Shimla has an interesting history with dogs – the Municipal Corp created a dog pound to remove the dogs from the streets. The deplorable conditions of this pound were covered in an expose here and with a revisit here. The accompanying picture is from the same pound. Sometimes the Corporation and the local AWBI legal reps are in such hurry to just be in court that they fail to present clear facts to the court – that’s happened in Bangalore, and that happened in Shimla. Like in Bangalore it led the Shimla High Court to pass a judgment trying to meld the Central and State laws and make Shimla stray dog ‘free’. This judgment has now been stayed with a Supreme Court Order through a petition moved by the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI).
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Vide an order passed on the 10th of May, 2013, the Supreme Court of India, in Special Leave Petition (Civil) No. 17112 of 2013, has stayed the operation of an order passed on 23rd March, 2013, by the High Court of Himachal Pradesh at Shimla, in C.W.P. No. 8676 of 2011, directing the Municipal Corporation to make Shimla ‘stray dog free’ within 3 months from the passing of the order. The stay order passed by the Supreme Court of India can be seen HERE ; and the order that had been passed by the High Court at Shimla, can be seen HERE.
In effect, the High Court had permitted the Municipal Corporation, Shimla, to destroy stray dogs, without actually saying so. That order of the High Court has been stayed by the Apex Court.
The order passed by the High Court with respect to street dogs within the municipal limits of Shimla, was startling, firstly because it came to be passed unexpectedly and suddenly, in the matter of ‘Dimple Vahali Oberoi Vs. State of H.P. and Others’, which had been pending for long before the erstwhile Chief Justice of the High Court, Hon’ble Mr. Justice Kurien. Mr. Justice Kurien was elevated to the Supreme Court of India ; and the matter was heard on a Saturday by and bench headed comprising of the acting Chief, Justice R.B. Mishra, and Justice Rajeev Sharma.
The order of 23rd March, 2013, passed by the High Court,
- Started with a lament : That the municipal corporation of Shimla has not been able to control the ‘stray dog menace’ ; and that there are packs of stray dogs “on all the streets within the Municipal Corporation, Shimla”. That Shimla is replete with dog bite cases, and “The victims are generally children, women and elderly persons. There are chances of children being beaten in the face of neck.” (The Hon’ble Court obviously meant to say, bitten, and not, beaten, in the preceding sentence in italics, extracted by us from the judgment.)
- At paragraph 2 of the order, the Hon’ble Court, while graciously acknowledging that dogs have lived with humans for long, and are known as ‘man’s best friend’, proceeded unexpectedly to state that : “It is estimated that 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs each year”. The Court then dwelt at considerable length on dog faeces, and the diseases that it causes among human beings! The Court then reiterated what is oft repeated: “An estimated 55,000 human deaths occur annually from rabies worldwide. India has the highest rate of human rabies in the world principally due to bite of stray dogs. 20,000 people are estimated die every year from rabies, which is a third of the global toll.”
- THE ACTUAL FIGURES FOR HUMAN DEATHS IN INDIA, DUE TO RABIES, CAN BE SEEN HERE. This article that featured on The Voice of Stray Dogs some time back, refers to the response to an RTI received from the Ministry of Health by one The VoSD lawyers.
- The response, which can be seen in the article, contains the state-wise, year-wise figures for rabies deaths, spanning from the year 2004 to the year 2010. It is based on Central Bureau of Health Intelligence (i.e. the CBHI) figures; and very specifically affirms that all States and Union Territories report their rabies deaths figures to the CBHI. Hence, the figures that the Hon’ble Court has relied upon, though often bandied about in public domain, ARE NOT THE CORRECT FIGURES FOR HUMAN DEATHS IN INDIA, DUE TO RABIES.
- We are informed that elaborate documents, and the Animal Birth Control (Dogs) Rules, 2001, were placed before the High Court. However, the Court didn’t even notice those ; or notice or refer to the stray dog petition titled “Animal Welfare Board of India Vs P.E.S.T. and Ors”, pending before the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India. Neither did the Court notice the Stay Order against the killing of stray dogs passed in the same.
- Para 4 of the order passed by the high court contained the direction to the Municipal Corporation of Shimla, to ensure that the entire town of Shimla is free of stray dogs within a period of 3 months from the date of the passing of the order !!! The Commissioner was made personally responsible for compliance ; and the Court specifically stated that, “It shall be open to the Municipal Corporation, Shimla, to take recourse to the Himachal Pradesh Municipal Corporation Act, 1994 and other ancillary laws to eradicate the menace of stray dogs from Shimla town.”
The Himachal Pradesh Municipal Corporation Act, can be seen here. Section 304 of the said Act deals with “Registration and control of dogs”; and the sub-section (2) of Section 304, reads as follows:
“(2) The Commissioner may-
(a) cause to be destroyed or to be confined for such period as he may direct, any dog or other animal which is, or is reasonably suspected to be, suffering from rabbis, or which has been bitten by any dog or other animal suffering or suspected to be suffering from rabies;
(b) by public notice direct that, after such date as may be specified in the notice, dogs which are without collars or without marks, distinguishing them as private property and are found straying on the streets or beyond the enclosures of the houses of their owners, if any, may be destroyed and cause them to be destroyed accordingly.”
UNDER THIS SUB-SECTION OF THE MUNICIPAL LAW, IT IS OBVIOUSLY OPEN TO THE MUNICIPALITY TO DESTROY STREET DOGS.
THE CENTRAL LAW, HOWEVER, DOES NOT ALLOW THE DESTRUCTION OF STREET DOGS; AND ONLY ALLOWS STERILIZATION AND IMMUNIZATION, AFTER WHICH DOGS HAVE TO BE RETURNED AT THE LOCALITIES THAT THEY WERE PICKED UP FROM.
However, despite the fact that the Hon’ble High Court’s attention was invited to the central law, and to the stray dog matters pending before the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India, and to the fact that there is an Apex Court stay operating against culling of strays, the Hon’ble Court proceeded to pass its order of 23rd March, 2013, directing that Shimla will be made ‘stray dog free’ within 3 months of the passing of the order.
In the special leave petition filed by the Animal Welfare Board of India against the said order of the High Court, which was posted for hearing on the last day before the Supreme Court closed for the summer vacation, i.e. on the 10th of May, 2013, and in which in which the State of Himachal Pradesh and the municipal corporation of Shimla are respondents (among others), the operation of the order dated 23rd March, 2013, passed by the High Court, that’d sounded the death knell for the dogs at Shimla, has been stayed.