Top court stays order on feeding community dogs

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The Supreme Court on Friday stayed an order of the Delhi high court permitting stray dogs to be fed in every residential society.

The top court issued notice on a petition filed by a society promoting human-animal harmony, which pointed out a 2015 decision of the Supreme Court that prohibits high courts from passing orders pertaining to dogs under the 1960 Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.

A bench of justices Vineet Saran and Aniruddha Bose issued notice to the Animal Welfare Board (AWB) and the Delhi government on the appeal filed by Humane Foundation for People and Animals (HFPA) against a Delhi high court order of June 24 last year.

Posting the matter for hearing after six weeks, the bench said, “Meanwhile, operation of the impugned order shall remain stayed.”

The high court, while laying down guidelines for feeding community dogs in residential societies said, “It is the duty and obligation of every resident welfare association or municipal corporation (in case RWA is not available), to ensure that every community dog in every area has access to food and water in the absence of caregivers or community dog feeders in the said area.”

Where there are caregivers, the high court directed the concerned RWA, municipal bodies, public authorities including police to provide all assistance and ensure no hindrance is caused to the caregivers or feeders of community dogs. The order further directed the police to ensure no harassment is caused to any care-giver or community dog feeder from local residents. To ensure this, the HC further directed the animal welfare board (AWB) to have an animal welfare committee in each society.

According to municipal data, Delhi last year reported nearly 32,000 dog bites, mostly by community dogs. Feeding community dogs is a contentious issue in most residential areas in Delhi, with routine conflicts between dog lovers and haters.

These dogs can’t be exterminated, or shipped out; there are legal restrictions against both. But voluntary animal groups in most neighbourhoods take care of them, sterilise them (ensuring their population remains low), and try and relocate violent community dogs in shelters — usually at their own cost

In its appeal, HFPA told the Court that at the core of the controversy was not whether feeding dogs is wrong or not but whether it is permissible under the law laid down by the top court.

Senior advocate Sanjay Sarin, appearing for HFPA, pointed out that the Delhi high court issued the guidelines in question with reference to the Animal Birth Control (Dogs) Rules, 2001, known as ABC Rules and the 1960 PCA Act.

He produced an order passed by the Supreme Court on November 18, 2015, in a case related to the culling of stray dogs where it categorically said, “High courts not to pass any order relating to the 1960 Act and the 2001 Rules pertaining to dogs.”

In the past years, HFPA, a Mumbai-based organisation has been approaching high courts where matters related to stray dogs are pending and pointing to them the SC ruling of November 2015. Sarin wondered why the AWB did not point this fact out to the Delhi high court despite being a party to the proceedings.

As a result of the SC’s 2015 rule, the Karnataka high court refused to entertain a petition related to stray dogs in the year 2020 and the Madras high court closed proceedings last year in a case related to the feeding and sheltering of stray dogs.

Two days ago, SC issued notice on a petition filed by one Sharmila Sankar, who went to the Bombay high court against an order by an RWA imposing heavy costs on her for feeding dogs. The high court refused to entertain her plea citing the 2015 rule laid down by the top court.

On Friday, the same apex court bench issued notice on a separate appeal that came up against an order by the Allahabad high court passed recently refusing to entertain a public interest litigation filed by a group of women residents of a society who were fed up by dogs being fed in their area that had become a public nuisance. They too were aggrieved that the Allahabad high court threw up its hands in despair in light of the view expressed by the top court disregarding the fact that dog bites in the society had increased.

HFPA in its petition filed through advocate Nirnimesh Dube said that statistics showed that about seven million dog bites are recorded every year, with victims being primarily the poor and children. The petition further said that the Delhi high court order was based upon “several blatantly misleading, irrelevant and factually incorrect statements and misinformation with regard to dog behaviour, problems associated with stray dogs, general information regarding dogs and as also with respect to the existing laws.” It stated that prior to the HC laying down guidelines, community dogs were allowed to be fed in open spaces.

The genesis of the case before the Delhi high court was also a private dispute between two residents of the Capital’s Inderpuri area.

The petition was filed by a resident Maya Chablani to restrain another resident Radha Mittal from feeding dogs near the property where she stayed. Although the dispute was amicably resolved, the HC appointed advocate Pragyan Sharma as amicus curiae and with the assistance of Delhi government and AWB went on to frame guidelines for feeding community dogs.


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