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Welfare and Rights of Animals in India: An Overview

“The greatness of a nation and its progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated”

Mahatma Gandhi


My history teacher told me that dog was the first animal to be domesticated by man. This itself is a good example that since early civilization, animals have been an integral part of man’s life. We have domesticated them for both agricultural purposes and companionship. However, over time our kinship with them has altered into abuse, in which the welfare of animals is compromised. We have developed a mindset where we began to view animals only for their utility. Almost every other day, we hear incidents about animal abuses. In fact, it has now become a common practice to inflict cruelty upon them.

History records that hunting was considered to be a sport for people of royal stature. It was a symbol of valor and pride for the kings and princes back then. Moreover, special poems were written in appreciation of the Kings who killed one thousand elephants in a war[1]. On the other hand, we also had Kings like Ellalan (Manuneedhi Cholan) who executed his own son to provide justice to a cow.

Animal welfare has always been a niche subject. People have a limited thinking that animal welfare is all about dogs and cats. Lately, welfare of cows has also made headlines, but rather than placing emphasis on their welfare it has now become a politically motivated undertaking.

The Role played by the Legislature.

With rapid urbanization and population explosion, and consumerism catching up, animals have become easy prey for human rapacity. They are simple targets for anyone trying to make a quick buck, and prime candidates for exploitation. This resulted in the enactment of certain legislations by the Indian Government to protect the welfare of animals.. The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (PCA) enacted in the year 1960, is the first significant step taken by the Parliament to protect animal rights, to curb the increasing cases of cruelty towards animals. The objective behind this Act was “To prevent the infliction of unnecessary pain or suffering on animals”. Furthermore, in the year 1962 the Animal Welfare Board was set up as the regulatory body which acted as a catalyst with regards to framing of policies and welfare measures to protect the welfare of flora and fauna in India. In order to extend the ambit of animal rights, The Wild Life Protection Act was enacted in the year 1972. The primary objective of this Act was to control and prevent the practice of smuggling, poaching and illicit dealing of wildlife, its resources and its derivatives. The constitution of India has recognized the need to ingrain a sense of responsibility and compassion in the minds of its citizens. This implicit recognition of animal sentience is echoed in Article 51A(g) which states that it is the duty of every citizen “to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wild life, and to have compassion for living creatures”.

India is one of the countries that have the strictest laws when it comes to wildlife protection. Ivory trade has been prohibited in India since 1972. India saw some of the biggest victories for animal welfare in the last decade.

  • In the year 2013 the Ministry of Environment and Forests imposed a ban on dolphinariums (aquariums for dolphins). 
  • India also imposed a ban on animal testing for cosmetics in 2014, followed by a prohibition on the import of cosmetics tested on animals, placing India on the map for scientifically progressive countries.[2]
  •  India has also prohibited the export of shark fins.[3] (Prior to 2013, India used to be the third largest shark landing nation in the world.)
  • We are also one of the few countries who prohibit wild animals in circuses. The Government is now planning to remove all animals from circuses[4].
Are you looking for this?  Animal Welfare Laws in India: Through the Constitutional Spectrum

The Role played by the Judiciary.

Creating an animal-friendly environment in a world of mayhem is not an easy task. Nevertheless, the Indian Judiciary has time and again played a pivotal role for evolution of animal laws in India and also in shaping the present and future animal rights. In the landmark judgment of R. Nair v. Union of India[5], the Supreme Court affirmed that tigers, monkeys, panthers, bears and lions could not be used as performing animals to obtain profits. Such practice leads to the illegitimate smuggling and subsequent mistreatment of these creatures, caging, beating etc. thereby violating Section 22 of the PCA Act, 1960. An important verdict given by the Bombay High Court stated that a No-Objection Certificate must be obtained from the Animal Welfare Board before using or casting any animals in films. This will ensure that no animals are exploited during training or filming on the sets of any film. The judgment that led to the Pro Jallikattu protest, Animal welfare board of India v. A. Nagaraja & others[6] dealt with “the rights of animals under the Constitution of India as well as Indian laws, culture, tradition, religion and ethology”

The lacunae in the path of effective enforcement of Animal welfare measures.

