Mumbai, India's financial hub, has an estimated 70,000 stray dogs and every year, they leave more than 25,000 city dwellers nursing dog bites.
The growing problem has left many residents fuming, but not animal lovers.
In fact, the issue has gone all the way up to the Bombay High Court, which ruled by a 2-1 majority judgment late last month that dogs which were a “nuisance” can be killed.
The court gave the ruling in response to a public interest litigation filed by a Mumbai-based non-governmental organisation (NGO), In Defence of Animals, challenging the validity of certain provisions of a law that permits killing of dogs under certain conditions. It said animals had as much constitutional right to life as humans and had a “right to expect compassion from Indian citizens”.
The judges held that apart from putting to sleep stray dogs that are incurably ill, mortally wounded, rabid or perennially violent, the municipal commissioner could use his discretion to order the killing of dogs that are causing “public nuisance”.
The court interpreted “nuisance” in this instance as “anything that endangers life or is injurious to the health of the public at large”.
While it noted that mere barking could not be cause for killing a dog, “dogs that have the habit of chasing moving vehicles, especially two-wheelers, may be treated as a public nuisance as they could lead to accidents”.
Is canine culling legal?
ST Photo: Rakesh Sahai
The killing of dogs is not permitted under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act except under certain conditions, and the court’s ruling drew opposition. The NGO, In Defence of Animals, has secured a six-week stay of the court’s order, to appeal to the Supreme Court.
In the meantime, other activists have begun a campaign to save the strays.
Former Baywatch star Pamela Anderson, a self-avowed animal lover and prominent international animal rights campaigner, may join Bollywood stars at a planned rally to protest against the court’s order.
The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) said the rally would also include Bollywood actors like John Abraham and Raveena Tandon.
Peta’s India head, Anuradha Sahwney, said killing the stray dogs was not a solution. “If you kill a dog, another one will come. You have to encourage people to adopt them and remove their food source from the roads and sterilise them,” she said.
“We plan to launch a fully focused attack to raise awareness among the people about the importance of cleaning the garbage (on which the stray dogs feed) and sterilisation of the dogs.”
The stray dog problem is not confined to Mumbai. Almost every city has a huge stray canine population, and there have been cases of such dogs attacking children, necessitating, in some cases, hospitalisation.
Residents of some parts of Mumbai, angry with the civic authorities’ failure to check the stray dogs menace, have also reportedly poisoned the animals.
In 1999, the Bombay High Court had stopped local civic bodies from killing stray dogs and ordered sterilisation drives to control their population after several NGOs petitioned it describing the killings as “barbaric and inhuman”. The latest order reverses that decision.
Opinion on dealing with the stray dogs remains divided.
“Every night, when I return from work, a pack of dogs come barking and chasing my rickshaw,” Mr Andre D’Souza, a resident of Mumbai’s Bandra area, told the DNA newspaper. He added: “I want a solution to this problem soon because I do deserve to move in my locality freely as and when I wish to.”
Faced with protests over the court order, the Mumbai municipal corporation has decided to set up a “euthanasia committee” to recommend a “humane way” to kill the stray dogs.
“We will inject them with phenol barbipone which will kill them in a more humane way,” a municipal health officer said.
Earlier, the civic body used to kill the animals by putting them in water and electrocuting them. According to some NGOs, some 400,000 stray dogs have been killed in Mumbai since 1994, but that has not brought down their number.
Sterilisation may be a more "humane" way to deal with the strays, but the question is how do you round up 70,000 of them?
Find us if you can.