The menace of stray dogs in Jammu and Kashmir’s summer capital Srinagar continues to worsen amidst the unstable law and order situation and lack of action by the city’s municipal body.
Though the newly-elected municipal body has set fighting the stray dog population as a top priority, the body continues to grapple with issues related to pay scale to the extent that corporators are contemplating not taking their salaries on account of it being too low. The development may cause some embarrassment to the Centre and the state administration as the much-hyped municipal body remains marred with inaction.
Newslaundry takes a look at why one of South Asia’s tourist hubs is a giant breeding ground for strays.
The number of patients treated for dog bites at Srinagar’s main anti-rabies medical facility is expected to marginally come down for the first time this year since 2015-16. Yet in Kashmir, 14 people are bitten by stray dogs every day with most cases reported in Srinagar.
Data with Newslaundry shows that from January 2018 to October 2018, Kashmir recorded a total of 4,183 bites. This number only includes patients treated at the state government-sponsored anti-rabies clinic in the Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) Hospital.
Government officials, experts, and NGOs said bureaucratic red-tapeism, Kashmir’s law and order crisis and a lack of initiative by consecutive state governments resulted in the dog menace becoming a major problem in the city in the last decade. Moreover, the fall of an elected government earlier this year and the subsequent imposition of governor’s rule in the state has removed public figures to whom people could go with their grievances or at least hold accountable.
Government data shows that a total of 36,857 patients were registered at the anti-rabies clinic since 2012-13. According to the data, 7,000 cases were registered in 2012-13, followed by 6,041 cases in 2013-14, 4,917 cases in 2014-15, 5,100 cases in 2015-16, 5,120 cases in 2016-17, and 5,216 in 2017-18. Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) officials said that the number might come down marginally but the department has a long way to go before they eradicate the menace completely
Shiekh Imran, the newly elected deputy mayor of SMC—the concerned wing of the government to deal with the issue—told Newslaundry that tackling the stray dog menace is among the top priorities of his department. However, local and national NGOs, as well as SMC officials, express their concerns over the prospects of the state government’s Animal Birth Control (ABC) programme.
Kashmir’s ABC programme: a background
In 2010, the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) took up the implementation of Animal Birth Control programmes for stray dogs on a national scale through local animal welfare Organisations, municipalities, NGOs and so on. The objectives were to end the presence of stray dogs on roads and public places and to free India from the incidences of rabies by 2020.
To address the issue of the growing stray dog population in the city, in addition to focusing on proper garbage management, SMC in collaboration with AWBI and Sheri Kashmir University of Agriculture Science and Technology initiated the process of establishing animal birth control and anti-rabies centres (ABC-AR Centres) by signing a tripartite MOU on August 11, 2011.
On October 4, 2016, responding to a PIL, the Supreme Court issued directions for a specific implementation framework to be followed by every state for the management of the stray dog population.
The ABC committee was formed in J&K on September 14, 2017, under the chairmanship of the secretary of housing and development. The committee met for the first time in November 2017 and decided to create animal birth control hospitals so that the programme can be implemented without compromising the welfare of animals.
Over a year later, the concerned departments have nothing major to show as their achievements, leaving the newly elected corporators of Srinagar to deal with public anger.
Dr Javaid Ahmed, a veterinary officer with SMC, told Newslaundry that SMC had been working on multiple strategies as per the guidelines issued by AWBI.
“The ultimate answer to street dog population control is to control the availability of edible wastes coupled with ABC-AR programme,” said Dr. Javaid. He said on average, about 400 metric tons of garbage is generated daily within the Srinagar city, which includes non-vegetarian waste.
“About 40,000 kg of poultry waste is generated from poultry outlets only. If this highly nutritious and energy-rich edible offal is not managed properly, each dog can have access to around a kilogram of such an energy-rich diet. The breeding efficiency and lifespan of stray dogs can then increase and the population can touch alarming levels,” he said.
Dr. Javaid said SMC needs to sterilise and vaccinate at least 75 percent of the almost 49,000-strong stray dog population in Srinagar to achieve a stable population and control rabies within the stipulated time frame. The available infrastructure with the municipal corporation at Shuhama – Alsteng is sufficient to only do 10-15 sterilisations a day.
Government data shows that till date, around 2,098 sterilizations were conducted, and about 2,000 stray dogs were administered the anti-rabies vaccine.
