By Devika Mehra
The canine beings, said to be the man’s best friend, have been in the eye of a debate that has arisen out of the scrimmage between man’s love towards them, their right to live freely, and the health hazards posed by them to man such as rabies and incidents of dog bites, be it by pet or by stray dogs. On one hand of this incredibly divisive debate are those who love dogs and on the other are those who are intimidated by these animals, brawling over whether or not to feed and care for the dogs which dwell in the streets. Each side accuses the other of being inconsiderate and oblivious.
Threats caused by stray dogs
The increasing human population have also been corresponded by increasingly large population of stray dogs that have caused greater than before incidents of dog bites, barking and howling, mostly during their mating season. Humans, who come within the vicinity of dogs fighting over mates or females trying to protect their litters often become victims of dog bites. Further, dogs are the most common carriers of rabies, a viral disease which is virtually 100% fatal once clinical symptoms appear.
Laws pertaining stray dogs
The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (PCA), 1960, (hereinafter “the PCA, 1960”) and Rules enacted under Section 38, primarily, the Animal Birth Control (Dogs) Rules, 2001 (hereinafter“the ABC Rules”), has been formulated to be implemented by local authorities to control the population of stray dogs. The Rules classify dogs into pet dogs and street dogs, with the welfare of the latter placed on animal welfare organisations along with private individuals and the local authority.Further, the rules prescribe for a monitoring committee to be constituted by each local authority to oversee, inter alia, the sterilisation and vaccination of street dogs and to resolve dog bite complaints. The Rules also provide for the duties of the local authorities, which included setting up of animal shelters and maintaining dog squads, etc.
The Rules provide that all street dogs should be sterilized, vaccinated and shall be released into the same area from where they were taken. Incurably ill or severely injured dogs can be put to death, and only in a humane manner as approved by the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI).
Feeding stray dogs has not been ruled as prohibited or illegal in India. However, the AWBI, time and again, has issued extensive guidelines on feeding stray dogs such as identification and earmarking of specific sites/points in colonies or localities for the feeding of dogs, instructions for stray dog caregivers and feeders, etc. The AWBI, in its recent guidelines dated December 07, 2022 reiterated that the relocation of dogs cannot be permitted as held by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in its various judgments. Further, the key points of the said guidelines issued by the AWBI are as follows:
1. Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs) cannot deny feeding of dogs or creation of feeding spot in those areas where these dogs are residing.
2. People who feed or care for these animals out of their own resources and out of compassion should not be victimised, as the Constitution of India has allowed them to do so under Article 51A(g). Hence, these feeders cannot be prevented from feeding the animals or care giving when done so while following the AWBI advisories.
3. The RWAs and Citizens of India are requested not to take any kind of adverse action against the feeders of dogs, nor to relocate or resort to poisoning of dogs or other atrocities which is against the law of the land.
Further, abandoning an animal, leaving it in a situation where it suffers pain due to starvation or thirst is a punishable offense.
There have been varying viewpoints and stands taken by different High Courts and the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India on the much debated issue.
The Supreme Court held Article 51A (g) of the Constitution as the magna carta of animal rights and that right to life under the Article 21 may be extended to animals as well, and that the weak and meek need more of protection and compassion.
In Animal Welfare Board of India v. People For Elimination of Stray, the apex court issued directions to all the local bodies and municipal corporations to strictly implement the provisions of the PCA, 1960 and the ABC Rules, 2001, and that it shall be the duty of the AWBI to keep a check upon the same. Further, it was held that it shall be the duty of the Municipal Corporation to “provide the mandatory infrastructure as provided under the statute and rules to strike a balance between compassion for dogs and the lives of the human beings and thereafter, they can harmoniously coexist in the same environment.”
The Hon’ble Delhi High Court, on several instances , has directed framing of various guidelines by the AWBI for feeding the stray dogs and that AWBI should identify the spots which would be most suitable for the purpose of feeding dogs in consultation with RWAs and the Animal Welfare Organization working in that area.