Are you looking for this?  Animal Testing, A Fire-Breathing Monstrous Act

It is pertinent to note that all the legislative and judicial measures to curb animal abuses is just a droplet in an ocean. How often does one encounter a stray dog being run down by a vehicle or another being pelted with stones? Just a month back, the whole nation was baffled by the death of a pregnant elephant that died because it accidentally consumed a pineapple filled with fire crackers that was meant for driving away wild boars. We still hear incidents of Cows being raped and puppies being flung from multi storied building. An inspector from the Animal Welfare Board of India said in 2017 that cases of dogs being bludgeoned with iron bars or burnt alive had taken place almost every month[7]. The perpetrators of such ‘non-cognisable’ offences, if booked for the first time, under Section 11(1)(a) of PCA Act, can get away with a fine of just rupees 50 which is less than half the penalty for a no- parking violation in India. Animals used in scientific research are an exception to the provisions of the Prevention of Animal Cruelty Act 1960. Indian legislation also permits religious slaughter to be performed without prior stunning. Besides, the Government of India has extended only a partial support for the proposed Universal Declaration for Animal Welfare (UDAW)[8], since the Animal Welfare Board endorsed UDAW in June 2008. An expression of support for the UDAW demonstrates a Government’s commitment to working with the international community to improve animal welfare. We have penal provisions that prescribe imprisonment between 2 and 5 years for killing and maiming animals. But how often these sections are invoked is still a mystery.


In a country where we decorate our doorstep with kolam that contain rice flour so that it will act as food for insects, we also come across animals being killed mercilessly. We as human beings are entitled to more than just the Right to live. We have the right to live a dignified life. The State ensures that every aspect of a human’s life is secured. When we are deprived of these rights, we revolt, we protest, we shout and we scream. But humans are not the only living beings existing. We are a part of an ecosystem, and our inhabitance is supported by the existence of so many creatures around us. But unlike us, they cannot revolt and protest when they are deprived of their rights. They cannot claim a judicial remedy and are left with no choice other than to suffer. These voiceless beings depend on us to voice out their grievances. Legislations and Judicial decisions do play an important role in curbing animal abuses but they won’t suffice. Every individual must take a conscience decision to be responsible and compassionate towards these creatures. Be it feeding the stray dogs in your locality or abstaining from purchasing leather products, a little effort from our side will have a tremendous impact.

Are you looking for this?  United Nations Environment Programme

[1] Kalingattuparani by Jayamkondar (12th Century ).

[2] Vishwa Mohan, India bans import of cosmetics tested on animals, The Times of India (Oct 14, 2014, 18:51 IST),

[3] India bans shark ‘finning’ to protect species, The Hindu (August 26, 2013, 17:48 IST),

[4] N.R.Nair And Ors v. Union Of India And Ors., 2001 (3) SCR 353 (India).

[5] R. Nair v. Union of India, 2001 (3) SCR 35 (India).

[6] Animal welfare board of India v. A. Nagaraja & others, (2014) 7 SCC 547 (India).

[7] Pullanoor, Harish. “Indians can be both unbearably cruel and incredibly kind towards stray dogs”. Quartz India. Retrieved (22 March 2020),

[8] Universal Declaration for Animal Welfare, World Society for the Protection of Animals,  

Cite this article (The Bluebook 20th ed.)-

Rachel Florence J., Welfare and Rights of Animals in India: An Overview, Ex Gratia Law Journal, (September 11, 2020),

This BLawG won the Best Paper (Winner) in First Edition of Article Writing Competition, 2020 conducted on August 29, 2020.

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Rachel Florence J.
Student - School of Excellence in Law, The Tamil Nadu Dr. Ambedkar Law University.