Uttarakhand HC declares animal kingdom a legal entity

The Uttarakhand high court has declared the entire animal kingdom, including birds and aquatic animals, as a legal entity having rights of a “living person”. The move aims to ensure “greater welfare” of animals.

A legal entity means an entity which acts like a natural person but only through a designated person, whose acts are processed within the ambit of law. This means the animal kingdom could be represented by a custodian.

Invoking Article 21 of the Constitution, the court said: “Article 21 of the Constitution, while safeguarding the rights of humans, protects life and the word ‘life’ means the animal world”.

The court cited a 2014 Supreme Court judgment to say any disturbance from the “basic environment which includes all forms of life, including animals life, which is necessary for human life, fall within the meaning of Article 21 of the Constitution”.

Create an animal welfare committee in every district of the state. All citizens of Uttarakhand shall be “persons in loco parentis” (in the place of a parent). This gives them the responsibility to protect animals and ensure their welfare.

The court also gave directions ranging from the amount of load allowed to be pulled by various animals in accordance with the kind of carriage being pulled to the number of riders per carriage.

Further banning the use of spike or other sharp tackle or equipment on the animal, the court also directed the state government to ensure that if the temperature exceeds 37 degree Celsius or drops below 5 degree Celsius, no person be permitted to keep in harness any animal used for the purpose of drawing vehicles.

The court also went into the aspect of animal safety, highlighting the need for fluorescent reflectors in carriages and animals, certificates of unladen weight of vehicles, compulsory shelter of suitable size for horses, bullocks and stray cattle and a direction to the veterinary doctors of Uttarakhand to treat any stray animals brought to them or by visiting them.

The court said as the carts driven by animals have no mechanical devices, animal-drawn carriages have to be given Right of Way over other vehicles.

The order came in response to a public interest litigation seeking directions to restrict the movement of horse carts/tongas between Nepal and India through Champawat district and highlighted that ailing, infirm and old horses were being abandoned by the owners in the Indian Territory.

This order will go a long way in building a compassionate society as it was illogical to treat sentient creatures as inanimate objects.

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