HC asks AWB to conduct survey on animals in circuses, consider sending them to zoos

 The Delhi High Court Tuesday directed the AWB to forthwith carry out a nationwide survey to find out the number of animals in circuses, which are unable to perform due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and consider rehabilitating them to the nearest zoos.
The court was hearing a plea stating that the condition of animals is vulnerable due to bankruptcy of circuses due to the pandemic.

A bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rajnish Bhatnagar said the Animal Welfare Board (AWB) should raise specific query to circus officials whether they are in a position to maintain the animals or need to be surrendered to it for rehabilitation to the nearest zoos.

The court, which conducted the hearing through video conferencing, asked the board to file a status report with regard to the survey conducted and listed the matter for further hearing on August 14.

The court was hearing a petition by Federation of Indian Animals Protection (FIAPO), which is a collection of 100 organisations working towards the protection of animal rights for over a decade, challenging the constitutional validity of Sections 21 to 27 of the prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act so far as they permit exhibition and training of animals in relation to circus acts.

The court issued notices to the Centre, through Ministries of Ministries of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying and Ministry of Environment and Forests, Central Zoo Authority and Animal Welfare Board of India and directed them to file replies within two weeks.

The notice was accepted by Additional Solicitor General Chetan Sharma for the Centre as the petition challenges provisions of a central Act.

Senior advocate Dayan Krishnan, appearing for FIAPO, sought direction to the authorities to formulate an appropriate scheme for the rescue, rehabilitation and relocation of all animals rescued from circuses.

The petition, filed through advocates Ambuj Agrawal and Asmita Singh, pointed out that circuses with animals performing tricks often use wild animals, including elephants, hippos, and exotic birds.

It said these animals are very often used without requisite paperwork certifying their fitness.

Investigations show animals being chained and tied up for several hours each day, made to perform several shows without proper rest, trained using negative reinforcement with instruments like metal rods, wooden sticks, whips and outdated and barbaric tools like hooks and spiked belts, the plea said, adding that these are in direct violations of animal protection laws, animal rights and welfare.

There is an urgent need to ban animals from circuses initiating their rehabilitation, it said.

The plea added that on account of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been numerous reports of animals being stranded as part of these circuses all over the country and being abandoned by their owners.

“This will lead to numerous animals perishing on account of starvation and unsanitary conditions. The intervention of this court is prayed to ensure that this entirely avoidable loss of life is averted. The urgency of this petition cannot be understated,” the petition said.

As an interim relief, the plea sought direction to the authorities to take custody of all animals from all circuses operating in India and make appropriate arrangements for their transfer and well-being.

On this, the high court said as the relief is in the nature of ex-parte, it is not able to grant the full relief, however, directed the board to forthwith conduct the survey to find out how many animals are kept in the circuses.

FIAPO Executive Director, Varda Mehrotra, in a statement, said: “Using animals for performing tricks in circuses is abusive and painful for animals. These animals are suppressed from performing their fundamental rights like freedom from fear and distress or freedom from expressing normal patterns of behaviour.

"Moreover, in the midst of the pandemic the situation has become worse. Therefore, the use of animals in circuses needs to end and they must be rescued at the earliest.” 
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