Imagine how much public outcry and protests a sudden forceful relocation of a bunch of human beings will cause! Well, the same should apply to animals, the ones who cannot fight for themselves.
Dhaka South City Corporation's (hereafter referred to as DSCC) declaration of relocating an estimated 30,000 dogs from the capital city gave rise to protests among animal rights activists. Authorities said that residents' complaints about increasing populations of dogs forced them to take this decision.
At the beginning of September, DSCC reportedly relocated 15 stray dogs to the Matuail landfill.
People often argue that in developing countries, where millions of people are living in the fringes of society, animal rights are not a priority.
But that is certainly not the case.
Animal Rights" is allowing non-human animals to have the basic rights that most sentient beings desire i.e. freedom to live a life free from human exploitation, needless pain, suffering, and premature death[SSZ1] .
Article 18A of the Constitution of Bangladesh provides that the State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to preserve and safeguard the natural resources, biodiversity, wetlands, forests and wildlife for the present and future citizens.
Last year, the Parliament enacted the Animal Welfare Act, 2019 replacing its century-old predecessor, Cruelty to Animals Act, 1920. Within the purview of this Act, all non-human vertebrate living beings are animals and the law has a more comprehensive approach to deal with unjust treatment and cruelty against animals.
It substantially increases the penalty for such behaviour. This Act is a leap forward in recognising the need to treat animals with kindness and compassion.
Section 7(1) and (2) of the 2019 act prohibit and criminalise the removal or killing of any stray animal, unless they are proven to cause harm. If a government body does such an act, any aggrieved party or organisation can avail their constitutional right and file a writ petition in the court.
"Unless proven to cause harm" in Section 7 of the act creates ambiguity. Uncertainty exists as to what comprises harm. In our neighbouring country India, relocation of stray animals is illegal under Section 11(1) (i) and 11(1) (j) of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960.
However, Section 6 (h) of the Animal Welfare Act, 2019 states that slightly annoying an animal is deemed as "cruelty." Taking an animal from their natural habitat into an unknown area can cause them mental and physical discomfort.
Hence, it is pertinent to note that this forceful relocation of dogs amounts to "cruelty." Article 11 of the Companion Animal Protocol prohibits avoidable, pain, suffering, or distress while taking measures for reducing stray animals.
Article 11(b) emphasises on neutering and birth control methods for controlling the number of stray animals. Though Bangladesh is not a signatory of this protocol, on moral grounds Bangladesh has some responsibility to follow these provisions.
Previously city authorities in Bangladesh used to kill 20,000 stray dogs a year to control the population. Dog culling was banned in 2015 in an order given by High Court Division following a writ petition filed by Obhayaronno, an animal welfare society in Bangladesh.
In Bangladesh, more than 2,000 people and animals die every year from rabies. Around 98 percent of human deaths are due to bites of rabid dogs. However, only 6 percent of all dogs in Bangladesh have rabies.
Under a health ministry project to eradicate rabies within 2022, 70 percent of stray dogs have been vaccinated in the first round. In 2019, approximately 48,000 dogs were vaccinated, of which 28,000 were from DSCC.
The second round of vaccination has been delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, these are not reasonable grounds to relocate stray dogs from their habitat. In India, during litigation in Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) vs. People for Elimination of Stray Troubles, the Animal Welfare Board submitted the "implementation framework for street dog population management, rabies eradication and reducing human-dog conflict."
The Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) has opted for vaccination and sterilisation to tackle the problems arising from the overpopulation of dogs. Now the question arises, why is it not possible for DSCC to take the same measure?
We urge the authorities to conduct a count of the stray dog population with emphasis on area-wise distribution. Steps can be taken to initiate a Collect Neuter Vaccinate and Return (CNVR) project.
A count on the number of dogs vaccinated and those left stray in a particular area should be kept. It is a safe and efficient method to control the population of dogs.
The vaccinated dogs can be released on the same day without any further requirements of treatment and shelter. Policymakers should clear the ambiguity under Section 7 of the 2019 Act.
Non-human creatures deserve the same right to live an exploitation free life like human beings. Dog relocation can never be a good solution for the overpopulation of dogs as new dogs can again come to the inhabited area.
Authorities should rather opt for sterilization and vaccination. Forcefully migrating animals unable to take a stand for themselves is shameful and cruel.
Suriya Tarannum Susan is currently studying in LLB second year at the University of Chittagong.