A single judge bench of India’s Punjab and Haryana High Court held on Friday that the “entire animal kingdom including avian and aquatic” species has a “distinct legal persona with corresponding rights, duties, and liabilities of a living person.”
Judge Rajiv Sharma ruled, “all the citizens throughout the State of Haryana are hereby declared persons in loco parentis as the human face for the welfare/protection of animals,” implying that citizens have legal responsibilities and functions similar to those of a parent vis-à-vis minor children for the welfare and protection of animals.
The court arrived at the decision in a criminal revision petition filed by individuals convicted of unlawfully exporting cows from Haryana under Section 4B of the Punjab Prohibition of Cow Slaughter Act, a statute applicable to both Punjab and Haryana. The judge upheld the conviction of the accused but did not mete out a prison sentence, saying that the accused “are suffering agony and trauma by facing criminal proceedings for about 15 years.” Haryana police arrested the convicts in 2004.
“All animals have honor and dignity. Every species has an inherent right to live and is required to be protected by law. The privacy and the rights of animals are to be respected and protected from unlawful attacks,” the judge said. The judgment relies on jurisprudence from India’s Supreme Court, which had ruled in Animal Welfare Board of India vs. Nagaraja that the right to dignity and fair treatment as enshrined in and arising out of Article 21 of India’s Constitution is “not confined to human beings alone, but animals as well.”
Friday’s decision saw the court issuing several “mandatory directions” for the “welfare of the animal kingdom” in Haryana. It directed the state government to ensure that draft animals do not carry loads exceeding prescribed limits, and to ensure that no animal carries a weight or load in excess of the weights prescribed by regulations such as the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Transport of Animals on Foot) Rules.
Furthermore, the state government is to ensure that weight carried by an animal is reduced by 50 percent if the route traversed involves an ascent exceeding the limit prescribed by the court. For this purpose, the court ruled that a gradient over 3 meters per 30 meters triggers the threshold. No more than four people, excluding the driver and children below six years of age, are allowed to ride an animal-drawn vehicle. No person is permitted to keep or cause to be kept in harness any animal used for drawing vehicles where the temperature exceeds 99°F or is below 41°F. The court held that the use of sharp equipment to brutalize animals is banned throughout the state of Haryana “to avoid bruises, swelling, abrasions or severe pain to the animal.”
Many other directions, including ones related to veterinary care, housing, and food for animals, were issued in the 104-page judgment.