More than a decade since the Supreme Court issued a directive for states to set up an Animal Welfare Board, states across India are still either yet to form a State Animal Welfare Board or, where formed, 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 the boards, the budget allocated, and officers deployed for them.

In subsequent months, she received replies showing that while the State Animal Welfare Boards have been established in some states – like Maharashtra, Rajasthan and 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 were yet to form or reconstitute the board, till the time that the reply was received. According to the writ petition, states like Assam, Goa, Meghalaya, Punjab and Tamil Nadu provided no details in replies to the Right to Information query.

“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 [State Animal Welfare Boards]. 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 said.

State of affairs

In January, Maulekhi filed a writ petition with the Supreme Court of India seeking directions for implementation of its earlier orders, the constitution of the State Animal Welfare Boards and their proper functioning.

The petition to the Supreme Court in the latest case stressed that by not having fully operational boards, 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 State Animal Welfare Boards 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. As a result of this, traders indulging in illegal animal trafficking continue to thrive across all parts 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 boards.

The petition submitted that in absence of fully functional animal welfare boards, 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. Credit: Swami Stream/Flickr.

Last week, while hearing Maulekhi’s petition, the Supreme Court issued a notice to the central government, and all states and Union Territories. “[State Animal Welfare Boards] 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 [boards], which will also coordinate the activities of the district SPCAs,” Maulekhi said.

Repeated reminders

The struggle started in August 2008 when the Supreme Court, while hearing a case, directed the states to form such boards within three months and constitute a Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in every district.

The boards are 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.

Societies for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals functions at the district level. They are expected to aid the state government, the welfare boards and other local authorities in enforcing the provisions of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960 and to check offences against animals.

Thereafter, in July 2015, the Supreme Court once again reiterated its directives, but even then the implementation remained poor.

Subsequently, in May 2017, the then Environment Minister Anil Madhav Dave wrote to all states directing them to constitute the welfare boards within three months, allocating them with budget and manpower, and asked them to be given statutory status. Following the minister’s letter, the secretary of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, in October 2017, reminded the states for the order. His letter was followed another letter by the ministry’s additionally secretary in January 2018. However, nearly three years later, little or no progress has been made.

In Maharashtra

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. Credit: Chandana12/Wikimedia Commons

“Due to the inaction of the authorities, animal welfare in Maharashtra is nothing more than [a] talking point among the few committed [non-governmental organisations] 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, 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 said.

This article first appeared on Mongabay.