The Wildlife Protection Act is a progressive law, but not enough to stop animal abuse.
The animal protection community had welcomed the recent conviction of Bollywood actor Salman Khan in the 1998 blackbuck killing case, with the high court passing the verdict of serving five years in prison along with a fine of Rs 10,000. The verdict sent a clear message: no one―celebrity or commoner―was above the law.
It also highlighted an often overlooked fact, that the Wildlife Protection Act is an extremely progressive law. A quick look at the Wildlife Protection Act shines light on the detail and depth with which the law has been written. Even the mere attempt, whether successful or not, to capture, kill or poison a wild animal falls under the offence of hunting. Punishment for offences in the WPA can incur a fine of Rs 25,000 or three years of imprisonment, with the fine going up to six years in cases of repeat offenders.
The strength of the law, however, can only get us so far. In reality, the cases of conviction under the Wildlife Protection Law are few and far in between, making it similar to most other animal laws that exist in the country.
Take meat shops, for example. These are controlled by over five different laws and advisories namely Food Safety and Standards Regulation 2010, Slaughterhouse Rules 2001, Pollution Control norms, Municipal Rules and BIS standards. The meat industry still stands largely unregulated, perpetuating atrocities such as child labour, injury and disease among animals and illegal slaughter. Similarly, while many local authorities have banned the setting up of dairies within municipal limits, the growing crowds of cattle lining suburban areas show the callousness and disregard with which these rules are regularly flouted.
Clearly, the law alone is not enough to stop violence against animals. For every progressive legislation that stands to fight for animals in India, there is still a struggle to ensure that violations are reported and perpetrators are brought to task. This mismatch between the existence of good laws and their actual implementation adequately reflects our ability (or lack thereof) to provide effective solutions to the problem of animal rights violations.
As a first step, we must backdoor existing knowledge with practical know how to ensure that the law upholds, not just on paper, but in spirit. This practical ability translates to working collaboratively alongside people, learning to engage with the government and our communities in a healthy way and learning to plan effective local campaigns. It is only through networking, capacity building and grassroots level training that we can ensure improved enforcement from the ground up. Following such an approach, even the problematic circles of meat shops have shown marked improvement. Campaigners in cities like Jaipur and Hyderabad have been quietly campaigning against these shops by conducting regular inspections, filing complaints, follow-ups, enabling inspections by food safety authorities and municipal corporations, training themselves and recruiting volunteers. This has resulted in many roadside shops being shut down, with many others getting licensed and regulated.
Most importantly, this reflects a shift in the way we campaign―moving from a reactive, incident driven way of working to one that ensures persistent change in the long run ensuring sustainability. A practical example of this would be to not only have an effective response in case of a dog bite, but also ensuring regularised ABC, ARV, education and counselling so that the number of such cases falls in the long run.
This means responding to things as they occur, but also creating conditions that ensure a proactive framework that protects the interests of animals. As advocates of animal rights―passion plays a big role in our fight for animals―we now need to take all the passion and direct it into organised work for animals. The current face of animal rights conjures images of a few passionate, but scattered animal lovers, and the need to come together as a collective movement has never been stronger. With the growing rate of animal abuse in our country, we simply cannot wait for things to fall in place on their own.