Meghalaya, Punjab and Tamil Nadu provided no details in replies to the RTI applications.

Finally, in January 2020, Maulekhi filed a writ petition with the Supreme Court of India seeking directions for implementation of its earlier orders, the constitution of SAWBs and their proper functioning. 

“In order to implement the Prevention of Animal Cruelty Act and its Rules, animal welfare boards at the state level are to be formed by state governments. The Supreme Court of India has issued multiple orders since 2001 to this effect. Directives were issued by the environment ministry to establish the SAWBs, however, they have not been formed uniformly in the majority of states. Notifications of such boards in the state which are neither functional nor has any manpower or budget been allocated to them keeping the implementation of the act oblivion,” Maulekhi told Mongabay-India. 

The petition to the SC in the latest case stressed that by not having fully operational SAWBs in each state/UT the welfare of animals is getting severely compromised as there is an absence of a proper state-level body to monitor and enforce animal welfare laws and to introduce animal welfare concepts into the policy of the state government. 

For instance, the petition emphasises that the operation of unregulated unauthorised pet traders and dog breeders in the absence of functional SAWBs in the states is a direct contravention of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Pet Shop) Rules 2018 and Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Dog Breeding and Marketing ) Rules 2017 which mandates compulsory registration and as a result of this traders are this indulging in illegal animal trafficking continues to thrive across all part of India. The petition also asks for the State Animal Welfare Board Rules to be notified by the central government. These rules lay down the constitution, functions and administration of the SAWBs.

The petition submitted that it is the function of the SAWBs and in absence of fully functional SAWBs, it would be extremely difficult to look after the regulation and management of animal markets in the districts. 

Rescue and rehabilitation of stray animals including cows is one of the primary works of the state animal welfare boards. Photo by Swami Stream/Flickr.

Last week, while hearing Maulekhi’s petition, the SC issued notice to the central government, and all states and union territories. 

“SAWBs are statutory regulatory bodies for pet breeding and trade in each state. However, not a single state or union territory has set up and equipped these boards to discharge such functions. In the absence of such a regulator rampant violations of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act are increasing day by day. There is a critical need to form the SAWBs, which will also coordinate the activities of the district SPCAs,” Maulekhi said.

The struggle to get the state governments to form SAWBs started way back in August 2008 when the Supreme Court, while hearing a case, directed the states to form SAWBs within three months and constitute Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCAs) in every district. 

The SAWBs expected to ensure proper implementation of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960 at the state level, promote animal welfare and protect animals from unnecessary suffering.

SPCAs functions on the district level. They are expected to aid the state government, the SAWBs and other local authorities in enforcing the provisions of the PCA Act 1960 and to check offences against animals.

Thereafter, in 2015, the Supreme Court once again in July 2015 once again directed all the state governments to constitute SPCAs and reiterated the directions for the constitution of SAWBs. But even then the implementation of these directions remained poor.

Subsequently, in May 2017, the then central government’s environment minister Anil Madhav Dave wrote to all states directing them to constitute SAWBs and allocating them with budget and manpower within three months and asked them to be given statutory status. Following the minister’s letter, the secretary of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC), in October 2017, reminded the states for the constitution of SAWBs. His letter was followed by additionally secretary of MoEFCC writing to states in January 2018 reminding them about this.

However, nearly three years after the environment minister’s letter, little or no progress was made.

Read more: Delhi’s first animal welfare policy focuses on health, rehabilitation and awareness

Poor condition of the SAWBs hampers animal welfare work

Mumbai-based lawyer Ambika Hiranandani, who is also the member of the Maharashtra SAWB and district SPCA, told Mongabay-India that despite repeatedly following up with the Maharashtra authorities for years and the court order, the authorities have failed to provide budgetary allocation and staff. This is hampering the efforts towards the welfare of animals across the state.

The presence of stray dogs is a contentious civic issue in India’s urban areas. Photo by Chandana12/Wikimedia Commons.

“Due to the inaction of the authorities, animal welfare in Maharashtra is nothing more than talking point among the few committed NGOs who are trying. It has been several years that I have been advocating and repeatedly following up with the government including the concerned minister and the department to ensure the proper budget and staff allocation. The budget is prepared at the department level but from the past one year it has not been taken to the cabinet,” said Hiranandani.

“It is a sorry state of affairs and animal welfare has been left to a few activists and NGOs entirely. The government has washed its hands off its responsibility,” she said.

Meanwhile, Sunil Chhatrapal Kedar, Minister for Animal Husbandry, Dairy Development, Sports and Youth Welfare in Maharashtra government, said that all issues will be resolved soon.

“The previous government had ignored a lot of issues. Today, the budget was presented in the legislative assembly. We will soon solve all such issues that are hampering the animal welfare work,” Kedar told Mongabay-India.


Banner Image: The state animal welfare boards are also going to look at the issues related to pet dogs. Photo from Unsplash.

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