The Delhi High Court, again in Dr. Maya D Chablani v. Radha Mittal & Ors., made a detailed study on the existing laws and judicial trends with respect to the feeding of stray dogs, and formulated guidelines thereupon. An amicus curiae was appointed for the assistance of the Hon’ble Court in the matter, who had done extensive research on the subject and filed very comprehensive written submissions. The Hon’ble Court held that Article 21, not only safeguards the rights of humans, but also protects life of all species, and opined that “life”, with respect to animals, would mean something more than mere survival or existence. Further, stray dogs have the right to food and the citizens have the right to feed stray/street dogs, however, “care and caution should be taken to ensure that it does not impinge upon the rights of others or cause any harm, hindrance, harassment and nuisance to other individuals or members of the society.”
The Kerala High Court, however, took a different approach on the menace caused by stray dogs., It held that human life will always be superior to that of street dogs and that “local authorities can exercise the power to capture and destroy the stray dogs”, however, the same is required to be executed in accordance with the provisions of the PCA, 1960 and the ABC Rules.
The Hon’ble Bombay High Court too had a differing approach towards stray dogs compared to its Delhi’s sister Court and the Hon’ble Supreme Court. In a recent order dated October 20, 2022, the Nagpur Bench while dealing with the menace caused by the stray dogs, held that while dogs are generally the “best friends of man”, the same needs to be taken with circumspection when it comes to stray dogs, as some of them are aggressive and ferociously wild. The Hon’ble High Court held that those who want to feed the stray dogs must adopt them, and directed the Nagpur Municipal Corporation (NMC) to take steps and ensure that no feeding of stray dogs by the general public is done by except at appropriate locations as specified by it such as dog shelter homes, or the dog feeder’s own place. Further, the Commissioner, NMC was directed to impose appropriate penalty for every breach of these directions by anyone.
However, the Hon’ble Supreme Court, vide its order dated November 16, 2022, imposed a stay on the above order of the Hon’ble Bombay High Court and directed that no coercive steps against anyone shall be taken in pursuance to the said order.
That the one of the basic necessity for human society to prosper is safe and open public spaces. The same is often found to be overtaken by the canine friends creating disturbance and nuisance creating risks of serious health hazards, which may not be overlooked. The same had led to a number of cases filed before various constitutional courts, which have been divergent in their views in tackling with the menace created by stray dogs. However, it is the apex court of the country that, in the end, will have to undertake to concretise the balance between the compassion for dogs and that of human lives and wellbeing.
 Rule 3, the ABC Rules, 2001
 Rule 4 and 5, the ABC Rules, 2001
 Rule 6, the ABC Rules, 2001
 Rule 7, the ABC Rules, 2001
 Rule 9, the ABC Rules, 2001
 In fact, the Constitution of India under Article 51A (g) provides that it shall be a fundamental duty upon every citizen of India to care for the wildlife and have “compassion for all living creatures.”
 Available at https://pib.gov.in/PressReleasePage.aspx?PRID=1881462
 Animal Welfare Board of India v. A. Nagaraja, (2014) 7 SCC 547
 State of Gujarat v. Mirzapur Moti Kureshi Kassab Jamat, (2005) 8 SCC 534
 (2016) 2 SCC 598
 Citizens for the Welfare and Protection of Animals v. State, W.P. (Crl.) No. 467/2009; Urvashi Vashist & Ors. v. Resident Welfare Association & Ors., W.P.(C) 2556/2021 & CM APPL.7537/2021
 I.A. No. 4164/2021 in CS (OS) 277/2020, 2021 SCC OnLine Del 3599.
 Ajayan v. State of Kerala, 2015 SCC OnLine Ker 39527 : (2016) 2 RCR (Civil) 496
 Vijay Shankkarrao Talewar v. The State of Maharashtra & Ors.CA No. 2364 of 2022 in Civil Writ Petition No. 562 of 2006
 Swati Sudhirchandra Chatterjee & Ors. v. Vijay Shankarrao Talewar & Ors., SLP (Civil) Diary No. 35297 of 2022.