Living person status to entire animal kingdom

Context

Recently, Uttarakhand High Court declares “Entire Animal Kingdom” as Legal Entity, with rights, duties & liabilities of a living person

The court verdict

  • The Division Bench was hearing a PIL that sought directions to restrict the movement of horse carts, or tangasbetween Indian and Nepal through Banbasa in Uttarakhand’sChampawat district
  • However, in its judgment the High Court has enlarged the scope of the petition in larger public interest to promote the protection and welfare of the animals

The Court issued the following directions

  1. Legal entities
  • The entire animal kingdom including avian and aquatic are declared as legal entities having a distinct persona with corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a living person
  1. It also declared all citizens of uttrakhandthe as guardians of animals and endowed them with the duty to ensure their welfare and protection
  2. Regulation and medical checkup of animals before entering India
  • State government should ensure medical examination of all the animals entering from Nepal to India
  • Set up veterinary check post on border to check infectious and contagious diseases
  1. The State Government is directed to ensure that no animal shall carry weight or load in excess of the weight prescribed
  2. The carts driven by animals have no mechanical devices, animal-drawn carriages have to be given Right of Way over other vehicles.
  3. A detail guideline regarding transportation of animals to ensure their safety
  4. The use of spike stick, bit or any sharp equipmentis banned throughout the state to avoid bruises, swelling, abrasions or severe pain to animals.
  5. All the Municipal Bodies throughout the State of Uttarakhand are directed to provide shelter to animals
  6. The State Government is directed to ensure prevention of the animals from infectious and contagious diseases
  7. The State Government is also directed to constitute societies for prevention of cruelty to animals in each district

Earlier judgment

  • Earlier same uttrakhandbench had declared Ganga and Yamuna, all their tributaries,Glaciars like Gangotri,Yamunotri and Forest asliving person with all corresponding rights, duties and liabilities.

  • Director of the NamamiGangeprogramme, the Uttarakhand Chief Secretary, and the Advocate-General ofUttarakhand would serve as “parents” for rivers
  • The court also directedUttarakhand Environment Protection & Pollution Control Board (UEPPCB) strictly to seal theindustries, hotels, ashrams and other establishments, which are discharging the sewerage in the rivers.
  • However, the judgment of Uttrakhand HC is stayed by the Supreme Court later on a plea by the uttrakhandgovernment. The petition said the high court verdict raised several legal questions and administrative issues.

Other cases

  • Ecuador was the first country to grant rights to nature under its Constitution
  • New Zealand parliament has recognised the WhanganuiRiverans ecosystem as living being
  • Bolivia legislated the “Law of the Rights of Mother Earth” which include detailed rights vested in the environment, and protection from commercial exploitation and ecological degradation.

Issues in Judgment

  • In this case the court hassuomotu expanded the scope of the petition (which was asking for a specific relief) and passed a sweeping law. This is an another example of Judicial legislation
  • The precedent that the court has used to establish rivers (and now animals) as legal entities was by the legislature of New Zealand and not by the judiciary. This raise concerns of Judicial interference in legislative domain
  • Guidelines issued by court is without much public debate. Most of the time it raises serious implementation issue.

  • The verdict raises several legal and administrative issues
    • The extension of right to animals and rivers would also extend duties to them which is not practical
    • There is no clarity on legal status of animals and how it would be held responsible for their actions
    • It would be difficult to access the implementation of judgment
  • The law is not clear about the status of pet animals
  • There is no clarity about the punishment on violation
  • There are numerous laws for welfare and protection of animal is already existing. Critics says adding new guidelines would create more confusion.
  • In India, some species such as cattle are protected under the constitution while some species are commercially exploited. The court judgment treat all species equal
  • Recognition of all animal as legal person would have to eliminate the use of animal labour and bodies for our agricultural, medicinal, nutritional and recreational needs
  • One major criticism is that by forcing animals to be governed as persons under man-made legal systems, we continue to assert human supremacy over other species.

Way forward

  • In order to protect the welfare of animal the government should frame a comprehensive law which recognize rights, duties and liabilities
  • Before framing any law the government should also consider the grievances of various stakeholders
  • Government should implement existing animal welfare laws like, PCA, the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972,etc. in more stringent manner
  • The court should also refrain from interfering into legislative domain. The problem with such judicial decisions is their binding nature like legislation. While a law passed by the legislature can be repealed or amended, court decisions cannot be changed unless stayed by a higher court.
  • There is need of division of species according to their conservation status. Species like chicken and goats can’t have similar protection status like that of tigers and elephants
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