Welfare laws for animals and their rights in the Indian context

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“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

                                                             -Mahatma Gandhi.

Our nation is the 7th biggest country in the entire world and it is one of the most biodiverse places in the world containing four biodiversity hotspots and 11 biosphere reserves. It is home to several rare subspecies ranging from the Bengal Tigers to the Great Indian Rhinoceros and animal protection and welfare in the country has taken a prominent position over the recent times. Protection of animals is enshrined as a fundamental duty in the Indian Constitution and there exist several animal welfare legislations in India such as the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960 and the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 at the Central level and cattle protection and cow slaughter prohibition legislations at the State levels.

India has  great provisions to protect animals in the world. Let’s say, Did you know it is illegal to relocate stray dogs that have been spayed? Or that it is illegal to incite or organize animal fights? Many people may be unaware of the laws compassionate lawmakers have passed to protect animals.

India has a culture that promotes tolerance and respect for all life forms. Hindus regard cows as their sacred animal. Snakes, bull, garuda, rat, monkey, elephant, tiger etc. find mention in religious texts. Buddhists and jains preach non-violence towards all living creatures. We have various moral and religious practices that urge people to feed dogs, cows, fishes and birds. Vegetarianism is a way of life for the majority of us. In contemporary times people have shown reservations against animal sacrifices.Now we have laws that punish cruelty against animals in any form. The law also permits the creation of a charitable public trust for the benefit of a class of animals.

The Indian Penal Code (IPC) 1860 is the official criminal code of India which covers all substantive aspects of criminal law. Section 428 and 429 of the IPC provides for punishment of all acts of cruelty such as killing, poisoning, maiming or rendering useless of animals. The aforementioned legislations have been enacted to obviate unnecessary pain and suffering of animals and similar legislations continue to be enacted according to changing circumstances. Notwithstanding specific statutes, further protections for animals lie under general concepts such as tort law, constitutional law, etc. Article 51A (G) of The Constitution of India places a duty on every citizen to “protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife, and to have compassion for living creatures.” 

India is one of the many countries that have animal welfare laws that are drafted with the necessary provisions relating to the protection and safeguarding of the interest of animals’ rights. The Constitution of India as supreme law of the land also deals with the protection of rights of animals under the ambit of Fundamental duties and the Directive principle of state policy. Under Article 21 of the Constitution, the expression ‘life’ has been expanded to include all forms of life including animal life which is essential for human life. Moreover, the Right to Dignity and fair treatment is also significant to animal rights. Article 48 A states that the state shall endeavor to protect and improve the environment and safeguard the country’s forests and wildlife.

Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960

The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act,1960 is the central legislation regarding the protection of Animals. The main objective of this act is to prevent the infliction of unnecessary atrocities or suffering on animals.

This act defines certain forms which are considered as cruelty under its provisions, some of them are discussed below :

  • Beating, Kicking, Overriding, Over-driving, Overloading, Torturing, Causing unnecessary pain or suffering to any animals.
  • It is cruel if any animal is employed and made to work even after it has some disease and his age makes him unfit to be employed.
  • Administration of harmful and injurious drugs and substances to them willfully and unreasonably.
  • Conveying or carrying, either in or upon any vehicle in such a manner as to subject it to unnecessary pain or suffering;
  • Confining any animal in cages which do not fit them physically in their height and weight measurements and thus not giving them sufficient place to move and thus resulting in suffocating them.
  • Tethering an animal with heavy chains for an unreasonable period of time.
  • Being the owner of any animal,  not keeping a reasonable care of food and shelter of that animal.
  • Being the owner, without reasonable cause, abandons any animal in circumstances, which render it likely that it will suffer pain by reason of starvation or thirst
  • Mutilating and killing animals for any reason
  • For entertainment purposes only: confining animals, tying them(including tying an animal as bait in a tiger or other sanctuary) so as to make it an object of prey to other animals.
  • This law also makes it illegal to kill homeless animals. If any person is found violating the provisions of the act is subject to a fine which can be extended to 100 rs and a punishment extended to three months. 

Wildlife Protection Act, 1972

This act was introduced in 1972 by the parliament of India for the protection of animals and plant species. It set down a few provisions for animal preservation. 

