India: Entrusting Legal Personality To Animals: The Story Begins Here!

Last Updated: 18 July 2019
Article by Shruti Mandhotra and Debopriya Mukherjee

Amidst a society of humans what humans often forget to do is to behave humanly. We as human being the most powerful species living are the ones to decide that sentience and a legal personality should only be our right. We have taken an undue advantage on being the superior ones and have acted noting but selfish in doing that.

The concept of being sentient is basically the capacity to feel. Evidence could be found easily by observance that there is a presence of both positive and negative feelings in a wide range of animals1. It is sad but true, that the way we often treat animal is not the way we will certainly accept to be treated. And that is where all have started.

Many activists and Animal Welfare Organisations who work for the betterment of these creatures have decided to be their voice and express them if not in true sense but at least to provide them with the legal position they deserve in the society. There are few recent examples the Indian judiciary has entrusted legal personhood to some 'non-persons' but has still not taken any action to grant them sentience in spite of their ability to perceive till certain extent.

In a recent landmark judgement2 the bench at the High Court in Punjab and Haryana entrusted legal personality having distinct indent to every creature of the animal kingdom including both aquatic and avian. The bench also held that their right, duties and liabilities are equivalent to that of a living human.3 The case marked its beginning from the incident that took place when twenty nine cows were heaped and stacked onto two trucks viciously to be shifted to Uttar Pradesh from Haryana. The bench while deciding on this matter harped on to "live and let live" the submissive animals and that the humans are the only voice for the protection and Welfare of the animals throughout the state.

The Court directed the Government to formulate rules that any individual who uses animal as a means of carriage is allowed to carry not more than four persons, excluding the driver and children below 6 years of age to ride the carriage at a time. According to the order passed by the Court no animal should be made to push vehicles in extreme weather conditions, that is, exceeding 37 degree Celsius within the time period 11am to 4 pm and below 5 degrees Celsius during winter. Also, the prescribed guidelines to use elephants during festivities and functions are to be adhered.

Mahatma Gandhi once pronounced that, "The greatness of a nation is judged by the way it treats its animals."

If we look at the Indian perspective of the laws that are there ensuring protection of animals we would find that Article 51A(g) of the Indian Constitution enshrines upon all citizens the fundamental duty "to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wild life, and to have compassion for living creatures." There are several acts in India which has been legislated with the aim to protect the animals but the proper implementation of the same is missing. Section 11(1) of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 prescribes penalties as less as Rs.10 and punishment as less as maximum of three months on humans acting cruel against any animal on certain parameters.

It is evident that the some countries have gone far to provide legal personality to animals. On one hand Chimpanzees are acknowledged as legal persons in the US and on the other hand Dolphins have been recognized to have a legal persona in Romania.

Considering the present situation few species of animals are being jeopardized and will soon cease to exist. This judgment by the high court turns out to be particularly pertinent to secure their lives and make awareness among natives with respect to existing conditions of creatures. Because of the interrelationship between man and animal, it is soon to affect the humans also.

Footnotes

[1] Donald M. Broom " considering Animals' feelings" Animal Sentience 2016.005: Broom on Animal Welfare available at http://www.animal-welfare-indicators.net/site/index.php/professor-donald-m-broom

[2] Karnail Singh &orsv State of Haryana (2019)

[3] HC declares entire animal kingdom including avian and aquatic as legal entities with all rights and duties of a living person Available at https://www.livelaw.in/top-stories/ph-hc-declares-entire-animal-kingdom-including-avian-and-aquatic-as-legal-entities-with-all-rights-and-duties-of-living-persons-read-judgment-145417

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