In a major overhaul, the central government decided to revise the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (PCA), 1960, by introducing 61 amendments to the law.
The amendments include a three-year imprisonment for committing "gruesome cruelty" against animals, like bestiality.
A draft Prevention of Cruelty to Animal (Amendment) Bill, prepared by the Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry, and Dairying, is open to the public for comments till 7 December. Once the draft is final, the bill could be brought either during the Winter Session or the Budget Session of Parliament.
What are the amendments to the existing law? The Quint delves deeper.
What are some crucial amendments to the existing Act?
The draft bill proposes to include "bestiality" as a crime under the new category of "gruesome cruelty." It has defined bestiality as any kind of sexual activity or intercourse between a human being and an animal.
It has further defined "gruesome cruelty" as:
Any act involving animals that leads to extreme pain and suffering for the animals
An act that is most likely to leave the animal with a life-long disability, including mutilation or killing of the animal by the use of strychnine injection in the heart or any other cruel manner that is known to cause permanent physical damage to the animal
Or render the animal useless or cause any injury, which is likely to cause death, including bestiality
What does the draft say about the penalty amount?
At present, first-time offenders under the PCA Act are punished with a fine of Rs 10-50. If it is found that this is not the offender's first such crime in the past three years, the maximum punishment would be a fine between Rs 25 and Rs 100, a jail term of three months, or both.
The draft bill, meanwhile, proposes penalties from Rs 50,000 to Rs 75,000 "or the cost of the animal…whichever is more or with the imprisonment of one year which may extend up to three years or with both" for the offence of gruesome cruelty.
For killing an animal, the draft bill proposes a maximum punishment of five years in jail.
What freedoms do the animals have as per the draft bill?
The draft bill states that "it shall be the duty of every person having charge of an animal to ensure that the animal in his care or under his charge has freedom from":
Thirst, hunger, and malnutrition
Discomfort due to the environment
Pain, injury, and diseases
Fear and distress
Freedom to express normal behaviour for the species
What new definitions have been added?
The draft bill has gone on to define community animals "as any animal born in a community for which no ownership has been claimed by any individual or an organization, excluding wild animals as defined under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 (53 of 1972)."
It defines poultry facilities as any establishment wherein poultry birds as defined by the World Organisation for Animal Health are reared or housed for commercial poultry products intended for human consumption or for maintained for breeding purposes.
It defines livestock form as any establishment where economically important animals are kept for the production of food for humans.
Are the proposed changes enough to rein in animal cruelty?
For a long time, animal welfare activists and organisations have called for the amendment of the six-decade-old law.
In 2014, the Supreme Court, in 'Animal Welfare Board of India vs A Nagaraja & Others,' said that "Parliament is expected to make proper amendment of the PCA Act to provide an effective deterrent" and that "for violation of Section 11, adequate penalties and punishments should be imposed."
Last year, the Centre said it would bring in a bill to amend the PCA Act.
In September 2020, Kishanganj MP Mohammad Jawed brought in a bill in Parliament, suggesting that the maximum punishment be hiked to a "fine which shall not be less than ten thousand rupees but which may extend to twenty-five thousand rupees or with imprisonment for a term which may extend upto one year or with both, and in the case of a second or subsequent offence, with fine which shall not be less than fifty thousand rupees but which may extend to one lakh rupees and with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than one year but which may extend to two years."
Priya Chetty-Rajagopal, the founder of CJ Memorial Trust, told The Quint that many provisions in the draft bill are still not clear and it has, therefore, led to some confusion.
"Almost all of the provisions in the draft bill are a much needed move forward, but need to be better disseminated and understood by the public so it can be better implemented," she said.
"Apart from defining, punishment by stronger fine and/or jail, the clearer definition of community animals for example is an excellent step forward . This understanding will alleviate a lot of confusion and misinformation on the responsibility of stray dogs or animals, " she added.
It also would be wrong to assume the west is the hallmark when it comes to animal rights, she said.
"India was one of the first countries to ban cosmetic testing on animals and unlike in Florida in the USA, if a dog is not owned by an individual or organsation, the dog is put to death. In India, we don't have any such law. We do have laws but there is a huge bottleneck in their implementation. The agencies need to work towards that, " she added.