Under Article 39 of the act, there is a restriction on the sacrifice of animals. There is a strict forbiddance on creating any damage to any creature and its punishment is mentioned in segment 51 of the act. There is a prohibition on keeping any bird under this act, if anyone wants to keep a permissible feathered creature, there is a need for that person to consent entirely with the Section 11 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960. Section 50 of this act provides police with the power to arrest anyone without any warrant. The basic function of this act is to create a framework to protect wildlife species in our Country.

Government Organisations are established for the protection of animals

Animal welfare board of India (AWBI): 

It is a body that was established in the year 1960, under Section 4 of the ‘Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act-1960. AWBI is a statutory body that performs an advisory function by advising the Government of India on laws for animal welfare. It also ensures that the laws which are made are followed. The AWBI is also authorized to grant recognition to animal welfare organizations in India. 

National Institute of Animal Welfare (NIAW):

It was established in 1990. It is a division of the Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests. It is situated in Ballabgarh, Haryana. NIAW has been entrusted with the work of implementing the education and training programs at NIAW to “Educational Consultants India Ltd”. NIAW is an apex body in the field of animal welfare. Its aim is to create awareness and create an environment that holds animal welfare at utmost importance. As a part of its objectives, it has to create an environment that enables the fulfillment of the requirements laid down in the ‘Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act,1960. 

According to recent data by the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) and State Forest and Police Authorities, in the past three years (2018-2020), about 2054 cases were registered for killing or illegal trafficking of wild animals in India.

In order to control this, the WCCB has conducted a number of species-specific enforcement operations with the coordination of State Enforcement Agencies.

WCCB is a statutory multi-disciplinary body established by the Government of India under the Ministry of Environment and Forests, to combat organized wildlife crime in the country. It has its headquarter in New Delhi.

Recent steps taken by Judiciary and judgments delivered by them set standards for animals laws in India

Recently the Supreme Court (SC) has asked the Centre to either withdraw or amend rules notified in 2017 for confiscating animals of traders and transporters during the pendency of trial in cases under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960.

Recently, the Supreme Court has issued a notice to the Kerala government on a plea challenging the Kerala Animals and Birds Sacrifices Prohibition Act, 1968.

The Act prohibits the sacrifice of animals and birds in temples to ‘please’ the deity. It also criminalises the intent behind the animal sacrifice and not animal sacrifice per se.

Recently, the Delhi High Court directed the Centre to take a decision on framing rules to confer protection for exotic animals that are currently not under the purview of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.

Recently, the Supreme Court (SC) upheld the 2011 order of the Madras High Court (HC) on the Nilgiris elephant corridor, affirming the right of passage of the animals and the closure of resorts in the area. The judgement sets the pace for better, more effective laws for the protection of elephant corridors across India. Illegal structures in these pathways should be removed without delay as the first step. Elephant Corridors are not fully protected areas. Therefore, the need is to ensure their protection. This needs political will. People should be encouraged to avoid critical elephant migratory routes. Conservation is an achievement only if local communities are also involved in the process.

Challenges for India regarding Animal welfare 

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.

States like Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Laskhwadeep have animal welfare boards but 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. While, some states and Union Territories like Karnataka, Bihar and Puducherry were yet to form or reconstitute the board.

Further, prevention of cruelty to animals came in 1960, but the penalties have not been revised for more than 50 years.Like several other countries around the world, hurting animals in India is also considered a punishable offence. But the lack of effective laws indirectly encourages the occurrence of such tragic incidents. The maximum punishment under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1960 is a fine of 50 rupees or imprisonment up to three months or both.

When compared to the West, it is apparent how urgent it is for the law to be revised. In the United States, acts of cruelty against animals are now counted in the FBI’s criminal database. In Australia, the maximum penalty for animal cruelty offences is a fiveyear prison term and a fine of A$50,000 (US$36,000) for individuals and A$250,000 for corporations.

