Hardly a day passes when newspapers are not carrying the news about road accidents involving stray cattle or injury to an individual due to dog bite in a certain city or area. The murkier state is an outcome of the existence of 1.71 crore stray dogs and 58.87 lakh stray cattle (estimated as per the 19th livestock census held in 2012) in India. Of course, this number is expected to go up when estimates for 20th livestock census will be out later this year. Although, governments at the centre as well as the states have tried to curb this menace by making efforts like sterilisation, etc. the animals in this direction, yet the obstinate problem is persisting without any controls.
Treacherous dimensions that this problem has assumed now can be understood from the repeated mediation by the apex court. In March 2016, civic authorities from Mumbai disclosed in the Supreme Court that dog bites in Mumbai have taken 434 lives in the time period 1994 to 2015 which are even more than (422) the two terror attacks that the commercial capital of India had faced in the years 1993 and 2008. Further, the revelation was also made that more than 13 lakh people got bitten by dogs in Mumbai during the same period. Similarly, in November 2016, the Supreme Court ordered Kerala Government to stop the vigilante from the culling of stray dogs and distributing air guns to kill the canine. It has led to a catch 22 situations wherein it is becoming increasingly difficult to decide whether the stray animals should be left free to roam on the roads and invite accidents or be cruel and atrocious towards them. It is not that there is no law in this context; rather rules for prevention of cruelty to animals that came in 1960 got amended in the year 2017, but the judicious implementation of regulations calls for a fresh look at the problem and then treating it from the origin.
Genesis of the problem
Primarily, it is observed that the problem starts with the garbage littered on Indian streets which becomes the breeding ground for animals. Stray animals are generally born on/near this human littered garbage and also keep on hunting for eatables in this improperly disposed human garbage, thus compounding the problems. Also, there is no shortage of such people in India who under the influence of fortune-tellers, keep feeding the starving dogs, cows’ etc. to convert their misfortunes into fortunes. Their inimitable sweeping away of sins, lead to the breeding of stray animals, without any ownership. Besides, it has also been noticed that wealthy families domesticate top breed of dogs to protect their houses from thieves etc. However, when these families pack up from India to settle down abroad or their dog falling sick beyond cure, then they unsympathetically leave it to roam on the streets. Same is the fate for cows in villages which then comes to the mercy of different households or keeps hanging near the heaps of garbage. The fact of the matter is that stray animals & dogs are the result of the selfish behaviour of the humans.
Further, the lackadaisical approach of the Indian government to deal with stray animals, lesser allocation of resources towards spays and neuters and inadequate existence of voluntary organisations like Animal Control, the Humane Society, the SPCA etc. vis-à-vis other countries have led to the menace of stray animals assume perilous dimensions. If immediate structured and well monitored steps are not taken the problem might become unmanageable in the real sense.
What can be done
To mitigate the problem three probable solutions can be offered i.e. killing the stray animals, providing shelters for stray animals and spays and neuters. To the extent killing of animals is concerned, it will not only be an inhumane endeavour, rather, thinking of killing the cows in particular, can add fuel to the simmering controversies. Second option is the providing of shelters for stray animals. For this, we propose that a bill should be passed in the parliament wherein it should be made mandatory for each village panchayat/municipal committee and corporation to make arrangements for safe keeping of these animals. State governments should be roped in to provide land for this task. Practically, two fenced enclosures, may it be a village, town or city, should be made, one to take care of stray dogs and the other for stray cows. Maintenance of these enclosures should be the responsibility of village panchayats and municipal committees which may even collect a small amount say Rs.20 per house, per month, besides fixed government grant for feeding these animals. We are sure even donation can come if the villages, towns, states and the country can be rid of this problem. Trained manpower should be recruited for the task i.e. to catch the stray animals, taking care of them and disposing them off properly when they die. Whosoever, wants to feed them may go to these places and present their offerings. Most importantly, to reduce the population of such animals, spays and neuters should also take place at such dedicated enclosures. In addition to it, for buildings/flats and colonies coming up outside the MC limits, stringent regulations should be laid, wherein it must be binding for the builders to keep a special provision for the sheltering and feeding of stray animals.
Such a rigorous and determined effort only can help provide a permanent respite (of course, with a time lag) from the menace of stray animals thereby saving precious lives. We believe if it is implemented, this scheme can solve this problem permanently in the next 5 to 10 years.
— R S Bawa is the Vice-Chancellor of Chandigarh University, Gharuan,
Rajiv Khosla is head of University School of Business, Chandigarh.