Difference of opinions
Gauri Maulekhi, who serves as a trustee at People for Animals, an NGO founded by the Union Cabinet Minister for Women & Child Development, is a member of the ABC monitoring committee. On December 10, she wrote to J&K’s Housing and Urban Development Department to provide the committee with a suitable date to meet in Srinagar. She said the state administration in J&K must replicate methods employed by agencies in Nainital, Dehradun, and Mussoorie to rid the state from the stray dog menace.
“The problem in Srinagar is multifold. Constant curfews and the law and order situation prevents concerned staff to actually do something about the issue,” said Maulekhi.
Indicating her scepticism, she said, “Even if the situation in Kashmir improves somehow, the SMC does not have enough funds or manpower to deal with the issue. We had tried to bring in private funding years ago but the same had to be used in Nainital owing to the lackadaisical approach of the state government. For me, elected government or not, enough attention is not being paid to the issue.”
In contrast, Dr. Javaid hoped that with the coming up of new of facilities to conduct dog sterilisation, SMC will be able to sterilise 90 dogs per day as opposed to the eight to 10 that it’s doing now.
Rumpy Madaan, the chairperson of the NGO Save Animals Value Environment, said sterilisation alone cannot be the solution. Madaan, who primarily operates in Jammu, has been a critic of SMC and its functioning and she believes that “habits of the society” is one of the main reasons behind stray dog bites.
However, a senior SMC official, on condition of anonymity, said, “Even if we want to work, there are tons of animal welfare organisations constantly scrutinising our work, lodging complaints with influential people. Of course, we want to do everything permissible by law, but constant disapproval is definitely not helping us to fight this calamity.”
But Madaan is clear on her stand. She told Newslaundry that sterilising “100 dogs” a day would not yield any dividends if not coupled with other efforts. “There have to be awareness programmes in schools and colleges. Generally, children are made to fear the dogs and asked to hold a stick to protect themselves. This creates hostility between humans and otherwise friendly animals. I am currently teaching schoolgoing children how to behave around stray dogs.”
When asked how she plans to work with adolescents, she said parents needed to be counseled. It is imperative to mention here that in the recent past, many reports of stray dogs mauling children and toddlers have surfaced.
The government’s response and SMC’s stand
Recently posted as an additional secretary in the J&K’s Housing and Urban Development Department, Narinder Khajuria is one of the officials dealing with the issue. He said his involvement as of now was at a “secretariat level” but soon hopes to do work on the issue frequently. “We have been busy with the municipal body elections that were conducted peacefully. We will focus on other important issues like dog bites now,” Khajuria said. He, however, added that SMC will have to play a key role and the state administration will offer its full assistance.
But SMC itself is currently undergoing a major realignment after the recently-concluded elections for the posts of corporators, mayor and deputy mayor. Several corporators told this reporter that the Centre and the state administrations so far had failed to keep up the promises made to them before the urban local body elections held in October this year. The basic needs of the elected corporators—including salaries, security, accommodation and even stationary—haven’t been taken care of by the state administration, they added.
For accommodation, SMC has managed to get some rooms for their corporators in Srinagar’s MLA hostel. However, their security is still under the review of the J&K police. Moreover, sources last week told Newslaundrythat all the corporators are planning to pass a “resolution” of not accepting their salaries which they say are meager and insufficient. According to an internal document, the Srinagar corporators have cited that Delhi corporators were drawing ₹90,000 as salaries without any risk to their lives. Yet in Kashmir, despite upholding democratic institutions, they are paid an honorarium of ₹6,000.
Srinagar mayor Junaid Mattu, in a letter to J&K’s chief secretary, sent on November 28, asked for a revision of the salaries of the corporators, citing that the step is not only important for economic assistance but to ensure the dignity and stature of the democratic institutions the corporators are part of. As of now, the mayor draws a salary of ₹10,000, the deputy mayor is entitled to ₹7,500 and corporators are paid ₹6,000. This excludes ₹400 of sitting allowance.
“How are we supposed to help our constituents when we can’t even fight for our own rights?” a corporator said, requesting anonymity. What remains to be seen is how long the state administration and SMC take to smoothen things out between each other. Till then 14 people, including children, are likely to be bitten every single day.