Major Provisions and rights for animals in India which gives voice to voiceless

  • Capturing, trapping, poisoning or baiting of any wild animal or even attempting to do so is punishable by law, with a fine of up to Rs. 25000 or imprisonment of up to seven years or both. Section 9, Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
  • Teasing, feeding or disturbing the animals in a zoo and littering the zoo premises is an offence punishable by a fine of Rs. 25000 or imprisonment of up to three years or both. Section 38J, Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
  • Animal sacrifice is illegal in every part of the country. Rule 3, Slaughterhouse Rules, 2001.
  • Bears, monkeys, tigers, panthers, lions and bulls are prohibited from being trained and used for entertainment purposes, either in circuses or streets. Section 22(ii), PCA Act, 1960.
  • Neglecting an animal by denying her sufficient food, water, shelter and exercise or by keeping him chained/confined for long hours is punishable by a fine or imprisonment of up to 3 months or both. Section 11(1)(h), PCA Act, 1960.
  • It is the fundamental duty of every citizen of India to have compassion for all living creatures. Article 51A(g).
  • To kill or maim any animal, including stray animals, is a punishable offence. IPC Sections 428 and 429.
  • Conveying or carrying animals whether in or upon any vehicle, in any manner or position which causes discomfort, pain or suffering is a punishable offence under two Central Acts. Section 11(1)(d) Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, (Transport of Animal) Rules, 2001 and Motor Vehicles Act 1978.
  • Disturbing or destroying eggs or nests of birds and reptiles or chopping a tree having nests of such birds and reptiles or even attempting to do so constitutes to hunting and attracts a punishment of a fine of up to Rs. 25000, or imprisonment of up to seven years or both. Section 9, Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
  • Cosmetics tested on animals and the import of cosmetics tested on animals is banned. Rules 148-C and 135-B of Drugs & Cosmetics Rules, 1945.
  • Monkeys are protected under the Wildlife (Protection)Act, 1972 and cannot be displayed or owned.
  • Organizing or participating in or inciting any animal fight is a cognizable offence. Section 11(1)(m)(ii) and Section 11(1)(n), PCA Act, 1960.
  • Stray dogs that have been operated for birth control cannot be captured or relocated by anybody including any authority. ABC Rules, 2001.
  • No animal (including chickens) can be slaughtered in any place other than a slaughterhouse. Sick or pregnant animals shall not be slaughtered. Rule 3, of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, (Slaughterhouse) Rules, 2001 and Chapter 4, Food Safety and Standards Regulations, 2011.
  • Abandoning any animal for any reason can land you in prison for up to three months. Section 11(1)(i) and Section 11(1)(j), PCA Act, 1960.

Keeping, or confining any animal chained for long hours with a heavy chain or chord amounts to cruelty on the animal and punishable by a fine or imprisonment of up to 3 months or both.

If an owner fails to provide its pet with sufficient food, drink or shelter, he/she shall be liable for punishment according to section 11 (1) (h) of The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 is a punishable offence.

Section 16 (c) of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 also makes it unlawful to injure, destroy wild birds or reptiles, damaging their eggs or disturbing their eggs or nests. The person found guilty can be punished with an imprisonment of 3 to 7 years and a fine of Rs 25,000.


India’s judicial pronouncements make an effective case for animal rights. But, no rights can be absolute. Like human rights, regulation of animal rights is a must. We need to strike a balance between safeguarding the interests of animals without compromising on the safety or well-being of humans.  Animal abuse has to stop. Humans need to shed their condescending approach of patronizing other species. Mere intellectual superiority of human kind cannot be allowed to supersede living rights of another species. Co-existence of all life forms is absolutely essential to prevent an imbalance of our ecosystem. In the present times due to Covid-19, there are millions of animals in the zoo and even on the streets which are forced to sleep at night unfed. These animals have no one to look after them other than us, we humans being a superior species and also as ordered under Article 51A (g) of the Indian Constitution have this obligated responsibility to take care of all other species. However, there is still a long way to go in truly developing a solid foundation for animal law in India. The provisions for animal protection in the Indian Constitution remain principles instead of concrete law enforceable in courts. Although recent steps taken by the Supreme Court are much appreciated.The Constitution requires all citizens to “have compassion for living creatures”.

“The question is not, 'can they reason?' nor, 'can they talk?' but 'can they suffer?”

                                                          ― Jeremy Bentham.