• Author Name: Anupama Kumari Rai
  • Details:  Advocate, Bombay High Court, B.Sc, LLM

Why would humans inflict such pain on a genial giant? This is the question on everyone’s mind on hearing the story of the pregnant elephant in Kerala who died a few days ago. When elephants are in great pain, some are known to get angry and charge at humans. But this one suffered in silence, after crackers exploded in her mouth causing severe injuries in the mouth and tongue. People in Kerala and across the country are demanding that the culprits be immediately arrested and punished for this terrible atrocity. The maximum punishment under the law for such a wanton act of cruelty should be given to those responsible – that is the near-universal sentiment. So what kind of punishment can be expected in a case like this? What is the maximum punishment under animal protection laws? And what are the animal’s right? 

In this article I discuss the law related to animal protection and provision under Indian Constitution for animal rights. 

India is home to several religious traditions advocating non-violence and compassion towards animals, and has passed a number of animal welfare reforms since 1960. India is also one of the world’s leading producers of animal products. 

Animals used in religion and entertainment In 2014, the Supreme Court of India banned the traditional bullfighting sport Jallikattu, which was mainly practiced in the state of Tamil Nadu. This led to widespread controversy, and the 2017 pro-jallikattu protests. Under this pressure, the government of Tamil Nadu adopted a law that reintroduced the sport on state level, likely leading to a renewed ban by the Supreme Court. The sport remains a controversial issue.

The 1960 Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act is the legal basis of animal protection in India. Provision 11 states that it is illegal for ‘any person... [to treat] any animal so as to subject it to unnecessary pain or suffering or causes, or being the owner permits, any animal to be so treated’, and that such mistreatment is punishable with fines or prison sentences.

It is illegal to maim or cause any injury to any animal. Sections 428 and 429 of the Indian Penal Code and the Cruelty to Animals Act of 1960 make it illegal to maim or cause injury to any animal. It is also illegal for vehicles to purposely injure dogs, cats and cows on the streets. A person who is caught violating these laws can be reported to the local animal protection group and to the police. A case can also be filed under the above mentioned sections. Animal rights are protected under Article 51A(G) of the Constitution, which makes it a citizen’s duty to protect wildlife and show compassion for living creatures. In the Concurrent List, both the Centre and the State are given the power to prevent cruelty to animals and protect wild animals and birds.

The overarching legal framework to act against cases of animal cruelty is the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, which aims to stop the infliction of unnecessary suffering or pain on animals. However, in the chilling case from Kerala, the culprits are likely to be prosecuted under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, another central Act which helps the cause of protection of not just animals, but also birds and plants. 

The pregnant female elephant who died in agony was reportedly a wild animal (unlike many elephants in Kerala that are domesticated). The people behind this crime can face a maximum of seven years in jail. The Act states that anyone found guilty of capturing, poisoning , trapping, or baiting a wild animal – or even attempting to do so – can face a fine of Rs 25,000 or seven years in jail, or both.  Two lives were lost: the mother and the unborn child. The least we can hope is that those responsible feel the full force of the law.