The Delhi High Court has ruled that animals have a legal right to be treated with empathy, courtesy, and integrity, in what is being heralded as a breakthrough verdict in the field of animal law. Local dogs (stray or street dogs) have the right to adequate food, and civilians have the right to feed them, according to the verdict laid by the jury. Local dogs must be served in defined areas, according to the Delhi High Court, and caretakers in charge have the discretion to serve them. It must be kept in mind when determining the “designated area” that “every dog is a territorial being, and therefore, the street dogs must be fed and tended to at places within their territory that are not frequented, or less frequented, and sparingly used by the general public and residents,” according to Justice J.R. Midha. Animal lovers and rescuers in Delhi believe that the ruling will aid them in their efforts to care for abandoned animals. The Delhi High Court’s judgment also requires RWAs and the municipality to vaccinate and sterilize streets canines. This move certainly came as a comfort to the individuals who had already been firmly committed to serving and improving the healthcare conditions of stray dogs.
Notwithstanding the unambiguous stance of the legislation against animal torture, especially stray dogs, the High Court highlighted that residents are increasingly defying it. Some dwellers of the community mistreat street dogs because of “widespread wrong or misplaced beliefs that all street dogs carry the rabies virus,” according to the grand jury. “It is the responsibility of the community residents to get their dogs vaccinated against rabies every year to prevent the spread of rabies,” the court emphasized. Despite being well-intentioned, this verdict highlights numerous critical questions for us to ponder. On one hand, there calls into question its implementation, while on the contrary, there is a risk of judicial outreach, particularly in numerous instances concerning animal legal status.
Implicitness of this landmark judgement
A judgment’s propensity to be implemented is its dominant attribute. It will be difficult to enforce a ruling that is just a declaration of what the law should be rather than by the law as it is. While ensuring the successful implementation, a casual reader can see that expressions like “harm, hindrance, harassment, and nuisance” are exceedingly ambiguous.For example, in such a case when a caretaker is trying to feed neighbourhood dogs somewhere at the spot labelled by the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) in deliberation with the community welfare association involved or municipal corporation (as permitted by the ruling), it is quite convenient for all other residents in the neighbourhood to assert that the above act is causing a nuisance to them. Such sort of nomenclature offers operational authorities like the police a great deal of flexibility, disregarding the purpose of setting the regulations in the first place.
The Amalgamation of fundamental rights and duties
Interpretation of the logic is tricky due to inadequate elaboration in the verdict on how the inferences were obtained. Nevertheless, it’s indeed evident that perhaps the judgement commits the fallacy of equating fundamental responsibilities with fundamental rights. This verdict did not explain how and why it concluded that civilians have always had the right to feed communal pets. Moreover, stating the underlying task of empathy towards sentient creatures tends to indicate that somehow the existence of a fundamental duty imposes a right on individuals to undertake that duty. It is a tough spot to embrace since fundamental duties are so enshrined in the constitutional venture of things. Associating them with rights raises a potentially hazardous benchmark.
Dependence on disputable verdicts
The next bone of disagreement with this ruling is its dependence on dubious court cases. The Delhi high court judgement is based on the widely ridiculed Supreme Court Ruling in the Jalikattu case wherein the Supreme Court ruled that animals had “inherent right to live”. This ruling had reignited the debate since the Indian constitution’s framework of fundamental rights doesn’t even include the application of such liberties to animals. The Delhi High Court has also cited the Uttarakhand HC judge’s ruling that gave all animals “legal personhood.” The reality remains that animals are treated as possessions under Indian Common law. Even animal welfare statutes, such as the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1960, are centred just on the notion of animal entitlements. The Constitution of India, to a certain degree, interacts with animals, does so but through the prism of a social assistance paradigm instead of a rights-based paradigm. This notion is to empower humans well with the responsibility of protecting animals, rather than to assist in providing animals with rights.
The main dilemma with permitting animals the “rights”
Offering animals rights without even any statutory footing results in a situation in which these verdicts seem to be the only origin of all these rights. As a direct consequence, the key question as to whether or not animals can also have rights rests down on a specific jury’s interpretation of the law as well as her inclinations on the matter. A sitting judge, for instance, issued three significant animal-related decisions: prohibiting the ritual slaughter of animals in Himachal Pradesh and establishing legal standing to animals in Uttarakhand. The threat with this approach is that a wider judiciary might invalidate these rulings, restoring to the established order. Every other revision to animals’ legal backing must come first from the legislature, and thus the court’s well-intended zeal merely adds to the complexity of this vital topic. The court’s function is to apply the law and to ensure that it does not go far beyond the range of its authority.
The Delhi High Court not only determined that communal dogs, as responsive animals with congenital worth, have a right to food, but it also addressed the problem of enforcement. This is crucial as, without an efficient mechanism of application, a good judgment can collapse, exposing a mismatch between rights & their accomplishment. Another decisive element was that the animals’ concerns were all being vigorously advocated for by that group of human beings. Notably, the Court recognizes not only communal dogs’ right to food but also people’s right to feed them. Furthermore, the ruling stresses communal dogs’ basic instinct as a collective and how they’re being engaged with as people in cross societies where stray dogs cohabit. Still, few critical changes to this landmark verdict will lead to greater transparency and justified distribution of powers.
Author(s) Name: Surjit Raiguru (Symbiosis Law School, Pune)
 Section 11, Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960.